Had Les Miles actually been (rightfully) fired in 2013, who would LSU have hired?
Think of an alternative universe in which LSU administration listened to then-athletic director Joe Alleva and Les Miles was fired in June 2013 following an investigation into multiple sexual harassment claims against the former Tigers coach.
It’s a wild thing to ponder considering what we know about the way the rest of the decade played out in college football. Alabama was in the midst of a dynasty, Texas A&M took the league by storm in its debut season but never regained its 2012 status in the rest of the 2010s and Florida State was about to embark on one of the most dominant seasons in the sport’s history.
And then of course, there’s LSU. As in, the program that was in the early stages of a 7-year run without either a win against Alabama or an SEC West crown. The Tigers won 9 games in 5 of those 7 seasons, but they went without a New Year’s 6 Bowl bid or a top-10 finish from 2012-17.
Go figure that LSU ended the decade with LSU producing arguably the greatest team of all-time.
Had Miles been fired in the summer of 2013, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Ed Orgeron would’ve taken over the program. At that point, he had yet to serve as anyone’s interim coach. It was in the 2013 season that the infamous tarmac exit with Lane Kiffin took place. Would LSU have hired the USC defensive line coach with his Louisiana roots to replace Miles in the summer of 2013? It’s doubtful.
Let’s instead take a step back and time and try to put ourselves in the mind of Alleva and what he would’ve done if he had to make a hire back in the summer of 2013 or perhaps in December of 2013. It’s a wild hypothetical that could’ve altered the course of college football history.
Here are some realistic — and perhaps not-so-realistic options — for that hypothetical vacancy in Baton Rouge:
The boring answer is … Cam Cameron
If we’re being honest, Alleva’s most likely course of action would’ve been to make Cameron the interim coach that season and not conduct a national search. It was June. That’s not the time when national searches are conducted. At the time, Cameron was the high-priced offensive coordinator who was brought in that offseason to jumpstart LSU’s stagnant offense. The Tigers were set to return an offensive core of Zach Mettenberger, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and Jeremy Hill, meaning an outside hire could’ve potentially disrupted that.
Alleva is the same guy who ultimately replaced Miles with an interim coach 3.5 years later. That doesn’t guarantee that Cameron would’ve been the guy, but he certainly would’ve been a cheap option to perhaps keep the ship afloat on the recruiting side, as well. Sure, Cameron was more than a decade removed from his last head coaching gig in the college ranks, but in 2013, he was a respected offensive mind who could’ve helped keep LSU’s core staff in place.
Cameron might not have been considered the long-term answer by any means. Could he have given Alleva a chance to re-evaluate things after the 2013 season to conduct a true national search? Absolutely.
The scary answer is … Art Briles
At the time, we didn’t have any reason to think anything but positive thoughts about Briles. He was months removed from leading Baylor’s turnaround in the 2012 season, which saw the program end the season on a 4-game winning streak, including a 52-24 beatdown of No. 1 Kansas State. Briles led a top-5 offense for the second consecutive season, and he was universally considered one of the top offensive minds in the sport. It’s fascinating to think about Beckham and Landry playing in Briles’ offense. There’s no doubt that LSU could’ve made an attractive offer to Briles, who had previously agreed to an extension at Baylor that offseason after taking his name out of the running at Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee.
But man, that would’ve blown up in Alleva’s face. Badly.
Alleva would have fired Miles for accusations of sexual harassment of female students and then replaced him with the man who was eventually fired for his role in allowing Baylor to cover up a culture of mass sexual assault. There were 31 Baylor football players accused of committing 52 rapes from 2011-14, all of which were under Briles’ watch. He was fired in May of 2016.
Had Alleva been able to hire Briles, who knows how the Baylor scandal would’ve played out. One thing that seems all but certain is that Alleva would’ve had to fire Briles after the Outside the Lines reports early in 2016. But on the flip side, perhaps Alleva would’ve discovered some of the skeletons in Briles’ closet during the vetting process.
Whatever the case, there’s no doubt that Briles would’ve been a disastrous route given the nature of Miles’ hypothetical exit.
The exciting but probably unrealistic answer is … Jimbo Fisher
Of course. No list of LSU coaching candidates — hypothetical or realistic — is complete without Fisher. The former LSU assistant wasn’t willing to leave Florida State for LSU after the 2016 season, and in all likelihood, he probably wouldn’t have entertained a mid-summer offer from the Tigers in 2013.
Why? He was entering Year 4 at FSU, where he had been groomed as the replacement for Bobby Bowden, and he was set to coach a young fellow named “Jameis Winston.” The former 5-star signal-caller was far more talented than Christian Ponder or E.J. Manuel, and as we found out, that 2013 FSU team was a head coach’s dream. Not only did Fisher coach the Heisman Trophy winner, but he also led the highest-scoring team in college football history en route to a national title.
Even if Fisher didn’t see all of those things playing out the way they did, FSU was set to start that year as a borderline top-10 team. Coaches with national title hopes don’t leave for other programs a couple of months before the start of the season.
Fisher didn’t have his falling out with FSU administration until after he won a national title. Let’s also not forget that Fisher left LSU for the same position at Florida State in 2007. It’s not like he held the Tigers in a higher regard.
Fisher would’ve been the message board dream, but as was the case a few years later, he wasn’t the university’s reality.
The exciting and a bit more realistic answer is … James Franklin
At the time, Franklin was a year from taking the Penn State job and helping it dig its way out of a national scandal. He’s a Pennsylvania native, so obviously, it made sense when he left Vanderbilt for Happy Valley.
But think about where Franklin was after the 2012 season. He just led Vanderbilt to its first AP Top 25 finish since 1948. The Commodores won 7 consecutive games to end the season. Even though those teams were a combined 30-56, Franklin was still as popular of an up-and-coming coaching candidate as there was in the sport. Vanderbilt had already given Franklin 2 extensions, but clearly, he was destined for bigger and better things.
