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January 10, 2011

Thoughts on Les Miles' Situation

No one but possibly Les Miles knows for sure what will happen when Michigan comes calling Tuesday.  It is possible that coach Miles believes that taking the Michigan position would allow him to return home and become a hero by restoring his alma mater to its football glory days once again.  Even after coach Miles had his worst season as LSU's head coach (8-4), many of us knew that a Les Miles LSU team would bounce back and this year's 11 win season capped off with a Cotton Bowl victory proved us right.  

When Miles came to LSU, he had only been a head coach for four years.  As Oklahoma States' head coach, Miles had a 28-21 record and was 1-2 in bowl games. But, as a head coach at any school Miles has only had one losing season and that was his first year at Oklahoma State.  After noticing that Oklahoma State had only finish 7-5 with a 33-7 loss in the Alamo bowl the previous season, some less savvy LSU fans may have wondered why LSU would even consider Les Miles as a candidate to coach the Tigers.  But, from Miles first season at the helm of LSU, there was a magic.  The previous year, coach Saban had left the Tigers with a last second bowl loss to Iowa but a solid 9-3 record overall and plenty of talented ball players.  Miles managed to make that very solid LSU team even better.

Miles arrived at LSU only shortly before hurricanes Katrina and Rita and no one would have blamed him for packing his family up and heading back to Oklahoma, or Colorado, or Michigan, or even Ohio but, Miles not only stayed at LSU but led the Tigers to an 11-2 overall record.  The first couple of years some claimed that Miles success was largely a result of Saban's outstanding recruiting.  Saban is without question an outstanding recruiter but, Miles is an outstanding coach as well as a great recruiter.  Miles has already proven himself at LSU.  Miles' 62-17 record is even better than Lou Holtz's 60-21-2 record as Arkansas's head coach.  Holtz's record at Arkansas established him as a premier coaching commodity and allowed him to realize his dream of becoming the head coach at Notre Dame.  I suppose I am one of the few people that remember Holtz as a Hog.  I bet Holtz would have completed a legendary career at Arkansas had he not been fired for some unspecified reason.   

We know what happened with Holtz's coaching career, that's history.  What we will not know for years is what will become of Les Miles coaching career.  Coach Miles has a big decision coming up in the next few days.  Here are my thoughts about coach Miles choices:

If Miles chooses to take the head coaching position at Michigan - 
Michigan may improve, given enough time.  Miles will have to interview and hire strong coaches that can recruit and understand how to coach in today's Big Ten.  Even the best head coaches need strong supporting coaches and players to succeed.  At LSU, Miles began with Bo Pelini, an outstanding defensive coordinator and after struggling on defense when Pelini became Nebraska's head coach, found a really strong seasoned SEC defensive coordinator without a job when he hired John Chavis.  Upon arrival at LSU, Miles also inherited a very strong offensive coordinator in Jimbo Fisher.  Fisher is now head coach at Florida State and the jury is out on whether LSU has found a consistently solid offensive coordinator yet.  

Should Miles go to Michigan, he will not have to worry about offense.  Michigan's offense consistently ranked higher than LSU's offense the last two years.  On the other hand, the offense installed by Rich Rodriguez does not look like the type of offense that reflects Miles downhill running philosophy.  To establish the type of offense that Miles' seems to favor, he will have to recruit bigger linemen and running backs at Michigan.  That will take time.

What will be a more immediate concern is Michigan's anemic defense.  Miles did narrowly miss out on recruiting 5-star defensive tackle William Campbell to LSU.  Campbell went to Michigan.  If he is still there, that could be a start to rebuild Michigan's defense. Still, Miles is going to need to locate a John Chavis or Bo Pelini type of coach to head Michigan's defense.  I don't think Chavis or Pelini will be available and there are not very many coaches available with the talent of these two coaches.  Miles is not a defensive coach and Michigan definitely needs a stronger defensive coach.

If Miles chooses to go to Michigan, my best guess is that Michigan will have to give him around five mediocre-to-losing years to produce a consistent winner.  Michigan is not stocked with top players as LSU was when Miles arrived and it is doubtful that Michigan alum would be satisfied with a record like Miles compiled at Oklahoma State.  If Miles goes to Michigan, I will still believe that Miles is the best LSU coach ever but, you have to wonder if my view will prevail or those that will still claim that Miles' real success at LSU came on the coattails of Nick Saban.

Miles's success at Michigan is not a forgone conclusion.  I think novelist Tom Wolfe said something to the effect that you can never go home again. I think in the Bible in Mark 6:4 there is something about having trouble succeeding in your own home.  Miles may not be the guy to resurrect the Wolverines. 

