When I found out that Les Miles was hired to be the head coach at LSU, I was on a bus riding back to the parking lot after watching a Nick Saban-coached LSU team lose to Iowa in the Capital One Bowl. It’s a memory I’ll never forget because my buddies and I all looked at each other and said, “Who?”
Les Miles began his 2005 season at LSU under extreme circumstances. Hurricane Katrina had ravaged the state and the home opener against Arizona State was moved to Tempe. Miles won that first game on the road in dramatic fashion that included a blocked field goal, a blocked punt and 28 points in the fourth quarter. He did it all while wearing one of those Todd Graham headsets that most fans look at and wonder, “Why is he wearing that?”
Miles’ second game was against Tennessee, but had been moved to Monday night because things in Louisiana still weren’t right. After jumping out to a 21-0 lead at halftime, Miles ran past the student section pumping his fist. After this moment, LSU fans would experience the first of many let downs at the hands of Les Miles. The Tigers allowed the Vols to run down the field with Rick Clausen at the helm and would end up losing 27-30 in overtime.
Miles went on to lead the Tigers to nine straight wins, two of them in overtime with one of those coming on the road at Alabama, before losing to Georgia in the SEC Championship game and winning a bowl game.
In his second season at LSU, Miles led the Tigers to yet another 10 win season that included an overtime win against Ole Miss and a second straight win over Alabama.
Things were going well. Miles was hired to step in and continue what Nick Saban had begun and he was doing that both on the field and off the field with recruiting. His offensive philosophy of pound it up the middle and throw deep and sit back and play tough defense fit right in with the climate of the SEC at the time.
Then came 2007. I purchased season tickets outside of the student section for the first time. My wife and I went to every game that year and I can still picture the stadium at halftime of the Florida game when LSU PA announcer Dan Borne gave the Stanford-USC score–Stanford was beating the #2-ranked Trojans. Miles went on to hand the ball to Jacob Hester on five fourth downs and win the game in very dramatic fashion. It was great and LSU fans knew their team had a chance at something special.
Video I took just after Stanford-USC score was announced.
The season wasn’t without faults though, as Miles lost two triple overtime games (one on the road at Kentucky and another against Arkansas) and for the first time got extremely lucky with poor clock management against Auburn after rolling the dice with the play below.
LSU fans should remember that vividly as everyone around me was screaming the exact same thing, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” As we watched precious time tick off the clock. It wouldn’t be the last time.
Before the SEC Championship game, my friends and I were feverishly working out how the BCS computers could put LSU in the BCS Championship game. It seemed impossible.
Then the rumors started to swirl, Michigan needed a new coach and Miles is a Michigan man. Kirk Herbstreit went on ESPN prior to the SEC Championship and said Miles would be going to Michigan. The LSU coach may have very well had an offer to coach at his alma mater on the table, but he answered Herbie with authority.
Words I’ll never forget.
“Thank you very much. Have a great day.”
LSU made it into the BCS Championship game. I was there for their win over Ohio State and the game never really felt close. It’s the best memory I have from Miles’ tenure. The whole season was one that won’t be forgotten.
2008 was the first time in his career Miles lost to Alabama. Questions of Miles’ offensive philosophy had already began to stir through the fan base, but having just won a national championship, no one really pressed the issue.
Miles lost the final two games of the 2008 season to Ole Miss in a beat down and Arkansas, 30-31, in another second half meltdown.
Of course 2009 would be different. At least we hoped it would be.
It was not. LSU won nine games and the offense began to struggle in conference games. The Tigers lost three conference games, including a second-straight loss to Alabama. They also added their first bowl game loss under Miles.
In 2010, the offensive issues continued. LSU won 10 games, but many fans were restless as Miles continued to show no signs of moving towards a more high paced spread offensive philosophy that others were having success with. The days of scoring 40+ points and winning by 20 that started with Saban and continued for the first few seasons under Miles seemed long gone and questions were looming about whether he could right the ship.
Then came THE season. 2011. As a season ticket holder, who had begun working part-time on the weekends for this site, I only went to one regular season game. It was the Northwestern State game in which LSU won 49-3. I enjoyed it. LSU was coming off of a dominating victory over a third-ranked Oregon in Dallas where an unlikely kid named Tyrann Mathieu burst onto the scene.
