LSU’s firing of Les Miles was probably the right thing to do. His somewhat antiquated approach to an ever-changing offensive philosophy in college football ultimately led to his demise.
And while Miles never had a losing season in Baton Rouge, the specter of his predecessor loomed a little too large for the LSU administration’s comfort. Tack on his predecessor’s current success at their division rival and you’ll really get the full scope of Miles’ ouster.
The fact of the matter is, Les Miles is no longer LSU’s coach and that part kind of stinks. He was fun. When you lost to him, it was still somehow fun. You felt like you’d just been duped by a crafty and charming con man. Les was that guy.
Hypotheticals are not the most respected journalistic tools at a writer’s disposal, but in the wake of the already-swirling rumors surrounding the LSU gig, let’s take a few minutes to ask, “What if my SEC coach left tomorrow?”
There are several coaches that any school would love to have and given that, the only qualifier with this particular exercise is that Nick Saban and Urban Meyer are off limits. Not because they wouldn’t leave their current schools, but because it would make too much sense for every other school to contact them first. The experiment becomes a little less fun that way.
So, let’s give this a shot. First up, the Western Division.
Alabama (Dabo Swinney)
A slightly bonkers choice for the current gold standard in college football, but if AD Bill Battle realizes that Nick Saban is as generational and singular a head coach as the university has ever had (yes, including The Bear), then the choice will become much easier.
Dabo Swinney has hinted that he would be interested if his alma mater ever came knocking and you can bet that ‘Bama will whenever the time arises. What Swinney has done as Clemson’s head coach over the last eight years is really quite something.
He took over an interim spot as a receiver’s coach halfway through the 2008 season and has since coached the Tigers to a 79-27 record, including a national championship berth, two ACC championships and four division titles. He’s a voracious recruiter and he already competes with the SEC for top-tier blue chippers throughout the region.
Swinney also surrounds himself with a great staff. He’s not the end-all-be-all of Xs and Os coaches, but he recognizes how paramount it is to surround himself with the best assistants who do know those aspects of the game. He has Brent Venables to coach his defense right now and he had Chad Morris to coach the offense just two years ago.
The importance here for Alabama is to not try to carbon copy the “Saban Years.” Yes, you could give a Kirby Smart or Lane Kiffin or Jeremy Pruitt (a ‘Bama alum, as well) a shot, but what they really want is a guy who has a proven record as a CFB head coach. The alum aspect is just an added bonus.
Arkansas (Les Miles)
I actually laughed out loud when I thought of this, but it makes a lot of sense for the Razorbacks. Understandably, any university would be hesitant to hire a 62-year-old coach who has difficulty adapting to the times. But fortunately for both parties, Arkansas doesn’t carry the expectations LSU does.
At the end of the day, Les Miles still recruited very well at LSU after Saban left. His players loved playing for him and the transition Arkansas would make from Bielema to Miles would be much easier than it was to get from Petrino/Smith to Bielema.
The only thing Miles needs to do (and this goes for any job he interviews for in the future) is change up his ideals just a little bit. Take a chance on a young assistant coach with a nose for a little tempo and a lot of balance.
We know you’re going to get the most respected defensive coaches in the game for that side of the ball. That part is fine. Just don’t hire Cam Cameron. That’s all you have to do, Les. Don’t hire a 55-year-old coach whose offenses weren’t all that great at the college or professional levels.
If you do this, the Razorbacks will be lucky to have you!
Auburn (Hugh Freeze)
Some of you might be thinking, “Petrino!” As entertaining and as home run an idea as that might be for the Tigers, we have to think a little bit more logically about this.
Auburn wants to compete for championships, of course. In the Age of Alabama, all schools want to compete for championships. None want to do it more than Auburn, though. They’re sick of needing “Cam Comebacks” and “Kick Sixes” to defeat their biggest and most hated foe.
Even with a win against LSU this past Saturday, Gus Malzahn is still on the hot seat. What looked like an inspired hire in 2013, has now dissipated to just another coach trying to keep up with Nick Saban. Enter Hugh Freeze.
The current Ole Miss head coach has lived inside Nick Saban’s brain for the past three years and there’s little evidence to suggest that he’s moving out any time soon. Freeze recruits incredibly well for being at a Mississippi school. The talent in Alabama is greater and Auburn would mortgage the university to get a guy with Freeze’s credentials.
Also, the transition in offensive philosophy would be almost seamless. Auburn doesn’t have the receivers that Ole Miss has, but neither did Ole Miss when Freeze got there. Hugh Freeze got his personnel in place very quickly for what seemed to be a big rebuilding job.
In Bobby Petrino’s time in Fayetteville, he was 0-4 against Nick Saban. In Hugh Freeze’s time in Oxford, he is 2-3 against Nick Saban. Make the call, Auburn.
