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July 31, 2010

Les Miles or Nick Saban: Who is the better coach?

When Les Miles took over the head coaching duties of the LSU football team five years ago he heard over and over again that he had big shoes to fill.  His predecessor, Nick Saban, had done something unique in the history of LSU football:  he had left LSU of his own free will and well before anyone had even more than hinted that he may have worn out his welcome.  Saban had left the cupboard full of talented athletes on the football team; had built up the training facilities and had even obtained a better job as head football coach of the Miami Dolphins. Oh yeah, he also had done one other unique thing: he had won at least a share of the national championship by beating a nearly flawless Oklahoma team in a BCS National Championship game two seasons prior to his departure.  As a consequence, when Les Miles arrive five years ago he did have pretty big shoes to fill.  But, he also found himself in a great situation with a great opportunity to succeed.

Coach Miles definitely has been successful. In his first three years, Miles went 11-2 or better and won three major bowls against Miami, Notre Dame, and Ohio State. Not only did Miles' LSU teams win bowl games, but; they won the first three bowl games by scoring an average of 40 points a game while holding their three nationally ranked opponents to a three game combined total score of only 41 points ( just shy of 14 points a game).  Miles' LSU team won BCS National Championship and this time LSU's national championship was undisputed.  The next two seasons, last season and the season prior to that, Miles' LSU teams have finished 8-5 with a dominating victory over a very good Georgia Tech team in the Chick-fil-A bowl and 9-4 with a narrow 2-point loss in the Capital One Bowl to one of Joe Paterno's always strong Penn. State teams.   

The year prior to Miles' arrival was not a bad year for LSU under Nick Saban.  In 2004-2005 LSU went 9-3 but ended the season in a close 25-30 loss to 11th rank Iowa in the Capital One bowl.  The game was marked by a bit of uncertainty about which quarterback to play.  The whole season had a bit of coaching uncertainty surrounding which quarterback, Marcus Randall or JaMarcus Russell, to play?  In the 2005 Capital One Bowl, the game almost marked a great triumphant arrival for Russell as LSU's quarterback of the future.  Russell was not the starter but, still managed to throw two touchdowns and kept LSU in the game to the very end. The game fell short of a triumph because LSU's defense was out of position, an assignment was missed, and the game ended with a 56-yard touchdown pass by Iowa quarterback Drew Tate as time expired.  This story is relevant to the discussion of "Who's Better - Miles or Saban?" because many of Miles detractors are now down on Miles because of uncertainty at the quarterback position and because of last second losses in games LSU could have/should have won but lost late in the game.  Say what you want about the blown assignment that allowed Iowa to end the game with a 56-yard touchdown pass as time expired but realize that coaches have to take some responsibility for players being out of position in the last play of the last game of the year.  By the time you get to the very end of the year, a player should know where to be on the field every play, particularly a Nick Saban coached defensive player.  

Even though the year and Saban's LSU coaching tenure ended on a low note, that year was not a bad year and Saban coached LSU teams did really well.  In Saban's last year as LSU's head coach LSU only lost three game but opened in Tiger Stadium with a very narrow 1-point overtime victory against Oregon State.  That game was described widely in the media as a gift from Oregon State kicker Alexis Serna to the Tiger because LSU won that game because Serna missed three extra points in that game including one that would have sent the game into double overtime.  LSU's luck was made even two games later when they lost a controversial game at Auburn 9-10.  The controversy involved allowing Auburn to re-kick a missed extra point. In the only other loss in the regular season LSU was blown out 16-45 between the hedges by a very good Georgia team. That season one of LSU's softy games was against Troy at LSU and LSU manage only a 4-point victory in that game. So it was a good year but some Tiger fans still had some things to complain about.

Nick Saban served as head coach at LSU from 2000 to January 2005. In that time Saban's LSU teams went 48-16, an outstanding record that included a BCS National Championship in 2003. Saban's LSU teams went 3-2 in bowl games.  Saban had two years where his team only managed to win 8 games and lost 4 and 5 games those two seasons. Saban's 8-5 season at LSU was in 2002, his third season.  Under Saban LSU was 2-3 against Florida, 2-3 against Auburn, and 3-2 against Arkansas.  LSU was only shutout one time under Saban, in 2002 by Alabama, the score was 31-0.  LSU also lost to Alabama-Birmingham Blazers in Death Valley during Saban's tenure.

Les Miles has just completed his fifth year as LSU's head coach.  Miles' LSU teams have an astonishing 51-15 record, including an undisputed National Championship, BCS and otherwise.
Miles LSU teams are 4-1 in bowl games.  Miles has had only one team that finished with 8 wins or less.  LSU finished 8-5 in Miles fourth year, 2008-09 season.  Like Saban, Miles is 2-3 against Florida and 3-2 against Arkansas.  However, Miles LSU teams own a 4-1 record against Auburn and a 3-2 record against Alabama.  LSU has never been shutout under Les Miles.  LSU has also never lost to a softball, like Alabama-Birmingham.

