By Jess Nicholas
Nov. 19, 2015
Someone at LSU is geauxing crazy.
November is the month of rumors across college football, as underperforming head coaches are let go, young coaches of the next generation ascend to take their place and the next crop of assistants is planted. For some reason, according to media reports coming out of Louisiana this week, LSU wants to get involved in this circus despite having a team that, two weeks ago, was considered perhaps the top team in the country.
So much for continuity. So much for logic. So much for the argument that everyone else in the SEC isn’t always peering around the corner at what Alabama is doing at any given minute.
Let’s cut to the chase about this: LSU is reportedly considering firing Les Miles because he isn’t Nick Saban. That’s what this comes down to. It isn’t about Miles as a person, it isn’t about his recruiting, it isn’t about his affinity for eating grass. It’s because prior to the 2005 season, LSU lost Nick Saban to the NFL, then had to sit back and watch him return to the Tigers’ own division two years later, and it’s killing them.
It could be seen as self-serving for an Alabama site to get involved in LSU’s business and rap the athletic department’s collective knuckles with a ruler, but sometimes people latch onto a nutbag-level idea and it takes an outside perspective to make them realize just how silly it all is.
This isn’t like a side-smiling show of support for Gene Chizik, or Derek Dooley, or Houston Nutt, or any of a hundred other Peter Principle devotees who have passed through SEC territory over the years and coached (poorly, in most cases) at Alabama’s rivals. This is about LSU seriously considering firing the guy who may very well be the second-best coach in the conference all because he’s not the best coach in the conference and LSU used to employ that other guy.
Here’s a newsflash, LSU: You’re not going to hire a better coach than Nick Saban, so stop trying. Same goes for the other 12 schools in the conference.
The only college football coach in Saban’s territory at the moment is Urban Meyer at Ohio State. There’s a big dropoff down to the next level, which may or may not include Bob Stoops, could one day include Jim McElwain, no longer includes Steve Spurrier, and probably doesn’t include Jimbo Fisher, although the latter is supposedly whom LSU is targeting to replace Les Miles, if you believe the internet chatter.
Here are some numbers on Miles and why transition doesn’t make sense for LSU: Only Mark Richt has been an SEC coach longer, in terms of consecutive seasons. With the retirements of Steve Spurrier at South Carolina and Gary Pinkel at Missouri, no current SEC coach has been a coach anywhere for longer, in terms of consecutive seasons. In the span of time Miles has been in Baton Rouge, he’s coached against the same number of combined head coaches at Arkansas (4) and Ole Miss (3) as he’s had starting quarterbacks (7) at LSU. And over those years, he’s won three division titles, two conference titles and a national championship.
Let’s just say, for comparison’s sake, that Les Miles coached at Iowa and not LSU. Iowa is a solid program but not a great one. Former head coach Hayden Fry is a legend there, winning 232 games in his career, 143 of them at Iowa. He won three Big Ten titles in 20 years, but never competed for a national title and never won a Rose Bowl.
They named a major highway after the guy.
Put Les Miles in Iowa, with his LSU resume, and Kinnick Stadium would be Miles Stadium, or maybe Miles-Fry Stadium (although “Fry-Miles Stadium” has a certain panache we can’t ignore), or maybe Iowa would open up the Les Miles School for Grass Culinary Arts in his honor.
At LSU? They’re talking about firing him and replacing him with Jimbo Fisher. Jimbo Fisher.
Look, Fisher is a good coach, has LSU connections from his days there as a Nick Saban assistant, and he doesn’t eat grass. But aside from winning a national title in 2013 at Florida State behind a monster of a roster, beating the weakest league champion the SEC has produced in a decade (the Nick Marshall-led Auburn Tigers), Fisher has spent most of his time explaining why Jameis Winston never got suspended, even as crabs everywhere were running for the hills in fear. And that doesn’t even address the allegations against Winston, made by women, in which no one found any humor.
In LSU’s defense, however, Miles’ lone national title was somewhat of a freak occurrence. LSU was a two-loss team in 2007 and only got a shot to play for the title when the Rich Rodriguez-led West Virginia Mountaineers choked in the Backyard Brawl against Pitt. This came after LSU had lost in overtime to both Arkansas and Kentucky during the regular season.
But that’s not what is driving this conversation. What’s driving it is Miles isn’t Nick Saban. Miles still signs top-level recruiting classes, but Saban occasionally gets a key recruit or two out of the state of Louisiana, which LSU boosters won’t tolerate. Miles is respected by all, but his personality doesn’t strike fear in opposing coaches’ hearts the way Saban’s intensity does.
It’s not even Les Miles’ own fault. It’s Nick Saban’s. It’s Saban’s fault, because until he came along in Baton Rouge, the Tigers were Barney Fife to Paul “Bear” Bryant’s Andy Griffith: The Tigers often had just one bullet, and couldn’t use it correctly. Saban’s national title in 2003 was a fantastic revelation for LSU, which finally realized its own potential as a recruiting powerhouse, thanks in no small part to its death grip on in-state talent and lack of a legitimate intrastate rival. But it has also been Miles’ worst-case scenario come to life, as overzealous (and often over-served) LSU fans suddenly equated the 2003 title – the first for the program in 45 years – with birthright-bestowed dominance.
There is always the chance that columns like this can come back to haunt the writer, much like Neal McCready’s now-infamous “Bama Has Been Passed” column for the Mobile Register in 2006 has followed him around like the rain cloud over Joe Btfsplk’s head in a “Li’l Abner” cartoon. Having said that, which is more likely: LSU fires Les Miles and finds the next Nick Saban, or LSU fires Miles and finds the next Derek Dooley?
You know the answer. Anyone who follows college football and tracks the percentage of hires that turn out to be excellent head coaches knows the answer.
LSU, though, is so quick to consider firing their grass-eating coach that they’re getting lost in the weeds.
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN