Every season or so, it seems, Les Miles gives us another reason to debate whether he's brilliant or an idiot. Oftentimes, it's because of plays that work but critics say should not. (See here and here for more on that, discussing two plays that essentially won games for LSU.) Last year gave us a little bit of a refuge, given the undefeated run to the national title game and the fact that the offense was undoubtedly the reason LSU lost there, but the debate still rages on and off.
This year, there was no keeping Miles from an avalanche of criticism. His decisions almost certainly lost LSU two of its biggest games of the year, the always season-defining tilt with Alabama and the Chick-fil-A Bowl loss to Clemson to end the season. And whatever knack for timing he used to have to call one of his patented oddball plays or calculated risks seems to have evaporated.
Consider the loss to Alabama. Miles not only called a fake field goal where it was unlikely to succeed -- and when Alabama at least appeared to see it coming -- but that decision kept Miles from calling it again a bit later in the game, when it was much more likely to work on a play that ended up being for a tougher field goal. That's even setting aside the on-side kick that might have worked if the kicker hadn't touched the ball too soon -- a bit of bad luck, perhaps, but something that didn't used to happen to Miles.
The bowl game issues had more to do with a systemic flaw in the game plan and clock management than any single trick play. Miles and his staff just seemed to be asleep at the wheel or unable to use basic strategies against an uptempo offense or whatever you want to call it.
What makes this more frustrating is that Les Miles is not a bad coach, broadly defined. He has never won fewer than eight games and only twice won fewer than 10 (2008 and 2009, when he went 8-5 and 9-4, respectively). Miles has only one non-winning record in SEC play in eight seasons. He has three division titles, two SEC championships and a national title. And, in case you haven't noticed, they recruit a lot of NFL-caliber guys to Baton Rouge.
But it still leaves you with that nagging question about whether someone else could do better. Consider that Miles has also only lost fewer than two games once, and it's not like the games he loses have all been the games that you should be losing. That doesn't mean that Les Miles should be fired -- I think that would be a bad idea for LSU, and I like having the Hat around the SEC to make things more interesting. It just raises some questions about how we should regard Miles in the hierarchy of SEC coaches.
Of course, this article might be moot one year from now. In fact, it's likely that Les Miles will make some gutsy calls next year, and there's a chance that they'll turn out right. And maybe he'll have an SEC or a national title to show for it, and we'll be back to talking about how brilliant he is and how he makes the right calls just because he knows deep down that his guys are better than your guys. When you're talking about Les Miles, the only certain thing is that you don't expect what's about to happen.