I can't say with 100% certainty that this will not be Les Miles's last season at LSU. In theory, any number of terrible things could happen that would prevent him from returning to the sidelines in 2016—or even showing up in 2015. Maybe a meteor falls on him during preseason practice. I dunno.
But putting aside such things, no, this won't be his last year in Baton Rouge.
I bring this up because I've seen a couple of things within the past 24 hours about him maybe not being around next year. Andy Staples summarily dismissed a silly theory from the Coaches Hot Seat people that LSU would end up firing Miles and hiring Jimbo Fisher away from LSU. More seriously, Dan Rubenstein said on the most recent Solid Verbal episode that he could imagine Miles deciding he needed a change of scenery, perhaps to get out before he's chased out, and taking a new job out of the blue.
The kernel of truth in here is that LSU has in some ways declined each year since Miles had his best team in 2011:
|Season||Record||S&P+ (Rank)||Points For (SEC Rank)||Points Allowed (SEC Rank)|
|2011||13-1 (8-0)||99.3% (1)||35.7 (2)||11.3 (2)|
|2012||10-3 (6-2)||90.6% (11)||29.8 (8)||17.5 (3)|
|2013||10-3 (5-3)||89.9% (13)||35.8 (6)||22.0 (4)|
|2014||8-5 (4-4)||92.1% (16)||27.6 (13)||17.5 (2)|
The team's record has slipped either overall, in conference, or both in each subsequent season. The offense hasn't kept up with rising scoring in the league—it average basically the same points per game in 2011 and 2013 but fell from second to sixth—and the bottom fell out of in 2014. The defense held on fairly well, but now John Chavis is gone and replaced by the underwhelming pick of Kevin Steele. Not pictured in the table is the steady rise of double-digit losses: zero in 2012, one in 2013, and two in 2014.
Last October, I took an in depth look at LSU after it picked up its disastrous 41-7 loss to Auburn. I came away worried a bit about the defense but mostly unconcerned about the future of the offense. My final takeaway was:
LSU had a down year in 2008, and it's having a down year right now too. The Tigers are just going to have to hold on and ride it out.
From that point on, they were inconsistent in the task of riding it out. They gutted out wins over Florida, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M, mauled Kentucky, and took Alabama to overtime. The Arkansas loss put the team's worst weaknesses on display, while the Notre Dame loss was a missed opportunity thanks in part to lackluster effort. Still, the Irish had the lowest final S&P+ ranking of any team that beat LSU at 27th, with every other loss coming to a top 12 finisher.
I'm not sold on Steele taking over the defense, but adding Ed Orgeron to that half of the staff is a huge boost. I really do believe some of the things I said in the optimist's case for LSU's quarterbacks, and I expect an all-around improvement in the offense. The team will be better next year, and it was still the 16th best (by S&P+, or 22nd by F/+) team in the country. This isn't a program that's about to fall behind Iowa State.
I'm not sure yet how far I think LSU will bounce back, but I don't believe they'll go 4-4 in SEC play and finish fifth in the division again. I'm not expecting a return to 2011 form with a playoff appearance, but getting back to the 10+ win level is in play, particularly with Syracuse—or actually maybe Western Kentucky—as the toughest non-conference opponent.
Even through the past three seasons, the Tigers have defended their home turf well, losing only to an eventual national champ (2012 Bama) and two New Year's Six bowl participants (2014 MSU and Bama). Nearly everyone expects marked improvement out of Arkansas, Auburn, and Texas A&M, but those are LSU's three West home games. Mississippi State and Bama look like teams that might take a step back from last year, and they're two of the three road games. Only Ole Miss stands as an "about the same and maybe better than last year" road opponent, and the Tigers did beat them a year ago. Toss in a favorable draw from the East and this year isn't setting up for doom or gloom.
I could be wrong about this. I could always be wrong about anything. But even if LSU only gets up to 5-3 in SEC play, that's still going to be 9-3 with a chance for a tenth win in the bowl. Ten wins, with all the key players who are going to be returning in 2016, means Miles would be set with the arrow pointing in the right direction. The only way I can imagine him hitting trouble is if he only wins eight again or somehow gets even fewer than that, and I can't see a team as talented as this one with over 200 career starts spread across 16 returning starters not improving to some degree.
So no, LSU won't be firing Miles after this season. He won't be leaving of his own accord either, as I've seen no indication he's interested in leaving what he's built. Rubenstein cited Mike Riley leaving Oregon State as a potential analogue to Miles surprisingly bolting out of Baton Rouge, but LSU isn't a remote program with lots of natural disadvantages and a fairly hard cap on potential of eight or nine wins. Miles will still be at LSU in 2016 and beyond.
Unless that meteor really does get him in preseason practice. Better wear a hard hat just to be safe.