For LSU coach Les Miles, proven past not enough to quell cynics
He either gets too much credit or not enough respect.
He’s either one of the best coaches in the country or a mere program manager whose top accomplishment is not screwing up a good thing. He’s loved and he’s mocked. He’s lucky and he’s good, but determining the proportion of each requires a conversation that can drag on for hours, even and especially among those in his own fan base.
We’re talking about Les Miles, of course. No other coach in the country with a track record as glimmering can stir up such divisiveness. And for Miles, the third-fastest coach to 100 wins in SEC history, it seems this is the way it’s always been.
The root of the problem is that Miles, as we all know, was both blessed and cursed to follow Nick Saban’s turnaround tenure at LSU.
The blessing: Miles stepped into a great situation. Saban had taken over a program that languished mostly in mediocrity since the late 1980s and left it five years later as perhaps the SEC’s healthiest from a talent standpoint. LSU became a destination out-of-state talent dreamed of and the only place most Louisiana-born prospects with an offer would even consider.
The curse: Miles also stepped directly into Saban’s shadow. After winning two conference titles and a national championship in just five seasons, the standard for Saban’s successor was set almost impossibly high.
And yet, from an objective standpoint, Miles has been able to match that standard more often than not. Saban won 9.6 games per year, while Miles has won 10.3 and has taken the Tigers to two SEC crowns and two national championship appearances, with one win. And while it’s taken him 10 years to do it, LSU has never fielded a team with fewer than eight wins during that time.
That’s pretty remarkable, no matter how strong the program’s infrastructure or how talented the recruiting base. Saban’s thumbprint on the program faded long ago, and while he deserves all the credit he’s received for building a powerhouse, Miles deserves arguably as much credit for the Tigers’ continued excellence.
The question is, can he sustain it? Confidence was not exactly soaring after the Tigers crumbled at the tail end of last season.
But judging on the track record, LSU’s disappointing 8-5 record in 2014 was a mere aberration. Recent history dictates the Tigers will be back among the best in the conference and the country sooner rather than later.
This is where doubt creeps in for the skeptics, and while LSU has been consistently good-to-great for more than a decade now, the cynics’ argument is not invalid. They can cite Miles’ narrow escapes and epic failures in end-game situations as the foundation for their disbelief in the head Tiger, and those doubts are not unfounded.
But the fact remains that Miles continues to win. Every year, come what may, through mediocre quarterback play and droves of early entries to the NFL, few coaches in the country win as often as Les Miles. And winning in the annual meatgrinder otherwise known as the SEC West requires a heck of a lot more than occasional good fortune.
So though his methods sometimes border on madness, and though clock management may never be the skill at the top of his resume, Les Miles has proven himself beyond reproach.
And yet, even more so than any one else in his chosen profession, it seems destined to remain plight of Les Miles that he’ll have continue to do so, year after year.