If Miles chooses to remain head coach at LSU - 
LSU was only about 3 plays from playing in the BCS national championship this year and LSU played a number of freshmen and redshirt freshmen this year.  If that kind of success does not set up a tall enough task, LSU will again be playing in the SEC West - the toughest division of the toughest conference in the nation - and LSU opens next year with Oregon as their first out-of-conference opponent.  As Urban Meyer can attest, coaching in the SEC is not for the faint of heart.  No one can second guess or blame a man that chooses not to step up to what LSU's head coach will face next year.  What is probably terrifying and exciting at the same time for Les Miles is that he has an LSU team that clearly has the potential to make a run for the BCS National Title this year or if not this year, certainly next year.  I don't believe Les Miles is scared.  You get into coaching for opportunities like the one Miles has at LSU.  Make no mistake, Miles has worked hard to earn this enviable situation - set up a system, recruited the players and hired supporting coaches.  

Miles, like Nick Saban before him, has recognized the native football talent in Louisiana, locked down that talent, and added outstanding out-of-state recruits to the larger core of Louisiana's finest football players.  Players from Louisiana, Texas, Florida, Georgia regionally as well as talented players nationally are attracted to the level of play in the SEC and LSU has become a fixture at the top of the SEC.  It may have been easier to recruit at Michigan twenty or thirty years ago but, LSU and the SEC attract the best talent these days.  Staying at LSU will afford Miles a better chance to succeed.  

Miles is at a juncture where he can continue at LSU and become the next Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden, or Bear Bryant.  Whoever coaches at Michigan will always coach in the shadows of Bo Schembechler.  Jim Harbaugh, Mighigan's first choice to take the reins, and Les Miles are attractive to Michigan because they want some part of Bo Schembechler and Schembechler's success back at Michigan.  Alabama had a similar problem after Bear Bryant.  What Alabama learned was that a coach that had coached in the SEC, their league, against their current competition had the best chance to succeed.  Miles knew Schembechler and may have even learned his best lessons while playing and coaching under Schembechler but, make no mistake, Les Miles is an LSU man now.  Hopefully, Les Miles realizes that fact.

 Michigan and LSU have been successful before Les Miles and will likely be successful at some point when coach Miles fades into history but coach Les Miles has found what very few coaches have found at the level he is coaching.  Coach Miles has found a program that he fits with and a program where he has found unparalleled success.  Most LSU fans love and adore coach Miles.  A few fans will never like him.  For now, Miles is larger than life in Louisiana.  

Will Miles choose to step up and take his place as a Louisiana institution, one of the few that Louisianans look to with pride or will he try to go home again to a place that has not been his home for a very long time?  What would have happened if legendary running back Jim Brown had chosen to leave the Browns after a few successful seasons.  I guess it has worked out OK for Brett Favre after leaving Green Bay.  I really like Les Miles.  Miles staying at LSU would show a whole lot of character.  My son is only 8 but, if he is good enough and Miles is still coaching at LSU in 10 years, I want my son to play for coach Miles.


Garrett said...

Great analysis of the situation, Bob. As a former Yankee and LSU Alum, my family will tell you that my heart is all LSU. I can understand why Coach Miles is attracted to "going home" to Michigan.
Your insight regarding the O coordinator is spot on and I wonder if some of the Miles maligners aren't really more upset about the lack of offensive consistency. The only bumper sticker I've ever placed on a car was "Help Mac Pack" but I'll happily put on a "More Miles" bumper sticker if that will help. FYI, the Cotton Bowl was great, LSU Fans are the best travelers in all of football!!

Anonymous said...

The LSU great college football program will keep rolling along because Les Miles is staying.
Geaux tigers.

Texas Tiger said...

Les staying is absolutely huge. He has now officially identified himself as an "LSU Man" and should remain that way for many seasons. I always felt he would stay because he sincerely loves LSU and Louisiana. Indeed, the future of LSU football is bright. With the coaching staff and talent level, 2011 should be a fantastic season. As a Tiger fan for 52 seasons, I can't remember being more excited about a new season.


Geaux Tigers!

Anonymous said...

The LSU football program is turning into a wish come true...A new QB,
new offense coach,and Les Miles doing what is right for LSU an him self.
Wow...Geaux tigers.

Anonymous said...

What can I do between now and the beginning of the 2011 LSU football season???
Roll tigers..R o l l T i g e r s.
Roll tigers..Roll.

Anonymous said...

Well,LSU is going to be good for sure now.The new good players are becoming tuned into the music,and a new offense coordinator will seal the deal.
How good,only 2011 will tell us that.But LSU will be right there fighting at the top.We have years of good LSU football to look forward to.So much has changed sense LSU beat Alabama.

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