I am a fan of Les Miles. I admire Les Miles. I think Baton Rouge and LSU owe so much to Les Miles. He’s the winningest coach in the school’s storied history. He gave us some great teams and, no question, some great players. He was the Mad Hatter with more tricks than you could shake a stick at (one of my favorite bits of mad-hattery above and another below). He brought the school two SEC championships (2007 and 2011), two national championship appearances (2007 and 2011), and one national championship win (2007).
In addition to that, he has meant so much to the community in Baton Rouge. He showed leadership and rallied the community during Katrina, during the racial unrest over the summer, and during the aftermath of recent devastating floods. In spite of the downturn in Tiger football of late, people in Louisiana genuinely love and admire Les Miles. That is why he got one more shot to coach the Tigers after a disappointing 2015 season. That is why after the victory over A&M last year, his players carried him off the field. They love him, and so do so many others in my home state.
So what happened that led to his abrupt firing earlier today? If you think it was due solely to the heartbreaking loss to Auburn yesterday, you only know part of the story. The real story is that LSU football has been in decline since 2012. In fact, we can put our finger on the exact moment that the decline began. It was January 9, 2012.
During the 2011 season, LSU was unstoppable. They bulldozed every opponent they faced. They were big, mean, fast, and furious. They went undefeated through the regular season, undefeated through the SEC, and won the SEC championship game. They even beat the big bad Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa in a game for the ages. It was a bruiser, but they did it.
But at the end of the season, the other undefeated teams in college football all faltered. And Alabama rose back up to number 2 in the rankings. The result: LSU would have to face Bama again. The situation was a bit demoralizing simply because LSU had already beaten Alabama in the regular season. Now in order to be champions, they’d have to go 2-0 against Bama. But Bama only needed to go 1-1 with LSU to be champs. It seemed uneven. To add insult to injury, LSU would have to go through a bruising conference championship to get to the final game (which they did), while Bama got to have the week off and wasn’t even the conference champion.
The championship game went south real quick. LSU defense actually played really well. For three quarters, Alabama couldn’t score a single touchdown, but they did get close enough for some field goals. LSU’s offense, however, faltered. There was no passing attack to speak of, and Alabama stopped LSU’s crushing rushing attack cold. They were the only team in the nation that could do it, and they did. After a bruising three quarters, LSU’s defense finally gave up one touchdown during the fourth quarter—the only touchdown of the game for either team. LSU lost 21-0.
LSU football has been snakebit ever since that loss on January 9, 2012. Les Miles never beat Alabama again, which means he never led his team to contend for another championship. Something broke in LSU football on that day. The swagger that they had before never returned. And the passing that they needed to win that championship never really emerged in subsequent years. As college football changed and required more pro-style, pocket-passing offense, Les Miles didn’t change.
Since that championship loss, the Tigers have been in consistent decline. In 2011, LSU went 8-0 in SEC play, 6-2 in 2012, 5-3 in 2013, 4-4 in 2014, and 5-3 in 2015. And this season, the decline has been sharp in the first four games. LSU hadn’t lost a non-conference game in the regular season in 14 years. That changed in the loss to unranked Wisconsin a few weeks ago. Even though LSU arguably has the best running back in the country, the offense has still stalled with no passing attack to speak of. Wisconsin and Auburn were both games LSU was supposed to win, and the toughest part of the schedule is still ahead. LSU is probably going to lose at least 5 or 6 games this season. Things are bleak.
So Miles’s ouster today wasn’t merely about the loss to Auburn. It is about years of decline with no end in sight. It’s also about not losing recruits, especially QB’s and receivers who see no future in LSU’s current offense. It’s about figuring out who the next coach will be. And no Tiger fan is happy that it has come to this. We love Les Miles. He’s a great man and a great coach. And he will be missed, even though most fans agree that it was time for a change.
One of the great things about Miles is how much his players love him. That is evident in the outpouring we’ve seen today. Championship QB Matt “looks-like-Matt-Damon” Flynn said this:
— Matt Flynn (@mflynn3) September 25, 2016
And Jacob Hester, the bruising fullback from that same championship team, said this:
My heart hurts for my coach today. There’s nobody in this world that I respect more. You’ve been a 2nd father to me. I love you coach. pic.twitter.com/BAM6SFqKiM
— Jacob Hester (@JacobHester22) September 25, 2016
Hester and Flynn are right to be grateful for Miles. I am too, and so are Tiger fans everywhere. Thank you, Coach Miles. It was a great run.