For those that may argue that Saban was not left the same quality of players as Miles.  That has already been laid out as a given in the first lines of this article.  But here is another thought on that fact: even good teams with good replacement coaches are expected to have some drop off in win-loss record for at least a year or two.  Miles and Saban are different coaches with different systems.  Miles has a totally different system than Saban had run.  Miles brought in a whole new coaching staff.  Miles is an offensive coach.  When he was a player, he played on offense and made it through the coaching ranks coaching offensive positions. Saban is a defensive coach with a similar explanation as to how he became a defensive coach.  The point is reasonable fans and experts would not have suggested that Miles was on the hot seat if he had posted 8 win seasons in his first two years and gone 1-1 in bowl games. So Miles' LSU teams achieving 3 seasons with 11 wins or more, 3 bowl wins against favored opponents and a National Championship would not have been what a reasonable person would have expected. Miles record in his 5 years at LSU is extraordinary and is unparalleled by any previous LSU coach.

Some LSU fans are irritated that LSU cannot seem to find a great leader-quarterback and with Les Miles being an offensive guy you would think he might solve that problem.  Those fans need to remember that LSU had a great replacement for JaMarcus Russell lined up whose play at LSU would allow Jarret Lee and Jordan Jefferson time to develop.  That replacement who was a great athlete turned out to not have such great judgment off the field and any coach with an ounce of integrity would have, like Les Mile, cut him loose.  Still, that situation caused Lee and eventually Jefferson to be pressed into service clearly too early.  On the bright side of that Jefferson is now a seasoned Junior with experiences that he has had an opportunity to learn from and if that doesn't work out, I bet Lee has watched enough film and done enough thinking to have figured out how to throw touchdowns to the right team.  And after one redshirt year, Zach Lee has the potential to have a stellar LSU career.  But ask yourself one question:  How many LSU teams have included a truly great quarterback?  Bert Jones, Tommy Hodson, JaMarcus Russell are the first three names that came to my mind but in all honesty LSU has won plenty with solid steady QB play and not been mistaken for quarterback U.  Also in this comparison need I remind you of the Saban years?  They were mark by quarterback uncertainty. Does anyone remember the  "Josh Booty vs. Rohan Davey" or  "Marcus Randall vs. JaMarcus Russell" discussions? Were all LSU fans and experts 100% confident that Matt Mauck would lead LSU to its first National Championship in decades? Solid quarterback play is essential to winning.  LSU will have solid quarterback play this year and this is one of those years that could be great.  I know, it could go either way but before the first game, I prefer to think of it as a year that LSU will be competitive in every game and just might go all the way.  Here's hoping.

On a final note, consider this:
Nick Saban has admittedly, had two years stellar years at Alabama. This summer the University of Alabama has erected a bronze statue of Saban next to Bear Bryant.  I know LSU has only one 8 and 9 games the last two years and even lost a bowl game but, as pained as I am to say it, maybe some LSU fans should take notes on how to treat a coach who seems to be shaping up as the best LSU coach ever. 

For the record:  In my opinion Les Miles is by far the better coach!  


Anonymous said...

What a stupid question, duh? Nick Saban is the best coach ever!!! Roll Tide!

JimDan"theMAN" said...

Great Article Bob! Tiger fans need to get behind Les Miles! We should support our team.

Anonymous said...

It is about time we stand up and support our coach! Saban had an opportunity to leave us for a dream position and he left. Miles had an opportunity to leave us for a dream job and he stayed and left the media with the statement that LSU was a "damn fine team". Miles is a damn fine coach! Have a Nice Day!

Anonymous said...

Good one Bob.

Anonymous said...

Rivals-Scout The Last Four Years of SEC Recruiting Rankings:

Close,but according to this past four years recruiting record, Miles is slipping,not Saban.
So when Miles and LSU plays Bama and Saban,LSU will fold to a better football team..Because Alabama has the best players.
How long will the LSU football fans like playing second best?

Anonymous said...

LSU Miles vs LSU Saban: clearly - Miles is better!

Anonymous said...

Beauty is truly in the eye on the beholder,Nick Saban is not as good as Les Mikes,Wow,guy.
I on the other hand, think that Les Miles is some kind of a goof ball college football coach who talk so unreal about the LSU football team.
cheer this,and cheer that,and not once teaching us any think about college football.
I do not think that Les Miles has a clue, on how to build and manage a successful football team.
He walked into a winning program, Nick Saban built from scratch.
Now Miles is starting to lose to many football games.
Just what do you think Les Miles is better at?...Pretending.

