Apologies, as a late-breaking news story in Florida and watching the coverage of the death of Watler Cronkite made this post later than I intended.
It's a little bit tough to tie down exactly when the idea that Les Miles is a bad coach got started. After all, Miles has had a tremendous run of success since taking over at LSU, and while some people give the credit to Nick Saban's recruiting, that misses a key point: Miles has in some ways done more "with Saban's players" than Saban ever did. For example: Nick Saban never won double-digit games in consecutive years; Miles did it three years running (2005-07).
Miles has never lost a bowl game at LSU, and in fact has never won a bowl game by fewer than two TDs. He has one losing streak in his four seasons against the Tigers, against Ole Miss (arguably the third-best team in the conference) and Arkansas (an always tricky rivalry game) at the end of last year's disappointing regular season.
But I'm pretty sure the notion that Miles was a subpar coach started with this:
Weak-kneed souls need not watch.
I try to be tolerant of other people's views, in sports as in politics, but I can barely keep myself from screaming when people say this was a foolish but lucky move by Miles. The important thing here is to watch and listen carefully. First, note that even the broadcasters are expecting Tommy Tuberville to call a timeout. (In retrospect, he probably should have.) Second, note that when LSU breaks the huddle, there are about 17 seconds left -- more than enough time to run a play if the players showed some urgency. Finally, watch the clock as Byrd catches the ball and hits the ground. There are three and probably four seconds left -- it is the fault of a late call by the referees and a slow trigger by the timekeeper that the clock runs down to one second. It might have been close, and it might have taken a review, but I believe to this day that LSU could have probably gotten a chance to kick the field goal even if the pass had fallen incomplete.
After watching six years of Lou Holtz -- cautious to a fault until calling for sometimes truly illogical trick or surprise plays -- I respect a coach with a knack for the well-timed gambit. It's not that Les Miles is prone to gambling too much; it is, I believe, that he is like his idol Bo Schembechler -- he knows that his guys are better than the other guys (whether that's true or not) and is willing to take risks because of that. (For anyone looking to get a sense of Schembechler or Woody Hayes' personalities, I strongly recommend the now-in-paperback War As They Knew It, by Michael Rosenberg.)
The Mayor, as usual, does a superb job of summing up Les Miles' risk-taking while talking about an on-sides kick in last year's
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
It was wild! It was wacky! It was insane! However, it also worked, and not because of random dumb luck, either. It was a calculated gamble. Yes, it was bold, but it was also shrewd. It was the decision of a coach intelligent enough to make an accurate assessment of the odds and gutsy enough to run the risk of having the percentages play out differently. [EMPHASIS C&F's.]
In a world that encourages us to play it safe and take only those chances that we know will turn out well, Miles is instead prepared to go in for the kill, even if there's a chance that his plan will backfire.
The risks are not the only thing I like about Miles, though. I also love the way that his emotions are just underneath the surface, the way that he allowed himself a moment of unadultered joy after winning the BCS title (against Ohio State, no less) by yelling "WAHOO!" to start his press conference. And, of course, there is always his most remembered moment.
In the age of super-controlled coaches like Bill Belichick and his would-be protege Urban Meyer (who can't seem to maintain the presumptuous disdain for the public that Belichick does), it is refreshing to see a coach unafraid to be himself in front of the world. Yes, I'm just as quick as anyone else to joke about Miles' interesting relationship with syntax, but it is at least something different among a sea of coaches saying that "We're just going to try to execute our game plan" or "The team that plays solid defense and scores more points on offense will probably win the game."
On the field and off, Miles is an original. And I, for one, am thrilled that the SEC fans of this generation get to watch him at work.
NEXT WEEK: SEC Media Days
MONDAY: LSU Addresses Its Chief Concern
TUESDAY: Pelican State Planner
WEDNESDAY: Les Gets His Groove Back; Deep in the Bayou?
THURSDAY: Lousiana Losses (and Wins)
EARLIER TODAY: Through the Eye of the Tiger