Friday, December 7, 2007

The Remaining of the King

Les Miles signed a contract extension yesterday. Hopefully, finally, the rumors of him going to Michigan will die.

Of course, Miles said unambiguously on Saturday that he would be LSU's coach next year. Forget his terse press conference hours before the game, where he did not unambiguously say he was staying. Look at his one-on-one interview with Tracy Wolfson at the top of CBS's broadcast, where he did. Unfortunately, I don't see a YouTube of it to show people.

He made a statement that, if he turned around and went to Michigan, would have been his personal Nick Saban "I'm not going to be the next coach at Alabama" moment. Yet still, a small but vocal contingent of the media continued to sell the Miles-to-Michigan story as something other than dead, even though Michigan officials had also declared it dead.

Now it's dead. I am pleased. Let me point you to an article in the LSU Daily Reveille. It appeared on Tuesday.
LaFell said he has always trusted Miles, and Saturday was no different for the sophomore receiver.

"[Miles] came and told us like a man that he wasn't leaving," LaFell said. "Since I've been here, he's never lied to me, so I took his word. We all took his word, and we just went out and played for ourselves."

LaFell has two more years of eligibility remaining at LSU. He said continuing to be instructed by the coach who landed him at LSU is meaningful.

"[Miles] is one of the guys that recruited me and brought me in, came and sat in my house and ate with my family," LaFell said. "He means a lot to me. He recruited a lot of good guys, a lot of good players. It means a lot to know that our coach is going to stick behind us. His alma mater is offering him a good job, but hey, he's taking the best job down here."

Miles has forged ties with LaFell and many other football players. Two Tigers Miles specifically mentioned as being dear to him were Steltz and senior running back Jacob Hester.

"The sincerity of the relationships between coaches and players, they're real," Miles said. "Jacob Hester, Steltz, these are great kids. To think that there's anything less sincere than the relationship that I have with my team, there's nothing more important."

Hester agreed with his coach's sentiments, saying his relationship with Miles is genuine.

"He came to me the other day, and he just apologized. 'I'm sorry this is even interfering with your game,'" Hester said. "And I just told him, 'Coach, I understand.' He said, 'No you don't. I want to be here.'"
"That just means so much. We have such a great relationship with our head coach. We feel like we can just go up to him and talk about anything. It's one of those relationships, and for him to pass up his dream job just to stay with the guys here, that means a lot to us."
This passage points, I think, to Les Miles' greatest strength as a head football coach. He has a wonderful ability to forge relationships with young players because he is genuinely on their side. He genuinely cares about the young players and wants what's best for them. The players sense that, and respond in kind.

That's his approach to coaching. He's a players' coach, trying to get the most out of his players by forging positive relationships with them. As the team gets more and more players who initially forged relationships with him on the recruiting trail, we will see more of his personality shape the team. As it is, it is clear he has won over players who were not recruited by him.

One thing that has always impressed me about Miles is his seeming lack of ego. Les Miles has never once been accused of playing his own recruits at the expense of his predecessor's players. He has never done what Curley Hallman did by falsely claiming his team was "young and inexperienced" while playing his own freshman and sophomore recruits over more polished older players. One can discuss the wisdom of playing Justin Vincent as much as he played last year, but no one can say Les Miles was throwing Saban's players under the bus in favor of his own.

In fact, no one can accuse Miles of ever throwing a player under the bus, period. Even when Brandon Lafell was struggling so much in the middle of the season, he was never criticized publicly by the coaches. Miles simply trusted Lafell to work his way out of his problems, and Lafell has, making a big catch against Tennessee that was eerily similar to the one he batted up for an interception against Bama. LSU would not have been well-served if Miles had benched and publicly reprimanded Lafell, and he didn't do it.

Players trust Miles, understand he will be honest with them, and want to succeed for him. This is what makes the continued rumors of him going to Michigan so senseless after Saturday. The man's greatest asset as a coach is the trust he develops in players. He could have said nothing and quietly left for Michigan after the SEC Championship Game, but if he did that after what he said on Saturday, he would have been sacrificing that trust. No player could ever say of Miles, "He's never lied to me," as Lafell said, because he would have lied to the player right there on network television for all the world to see.

It would have been like Samson wanting to get a job with the Yankees and cutting off his hair to comply with the grooming policies. He would never be able to be the same coach he is now if he had done that. But I guess the media just doesn't watch these people this closely, or just needs to fill up some column inches or television minutes and needs to talk about whatever they can talk about.


gerry dorsey said...

les actually showed me something in this process. i live in big 12 country, and when lsu hired him, many a big 12 football fan felt compelled to tell me his nickname in many circles..."lies" miles. this is just reason i really felt like things were being set up perfectly for a last minute back stabbing and a trip to michigan. however at this point, i really do think les is a stand up dude. i still say he's a moronic in game coach though.

Richard Pittman said...

I am curious what "Lies" Miles refers to. It has been said he didn't handle the LSU-hiring situation all that well, but I've never heard anything else bad about him from Ok State.

gerry dorsey said...

recruiting/recruiting tactics i believe. i've never cared enough to get to the bottom of it i guess. i can tell you that i've heard it the most from sooner fans and aggie fans...whatever that's worth.

Poseur said...

I live in big 12 country as well, and let me tell you... Texas fans HATE Les Miles. I've never seen such anger directed at a coach who, well, had absolutely no impact on their program. They have this inability to see Miles as a good coach because OSU never beat Texas, which is a rather absurd criticism given the gap in quality of the two programs and the fact Miles presided over the most successful era of OSU football since Barry Sanders left town.

I think what they hate about him, and this is just me speculating, is that Miles reminds Texas fans of Mack Brown. Great recruiter, player's coach, but not a great tactician. And unable to criticize their own coach, they bash Miles as a proxy. It cuts too close to home. Especially since Brown has been unable to win titles without Vince Young.

gerry dorsey said...

i've actually never heard horn fans bash miles, but i do find them to be insufferable a-holes, so i wouldn't doubt it. maybe its b/c miles swiped perrilloux...which may or may not payoff.

Joshua said...

I've met plenty, talked to many and know a handful of Longhorns personally. They ALL espouse a virulent hatred of Les Miles. Not one of them has ever explained it. He never beat them I don't think, so I have no idea why they hate him so. But this is certain, they hate him.

Mr. Pittman, excellent writing. Between your well written opinion pieces and Crush taking care of the news at Tiger Bait, I have nothing to write about. Great work, as always.

marcillac said...

Virulent unadultarated hate for Miles among EVERY Texas fan I've met (a sizable but not huge sample of roughly 15 or so people). There is also some very serious ambiguity among his formerly (I guess) prospective constituents at Michigan. Some were giddy at the thought of him coming (understandable given the dullsville up there) some ferociously opposed, some in the middle.

He certainly deserves much criticism for his tenure at LSU, but 3 11 win season in a row, in the SEC. A lot of talent or not, I'm inclined to be impressed.