Why firing Les Miles could totally backfire on LSU
Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from Stewart Mandel’s Nov. 23 Forward Pass. For his full column, click here.
In 11 seasons at LSU, Les Miles has averaged exactly 10 wins per season. He’s won two SEC titles and a national championship. He holds the highest winning percentage (.775) of any Tigers coach since 1908.
And he is about to be run out of town.
What started as surprising (outside of Louisiana) chatter last week about Miles’ possible ouster now appears to be fait accompli following LSU’s third straight blowout defeat. The Tigers have nosedived after starting 7-0 and reaching No. 2 in the playoff rankings, and Saturday’s 38-17 loss to Ole Miss played right into the hands of the school’s deep-pocketed critics. On Sunday, NOLA.com reported that the program’s booster arm, the Tiger Athletic Foundation, is prepared to spend the $15 million necessary to buy out the coach. This after a board of regents member publically questioned the direction of the program.
If all this sounds just a bit insane … that’s because it is.
Miles’ downfall apparently began when his 13-0 team suffered a humiliating 21-0 defeat to Nick Saban’s Alabama in the 2011 BCS championship game rematch. Miles has not defeated his predecessor — to whom he’s always been unfairly judged against — in four meetings since. LSU’s 8-5 record last season was its worst since 2008 but there was little indication he’d be feeling any heat if this team lost three games.
Furthermore, over the past two years, Miles has landed the program’s best recruiting classes in some time, headlined by superstars like Leonard Fournette, and is currently sitting on the No. 1 class for 2016, per 247Sports. But apparently, Miles’ notoriously conservative offense and yearslong inability to develop proficient quarterbacks has simply become too much to bear.
If LSU does in fact pull the plug following Saturday’s regular-season finale against Texas A&M, it will face considerable pressure to land a home run replacement. The presumed top choice will be Florida State coach and former Tigers offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, who’s long held an affinity for the SEC. If they get him, many may view the hire as an upgrade.
But if Fisher passes, there’s not an obvious Plan B, especially given the already crowded marketplace. Some coaches will find it appealing to walk into a gold mine of talent at a program with seemingly bottomless resources. Others, though, will be scared off by its callous treatment of Miles.
Whoever gets the job will be hard-pressed to duplicate Miles’ record, much less exceed it. LSU may be dooming itself to the fate of Tennessee, Nebraska and many others who’ve churned through coach after coach trying to recapture past glory.
Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for FOXSports.com. He covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter @slmandel and Facebook. Send emails and Mailbag questions to Stewart.Mandel@fox.com.