LSU (Jimbo Fisher)
There’s a lot of talk about Tom Herman right now and rightfully so. There’s a pretty decent chance that LSU will get him. However, there’s another team who I feel is a little more suited for Herman, thus I’m going with the other popular choice of the moment: Jimbo Fisher.
It makes sense seeing as how LSU reportedly wanted him at the end of last season, before they decided to hang on to Miles. Out of all the branches of the Saban Tree, Fisher is the one who seems to have latched on to The Process more than anyone else.
Fisher’s obvious connection to the university is as Saban’s offensive coordinator from 2000-2004. There, they won two conference titles and a national championship together. Since, the two coaches have five national championships between them.
FSU and Fisher are in an interesting position right now. That loss to Louisville certainly shone a light on both the team’s offensive and defensive deficiencies. And one might wonder why LSU would want a coach who’s led his team to the two worst losses in that school’s history.
Still, Fisher is second to only Saban and Meyer as a recruiter and he’s pretty damn close as a program facilitator as well.
Fisher’s buyout if he were to leave would be significant but not otherworldly. Especially if LSU decides they want him badly enough. This is the shot of adrenaline that the Tigers want and need.
Ole Miss (Justin Fuente)
If you’re going to replace Hugh Freeze who, as we’ve already discussed, is going to be Auburn’s head coach, then you need to do it with style. You need to bring in a guy who created something from nothing. You need someone who knows the region. You need a guy who beat your team.
Once upon a time, Justin Fuente was the head coach of the Memphis Tigers. In the span of four years, he took a team that had gone 5-31 the previous three seasons to a 26-23 record, with a 19-6 mark the final two.
He took an unheralded quarterback named Paxton Lynch and turned him into a first-round draft pick by the defending Super Bowl champions. Currently, he’s working on turning Virginia Tech back into an ACC powerhouse with a 3-1 record thus far.
What’s important for any Ole Miss coach is to lock down the Memphis area. Oxford is just across the border and any coach worth his salt can attract top talent from the city to come play for the Rebels.
For these reasons, Fuente couldn’t always do this while he was at Memphis, but he certainly developed the ones he had. If he could recruit the players he wanted and develop them, then the Rebels won’t skip a beat.
Mississippi State (Jeff Brohm)
Truthfully, we need to see where Brohm’s Western Kentucky team heads by the end of 2016 before we hand him the keys to an SEC school, but last year’s magical 12-2 run made believers out of a lot of athletic departments.
WKU’s quarterback last year, Brandon Doughty, broke numerous school records and did so with Bobby Petrino and Brohm as his head coaches. Brohm is a Petrino disciple and stepped in beautifully for his mentor in 2015.
With Doughty’s graduation, Mike White has done a pretty solid job through four games, throwing for 1,142 yards and six touchdowns. Brohm’s system continues to work and given that Dan Mullen utilizes a specific spread scheme, it stands to reason that Mississippi State’s next AD will want to keep that going.
Brohm loves to throw it and he loves misdirection. His flea flicker call against Alabama this year was one of the lone offensive highlights for the Hilltoppers against the Crimson Tide.
If Brohm can at least match what Dan Mullen has done on the recruiting trail and fine tune MSU’s current roster to fit his scheme, then the Bulldogs could continue to make strides in one of the most competitive divisions in the country.
Texas A&M (Tom Herman)
LSU might get the current Houston head coach, but the Aggies would be the better fit. And a better transition for both parties involved. Plus, A&M is already throwing mad money at a guy who is just now removing himself from a very toasty seat.
If Kevin Sumlin were to leave the school tomorrow, you can bet that Herman would be their first call. Without thinking twice, he would be their first call. I’m sure they, along with many other schools, have a special phone just for calls made to Tom Herman.
Sumlin hasn’t always been consistent with his offenses in College Station, but when they’re humming along, it’s a horserace if you want to beat them. This season, new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone is bringing a swagger back to the team that hasn’t been seen since Manziel and he’s doing it with a lot more running.
Tom Herman is yet another maniacal offensive play caller who has worked wonders with first, second, third, fourth and sixty-seventh-string quarterbacks at Rice, Iowa State, Ohio State and now Houston. He’s obviously the real deal and you can tell that his players love him.
Unlike many of the offensive or defensive minded assistants who make the jump to head coaching, Herman puts as much of a premium on the other side of the ball as he does his own. Todd Orlando has done a marvelous job creating turnovers in his two years as the Cougars defensive coordinator and his rush defense currently leads the nation.
If Herman were to bring both Major Applewhite (Texas alum) and Orlando with him to College Station, the state of Texas and the really the entire country need be on alert. He will be stealing all of your recruits and decimating the ones he didn’t get on a weekly basis.