BayouBabe said...

Bob, you are fighting a culture of negative losers. They have forgotten that LSU's rich "winning" tradition only goes back about 10 years. They have a You may have been my hero yesterday but what have you done for me lately attitude. I get you blog design now partner ;) You are a revolutionary bent on transforming the LSU fanbase into a culture of winners. Geaux Bob!

GrandaddyTiger68 said...

Saban and Bama robbed us last year and got luck the year before. This year LSU will shut out Bama 31-0 and leave no doubt and no more shadow for Coach Miles!

Anonymous said...

The difference between men can be many reasons,but in the work that they do, if they do the same job,we can say for sure, that one is doing the job better then the other.
So Bob's think Miles is better then Saban.
That anonymous (recruiting rating) was a indicator of what may happen in the football games that LSU,Bama, are about to play.
Time, will tell us who is the best head coach, not sports writers,and not you are me.
One man is doing a better job then the other,we will see.

Anonymous said...

The rivals-scout thing is stupid. First those are two different ranking groups so there should be two different ranks for each year. My other point this may show that Miles is the better coach because with supposedly weaker players LSU has been competitive with Ala. Wonder what the recruiting rankings were that year Bama shutout LSU at LSU under Sabans watch?

RiseUpTigerNation! said...

Rise Up Tiger Nation and Support Your Coach! When given the choice you do not pine over your ex-wife over your current wife. Be faithful to the one you are with! Show Miles the support he has earned! He has been faithful to us and always done his best. That is all you can ask of a man.

RyanG'72LSU said...

Good Article - Bad Title: Bob, after reading your article like so few people that have commented here, I get it. You make a fairer comparison of Miles' 5-year work at LSU vs. Saban's 5-year work at LSU. Your title should be "LSU Miles vs. LSU Saban: Who is the better LSU coach." I had not realized the two coach were so competitive with each other as LSU coaches. Thanks Bob, I enjoyed the article.

Anonymous said...

I am ready for the Bama/LSU game in Nov already! I hope Miles shuts out Bama 31-0 and repeats trader Nicky's record of of being shut out in Death Valley by 31-0 in an LSU alabama game. GO TIGERS!

Anonymous said...

I started reading this Blog because I was reading Dandy Don, and he sent (us) his readers, to this Blog the other day.
This is some great LSU information,that is truly a lot of fun to read,thanks for your service.Have you become a slave to it,and how popular is this Blog?

Anonymous said...

Alabama,Florida,is on a SEC power grab,are the LSU tigers going to let them get away with it?
The Louisiana,and the Texas,football players on this LSU football team has the men and talent,and fight, to do it with,But do the LSU fans have the fight,and determination to help them?

Anonymous said...

Alabama and Florida got lucky last year and had help from missed calls. LSU only lost by 10 and 9 points in those two games. The other two games were lost by 2 points. I am still irritated by the Ole Miss blunder but I suppose you get one of those - only 1.

Anonymous said...

11:29 am anonymous....

When do the fans get on the field to help the team. Doesnt the team exist to entertain the fans? Its not like football has some inherent value of its own beyond its capacity to amuse, does it?

The team has it but do the fans... WEll big guy, when the fans square up in the parking lot against the opponents fans we'll all be able to see. Until then, its really up to the players. We're just paying to watch, and hopefully be entertained by their will to win, competence, and savvy.

Or not.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Bob. Due to Nick Saban leaving the way he did right after a January LSU Bowl game with the National Signing Day right around the corner, a devastating blow occurred to the 2005 recruiting class, just a few more than 10 freshman signed that year. Several players signed elsewhere because of the coach in limbo situation. He lied to the team, the fans, alums like myself, and the state of Lousiana. The snake left us like a thief in the night to be the Dolphins coach. Then he comes back to a rival team not in our conference but our division. It must also be nice when Florida and Alabama are not on each other's schedule to often. For those who say that Miles won with Saban's players then you can say the same about Saban winning with Shula's. Glen Coffee, Terry Grant, several offensive and defensive linemen, including the both of the starters at quarterback are not Saban recruits. Let's talk about the Alabama losses under Saban, how about the four game nosedive at the end of the 2007 season and a loss to of all teams Louisiana Monroe!!!! What a joke!! That's just like the loss that you mentioned by LSU to UAB; and who was the coach at the time? Good ole Nicky. That has to make the LSU loss to Ole Miss a little more respectable.

Anonymous said...

LSU 24-21 over Bammer. Miles out coaches Saban again!! Enough said about that now...

Mule said...

Miles puts more talent in the NFL than anybody, wins more big games and does it with integrity. See ya Nicky! Good riddance!

Mule said...

Les has a better record, puts more talent in the NFL than anybody and wins more big games. See ya Nicky! Good riddance!

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