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Miles refuses to live in Saban's shadow

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Thayer Evans

Senior College Football writer Thayer Evans previously wrote for The New York Times and Houston Chronicle, as well as contributed to The Economist, USA Today, The Washington Post and more. Follow him on Twitter.

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BATON ROUGE, La.

It’s odd to see Les Miles not wearing his trademark white LSU ball cap.

Without it, you notice he actually has a bald spot behind his blondish hair. But even sans hat, The Mad Hatter is still his ol’ typical wacky self.

As he prepared last week to tape a video greeting in his office for a gathering of the Bengal Belles — a women’s booster club for LSU football — in Shreveport, La., he joked to the camera crew about something he had recently said.

“You’re saying I should avoid saying, 'On the can,’ ” Miles said.

As the camera crew nodded their heads collectively, Miles chuckled.

“I thought it was relatively funny, but here we go,” Miles said.

Miles, of course, has been known to make gaffes when it comes to speaking, and on this day, it wasn’t any different. While filming the video for the Bengal Belles, he started rambling when talking about his daughter, Macy, singing the national anthem at the event.

But he caught himself, and unlike some of his other legendary awkward moments, he got a do-over with a second taping that he nailed as only he can.

“Hi,” Miles began. “Just wanted to say hi.”

Just another day in the wild world of Miles, who is the polar opposite of his predecessor and the head coach who will be on the opposing sideline of Saturday night’s game between top-ranked LSU and No. 2 Alabama: the stoic Nick Saban.

For years, Miles has heard plenty about Saban, who led LSU to the BCS championship in 2003. Even when Miles won his own four years later, it came with the asterisk of being accomplished with Saban’s players.

For someone so candid when he speaks that it’s sometimes uncomfortable to listen to, Miles is just as honest when asked about the pressure of replacing the beloved Saban.

“It was never about who I was following,” Miles said proudly. “I can promise you that.”

After all, Miles has always marched to the beat of his own drum. He doesn’t care if you find him weird for eating blades of grass, or if you think he’s dumb for his bumbling syntax, or if you believe he’s been downright lucky in his gambling ways.

The hysteria surrounding Saturday’s game about Saban and him means . . . nothing to The Mad Hatter.

“I’ve got to be real honest with you,” Miles said. “I’ve never operated with the view of what other people thought was enough, because generally speaking, if what they thought was enough and I did what they thought, we would not have any success because they have no idea what we do.”

Miles is right; folks have no idea what he’s doing most of the time, especially when it comes to clock management late in games. But he’s as stoic as Saban when it comes to his critics, who as recently as last season advocated that he be fired, just three years removed from his national championship.

Never mind that Miles is 19-2 the past two seasons and that one of those losses came at undefeated national champion Auburn.

“No one knows what all we go through here,” Miles said. “We are the most discerning, the most discriminating, the most critical.”

When you compare Saban’s five seasons at LSU versus Miles’ first five with the Tigers, it’s Miles (51-15) who has a better record than Saban (48-16). Granted, Saban had to rebuild the program, but taking over for him and sustaining success is perhaps an even more impressive accomplishment at a school whose fan base is as spicy as the local Cajun fare.

Against each other, Saban and Miles have 2-2 records. But when Miles looks at what he has accomplished at LSU since succeeding Saban seven years ago, he’s again Saban-stoic.

“What you walk into, you must make better,” Miles said. “Arguably, I think we did that.”

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Miles is quick to point out he doesn’t dislike Saban, whom he calls “a quality football coach.” But when asked whether he ever sought any advice from Saban after Saban left LSU to become head coach of the Miami Dolphins, Miles smirks.

“When he was headed toward the Dolphins, I kind of felt like I would use his,” Miles said before pausing.

After several seconds of “ums” and “uhs” while searching for the right word, Miles continued, “Opinion.”

“But,” Miles said, “he wasn’t there long enough for me to get to use it.”

Saban, of course, was coach of the Dolphins for two ill-fated seasons, plenty of time for Miles to seek advice from him if he needed it. After Miles’ subtle jab, his silence and sly grin reinforced it.

This time, however, Miles didn’t want a do-over for what he had said. He was fine with it.

Just as he has always been since replacing Saban at LSU.

Tagged: LSU

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