Lots of folks, some of them media types, expressed outrage over the way LSU treated Les Miles last November. The school nearly fired him but then, allowing itself to be swayed by public outcry, chose to keep him. “What a disservice to a fine coach!”, some among us tut-tutted. (Though not I, said this meanie.)
But wasn’t what just happened worse for everyone concerned? Miles was fired after four games, which wasn’t the fastest such ouster in SEC history — Arkansas axed Jack Crowe after one game, a loss to The Citadel, in 1992? — but was certainly the fastest in-season firing of a man who’d won a national championship. Now LSU must play the remainder of a tough schedule under Ed Orgeron, interim-coach-to-the-world, and LSU’s players must adjust and LSU’s administration must restart the search it cut short 10 months ago.
Because LSU didn’t just nearly fire Miles back then. It had fired him in every way except the official announcement. Had LSU not done its about-face during the regular-season finale against Texas A&M on Nov. 28, Jimbo Fisher might well have been announced as the Tigers’ new coach by Dec. 1. (Jimbo of Florida State was once LSU’s offensive coordinator under Nick Saban. and, for one year, under Miles.)
As it stands, the LSU choice will boil down to Fisher or Tom Herman of Houston. (Me, I think Herman is the third-best collegiate coach in the land, and I probably don’t need to mention the names of Nos. 1 and 2.) But here we go back to the advice extended to Georgia’s Greg McGarity, a bit of wisdom taken from the Florida AD Jeremy Foley: What will happen eventually needs to happen immediately. Breaking news: McGarity himself fired a coach on the morning of Nov. 29, 2015.
Miles’ boisterous program had clearly begun to atrophy. He had the SEC’s second-best talent, but the divide between Alabama and LSU, once a rivulet, had grown as wide as Lake Pontchartrain. His offense was as bad as it had been since the infamous 92 yards of total offense against Bama in the BCS title game of January 2012, and he refused to fire coordinator Cam Cameron. (LSU finally did that deed Sunday.)
Here’s all you need to know: Since Matt Flynn, whom Miles had inherited from Saban, led the Tigers to the 2007 national championship, the best LSU starting quarterback was Zach Mettenberger, who came by way of Georgia and junior college.
For a long time, we weren’t sure if Miles’ success in close games was a testimony to his late-game genius or simply blind luck. Given that most everybody likes Leslie as a guy, we tended to extend the benefit of the doubt. What we kind of missed was that, even with superior talent most every Saturday, LSU and Miles had a way of turning every game into a coin flip.
When finally that coin came up “tails” — as happened at Lambeau Field on Sept. 3 and in Auburn on Saturday night — we were left to wonder how a team with Leonard Fournette could manage not to score 20 points. We knew the answer, though some hadn’t forced themselves to admit it. The answer was that LSU had become a horribly coached team. That was Cameron’s fault, which ultimately was Miles’ fault.
Had LSU held its nerve in November, they’d be where Georgia is today — making a fresh start under a different coach. I’ll concede that Saturday’s wipeout loss in Oxford isn’t the greatest advertisement for new brooms, but let’s not lose sight of the greater point: Georgia’s transformation is under way. LSU must wait at least another two months to hire Fisher/Herman. (My choice would be Herman, but I’m guessing LSU will hire Jimbo.) Only then will the official Time of Transition commence.
Adages become adages for a reason: They tend to be true. Your first inclination is usually your best. LSU knew what it had to do last year and, with midnight approaching on Nov. 28, opted not to do it. Thus did LSU cost itself a year in the never-ending race that is college football. In its reluctance to be branded as heartless, it wound up looking silly.