Miles had lost his starting quarterback, Jordan Jefferson, after he was arrested, and the next guy up was Jarrett Lee. Lee had no problems leading the team through the first four games before Jefferson returned from an indefinite suspension.
Some call it loyalty and others call it blind stupidity, but Miles inserted Jefferson back into the offense. What this did to Lee’s confidence remains up for debate, but according to Miles, even though Lee had led the Tigers to wins over #3, #25, and #16 on the road, Jefferson would be needed.
Lee and Jefferson took turns, with Jefferson becoming more of a situational QB and the pair led the Tigers to four more wins and rolled all the way to Tuscaloosa where they would play the “Game of the Century.” Many people hated the game. It was a defensive slug fest that went to overtime with a 6-6 score. Miles wound up with a 9-6 win, after which he said, “I’d be honored to face that team again.” The Tigers won the next four games with Jefferson as the starter once again, including the SEC Championship, in dominating fashion.
After the SEC Championship, when the dust settled, LSU at 13-0 would once again have to face Alabama (11-1); only this time it would be for all the marbles.
It didn’t go well. LSU never crossed the 50 yard line. My view from the fourth row became a hell. Jarrett Lee, the guy who started for the Tigers and helped lead them to at least 10 wins, never saw the field. Only two people know why: Lee and Miles.
Miles had led the Tigers to their greatest season in school history and choked it away to a rival with a former LSU head coach at the helm.
2012 was much of the same, except now there was a bitter taste in Tigers fans’ mouths. LSU won 10 regular season games and went 6-2 in the SEC, but lost again to Alabama. Questions of what was being done with all the talent grew louder.
2013 went exactly the same as 2012. 10 wins with another loss to Alabama, except this time the regular season win number was nine and the SEC win number was five. This was a team that included Odell Beckham Jr, Alfred Blue, Jeremy Hill, Jarvis Landry, and Zach Mettenberger.
Surely, 2014 was going to be different. After starting with three straight wins that included a second half comeback in the first game against #14 Wisconsin, the Tigers won four SEC games.
Miles seemed to have all the talent in the world and yet things kept slipping away. There are 47 former LSU Tigers on NFL rosters, and 44 of them played under Miles.
The trend was set entering 2015. Going from 13-1 to 6 SEC wins and winning one less conference game every year after that. Miles was on the hot seat and he felt it, but the Tigers had a guy named Leonard Fournette. Miles got the Tigers off to a 7-0 start before losing to Alabama, Arkansas, and Ole Miss. With all the talent Miles had on the field over the previous four years, his career came down to a game against Texas A&M after a leak from within the athletic department surfaced that Miles was on his way out and Jimbo Fisher was the guy who would probably replace him.
Then, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal and LSU president F. King Alexander stepped in and said the timing wasn’t right. It was announced at half time that Miles would return for the 2016 season.
The rest is history as Miles’ actual final game yet again came down to his inability to manage the clock, something LSU fans had grown accustomed to seeing on a regular basis.
Miles’ inability to develop a quarterback and change his offensive philosophy has been an issue for longer than most would like to admit.
Miles had 9 QBs, 25 WRs, 8 TEs, and 16 RBs who were four/five star recruits (not counting any he inherited from Saban). Since 2009 (basically the first team without any Nick Saban/Jimbo Fisher players), the average ranking of LSU’s total offense is 73rd, passing attempts is 106th, passing yards is 99th, rushing yards is 38th, and LSU is 56th in points per game.
Those numbers combined with his loyalty to his friend Cam Cameron and players ultimately cost him his job. There are far worse traits a person can have than the ones Miles has shown over the last 12 years.
One day, there will be a place on LSU’s campus where Tiger fans can go to remember what Les Miles has done not only for their team and their school, but how much he has done for the community. From Katrina, Alton Sterling, and the recent flooding, Miles was a Louisiana Man. He was an LSU man. He was a Tiger.
Les Miles finished his career at LSU with a record of 114-34, just one SEC win short of Charles McClendon’s record of 65 wins. He is the second winningest coach in LSU history. His name is ahead of Bernie Moore, Nick Saban, and Paul Dietzel.
There are few men who can stay at a job for more than 10 years and have as much success as Miles.
I thank you for all of the good times, Les, and I’ll definitely never forget the last 12 years, even if there are moments that had me pulling my hair out, but business is business and it is time for a change.