It wouldn’t have been surprising to see Alleva throw a splashy offer at Franklin, who would’ve had a difficult decision to make. Turning down Arkansas in the wake of the Bobby Petrino scandal was one thing. Turning down LSU with a championship-quality roster like that would’ve been far more difficult for Franklin. Those types of opportunities don’t come around every day.
(It’s ironic that Franklin’s agent is former Florida star Trace Armstrong, whom Miles actually hired after he was fired from LSU in 2016.)
The tricky thing to navigate with hiring Franklin that summer would’ve been the likely debate about staff retention. When Franklin left Vanderbilt for Penn State, he brought 7 of his 9 full-time staffers with him. You typically don’t see a coach do that in mid-summer. That’s not the time when you want players working with new coaches in new systems.
There’s an interesting scenario that could’ve unfolded, though. Franklin could’ve held off on the LSU gig for that very reason and essentially said to Alleva “call me in a few months.” Alleva could’ve been months into the courting process by the time December rolled around and he could’ve make that official offer at season’s end. Bill O’Brien didn’t leave Penn State for the NFL until Dec. 31 of that year. In other words, Alleva might not have been competing against Franklin’s home-state team.
That’s not a very far-off possibility to consider.
The wildly intriguing answer is … Bo Pelini
LSU fans, stop your cackling. I’m going to ask you to do something that’s next to impossible given what you just experienced with Pelini as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator in 2020. Let’s try to block that out. Like, go back to what we thought of Pelini long before he became Orgeron’s worst hire.
Hey, I said stop the cackling.
Timing is everything in these things. By the summer of 2013, Pelini was already unraveling in the Nebraska fishbowl. That season, audio leaked of a 2011 incident in which he was caught cursing out the Nebraska fans after a 21-point comeback win against Ohio State. It was the largest comeback in school history, and Pelini’s bizarre response was a sign of things to come.
His well-documented falling out with athletic director Shawn Eichorst led to Pelini’s firing after the 2014 season. But remember that Eichorst was hired to replace legendary Tom Osborne in the middle of the 2012 season. Eichorst and Pelini never got along. That became even more obvious when Pelini’s profanity-laced rant against Eichorst in a players-only meeting after his firing surfaced.
So think about being in Pelini’s shoes. You don’t like your new boss, who wasn’t the one who hired you. You’ve clearly had enough of the fan base’s expectations. Meanwhile, the school who you helped lead to a national championship comes calling and says, “hey, how would you like to become our head coach?”
Remember that at that point, Pelini won a division title in 4 of his first 5 years at Nebraska (3 came in the Big 12 and 1 came in the Big Ten). He was 48-20 at Nebraska, and he was freshly removed from a 10-win season. Once upon a time, Pelini was considered one of the better coaches in the sport. LSU poaching him would’ve been popular with the fan base given his success in Baton Rouge as a defensive coordinator.
In hindsight, was not hiring Pelini as the head coach a disaster averted? Probably. LSU would’ve traded Miles’ stubbornness for Pelini’s. If Pelini thought Nebraska fans had high expectations, it would’ve only been a matter of time before he got fed up with the criticism for not winning national titles at LSU. There’s no way Pelini would’ve lasted long in the SEC after what became of modern offenses in the latter half of the decade.
OK, now you can go back to cackling.
The best answer is … Kirby Smart
If we’re talking about which realistic move could’ve shaken up the balance of power in the SEC the most, it has to be Smart to LSU. Would Smart have been Alleva’s top target that summer? Nope. Not without that head coaching experience. But the then-Alabama defensive coordinator would’ve checked a ton of boxes.
- Former LSU assistant
- Just led No. 1 defense in consecutive years for national champs
- Makes LSU’s toughest competition (Alabama) worse
- Proven SEC recruiter
- Likely allows majority of LSU’s staff to stay in place
It’s wild to think Smart was courted to be LSU’s defensive coordinator to replace John Chavis after the 2014 season, though that didn’t happen. Smart instead bet on himself and led another national championship-winning defense at Alabama in 2015, and he got the Georgia head job (he technically accepted that position before Alabama won it all that year but the point remains).
We know now that Smart wasn’t in any hurry to leave Alabama, where he spent 8 seasons. It took Georgia, his alma mater and one of the best coaching jobs in the country, for him to leave. He was a top candidate for the head job at Auburn after Gene Chizik was fired in 2012, but then-Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs reportedly didn’t like the idea of Smart staying on Alabama’s staff for another month so that he could coach in the national championship, and that was a deal-breaker. Could Smart have turned down a job as good as LSU a few months later? It’s doubtful.
It seems fairly likely that the list of Alleva’s favorable candidates that summer wouldn’t have included a ton of Power 5 head coaches. Again, the timing. Leaving for another job a couple of months before the start of the season is rare for a standing Power 5 head coach. Alleva turning to a coordinator as highly regarded as the 37-year-old Smart would’ve been much more realistic. Smart would’ve still been realistic had Alleva decided to wait until after the 2013 season to make a full-time hire.
The butterfly effect could’ve been wild. Where would Georgia be right now without Smart? Who would’ve replaced Mark Richt? Would Florida and Tennessee have had a better shot at keeping pace with the Dawgs with the likes of Jim McElwain and Butch Jones?
And what about 2019 LSU? Is it safe to assume that Smart would still have been searching for his offensive identity by then and that the historic Joe Brady offense would’ve never taken flight in Baton Rouge?
The hypotheticals are endless.
Smart or no Smart, it’s safe to say Miles getting the 2013 boot would’ve changed life in the SEC as we know it.