When Les Miles took the podium at SEC Media Days Wednesday, he was at his usual ridiculous antics again.
If he’s not doing something crazy, his mannerisms with the media will keep you entertained. This time, he decided to compare LSU freshman running back Leonard Fournette to Michael Jordan. Twice.
This is a guy who hasn’t played a college game, and we’re comparing him to the greatest competitor the world has ever known?
But with Les, it’s nothing new. This is “The Mad Hatter,” the guy who eats grass to become one with the field. And also, the guy who could become the most successful coach in LSU history and a Top 10 coach in SEC football history.
I shockingly reminded myself that Miles is getting ready for his 10th season with the Tigers this week, yet it seems like only yesterday when he stepped into some giant shoes to fill left by Nick Saban.
Miles’s tenure at LSU has gone pretty much exactly the way it began: crazy, wild, rocky, but most of all successful. And while we all know how crazy the guy is, when you put his entire career together in a vacuum, it’s much like his personality. In fact, it’s insane.
The insanity behind Les Miles’s quotes and decision making sometimes is only matched by the circumstances that have surrounded his career since he arrived in Baton Rouge, so let’s start from the beginning.
Miles’s first year at LSU was marked by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita striking the area and the Tigers having to postpone two games and move one from home to on the road. Then, for his first game at Arizona State, he needed a desperate fourth-down touchdown pass from Jamarcus Russell to win, and he was booed by the Tiger crowd in his first home game after his team blew a 21-point lead to Tennessee. Yet, despite getting booed in the opener, he led the Tigers to an 11-2 season overall with an SEC western division title and Top 10 finish.
The next year, he led the Tigers to a 10-2 record and a Top 5 finish despite the fact that his team looked absolutely pathetic in the first half of the season on offense.
Miles followed that up with a 12-2 season and a national championship, still the only 2-loss team to win the national championship, which is crazy in itself how the Tigers got in. During just that year, he was hailed for introducing us to the fake-field goal toss to the kicker for a touchdown against South Carolina, hailed again for going 5-for-5 on fourth downs in a win against Florida, maligned the next week for his playcalling in an overtime loss to Kentucky by calling four straight plays for his fullback, almost maligned again for a last second win against Auburn in which he got away with massive clock mismanagement, and hailed again for managing to win the SEC championship with a backup quarterback and then winning the national title. Oh, and in the midst of a national title run he almost accepted the job at Michigan. His backup quarterback who won the SEC title? He would be kicked off the team the next year. Talk about drama.
Since then, Miles has been criticized for more clock mismanagement, resulting in a bad loss to Ole Miss in 2009, and almost losing his job after another round of clock mismanagement should’ve cost him a home game to unranked Tennessee in 2010 but was saved by a penalty that had nothing to do with the play. He’s also been hailed again by more fourth-down calls in big games like Florida in 2010 and out-coaching Nick Saban in the 2011 regular season game against Alabama before being destroyed in the national championship game. And Tyrann Mathieu’s drama is another circumstance that surrounded him.
In short, there’s a reason Miles is called “The Mad Hatter.”
Yet, through all of this, simply look at his record on paper, and his success is impossible to shove aside. In nine years, he has 2 SEC championships, a national championship, and a 95-24 record. In fact, Miles is already second to Charles McClendon for all time wins among LSU coaches, and he has by far the best winning percentage of any LSU coach who has coached more than 20 games at the school, even better than his predecessor, the great Nick Saban. If he coaches just five more years, he will easily become the winningest coach in the school’s history, and it could happen sooner than that.
Miles’s detractors will point out that he is merely continuing a program Saban built, but remember that while Saban was at LSU, Miles was at Oklahoma State rebuilding a program in even worse shape than the Tigers (investigation aside).
His tenure at LSU is like a dramatic relationship that simply seems to work. And, like a relationship, the drama sometimes makes it better because you never know what excitement is about to happen. He has been called the luckiest, worst coach in America in the past.
Whatever luck he’s had, it’s carried on for nearly 10 years, and it might just carry him to becoming the most accomplished coach in LSU history. He’ll just take you on the craziest roller coaster ride that no theme park could ever provide you to get there.