Was LSU sandbagging Texas A&M? And was its administration playing us? The story out of the city named after a “red stick” earlier in the week, which seemed to take on a life of its own, was that head coach Les Miles was about to be fired. Meetings had supposedly taken place and a decision was imminent. Les was a goner. There was even a report he told the booster club that the A&M game would be his last and that he would not be coaching whichever bowl extended an invitation to the Tigers.
Boy, did the media ever run with this story. And why not? Miles has the highest winning percentage of any man who has coached at LSU, averaging 10 wins/year. After week 10 this season the Bayou Bengals were 7-0 (they would have been 8-0 had their season opener against in-state McNeese State not been canceled due to lightning and rain) and occupied the #3 spot in the national rankings.
Then, something apparently unforgivable happened which greatly upset the faithful at Louisiana State University. They lost. First to Alabama – which shouldn’t be all that shocking since the Crimson Tide beats most everybody on its schedule on an annual basis. Except it was the fifth time in a row the Tide had taken down the Tigers. What next infuriated the boosters was an upset defeat to an unranked Arkansas ball club – at home! The game marked the tenth time a Miles-led LSU team lost at Tiger Stadium – in 11 years. “Do you realize that’s almost one home loss a year? Does Miles think we gave our hard-earned dollars to build that stadium so he could continually lose games in it?” Actually, those last couple lines shouldn’t have quotes around them since nobody (at least nobody I’ve heard) said those words. But talk to any hard core LSU football fan and it doesn’t take you long to understand that is exactly what they’re thinking.
As if a home loss to an unranked team wasn’t enough of an embarrassment, wouldn’t you know that Les Miles had the gall to lose again? OK, losing two in a row can happen – after all, prior to this season’s Alabama/Arkansas fiasco, it had twice before in his tenure. Exactly how much patience does a guy think he can expect from “the best fans in the world?” Well, Les Miles pushed his luck by not just losing at Ole Miss but being thrashed, 38-17.
That was all it took. The rumors spread immediately. The top dogs at the university wanted Les Miles gone. The coach with an overall 111-32 overall record, 61-27 in the SEC had to be replaced. There was a problem, however. If the school were to fire Miles, it would owe him in the neighborhood of $15 million. That’s quite a neighborhood. Yet, not one mention in any media story – including all those with anonymous sources – that coming up with that amount of dough was given a second thought. Wouldn’t you like to stare a $15 million bill in the face and not blink when you thought about paying it?
What happened next was nothing short of remarkable. The decision-makers at LSU almost certainly listened. To the media (print, electronic and, even, social), each echoing the identical belief – are you serious? Who the hell do you think you’re going to get who will be better than Les Miles? Jimbo Fisher? Chip Kelly? Or everybody’s pipe dream for a coach – Jon Gruden? As if writers, sportscasters and talking heads weren’t enough to bring the “masterminds” in Cajun country to their senses, they sat in amazement when 101,803 fans gave their coach a prolonged standing ovation when he entered the stadium. What must have been going through their minds was, “We thought y’all wanted him fired!”
Following the Tigers 19-7 victory over the Aggies, LSU Director of Athletics Joe Alleva said that the department policy is to wait until the end of the season – and that the season had just ended. In reality, the AD claimed, the decision was reached during the third quarter (aren’t they a proactive bunch?) He commented on the community support before producing one of the great understatements by an administrator:
“We would have looked mean-spirited if we had fired Les Miles.”