No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Oklahoma St linked by Miles

If the national championship game were played today, it would be

Les Miles’ current team against the one he helped put on the path

to the BCS.

Miles has already taken LSU to one national championship, and

he’s leading the pack on the way to another after beating Alabama

last week. The team that is right behind his top-ranked Tigers in

the BCS standings is none other than Oklahoma State.

Miles spent four seasons at OSU, pulling off two big upsets in

the Bedlam rivalry against Oklahoma and starting some upward

momentum. He also brought current coach Mike Gundy back into the

fold as his offensive coordinator.

If both keep winning, the former colleagues will face off in the

BCS title game in January.

”If he’s there,” Gundy said, ”I sure hope I get the

chance.”

Neither coach is all that comfortable at this point talking

about the possibilities of meeting two months from now at the

Superdome for all the marbles. Each still has three regular-season

games left, the last against a top 10 opponent, and the Tigers

would also have to get through the SEC championship game.

”I’d be thrilled for them and thrilled for us, but we’re not in

that game just yet,” Miles said. ”We’ve got a long way to go and

I’m not taking anything for granted in any way and frankly, anybody

that plays in that game, congratulations are in order.”

The ties between Miles and Gundy date to 1995, when Miles came

to Oklahoma State as Bob Simmons’ offensive coordinator and had

Gundy – who was on the previous staff and spent the year before as

offensive coordinator – as his quarterbacks coach.

They were reunited in 2001 when Miles, then a Dallas Cowboys

assistant, was brought back to replace Simmons as head coach. He

hired Gundy as his offensive coordinator, and soon the program was

on its way out of a deep valley that followed Barry Sanders’ 1988

Heisman Trophy season and a run through NCAA probation.

Miles won just four games his first season, but capped it with a

16-13 upset at No. 4 Oklahoma that provided momentum in recruiting.

The Cowboys won eight games the following season – beating a

third-ranked Sooners team and finishing with a winning record for

just the second time in 14 years.

”I think it generated some excitement again and then it started

to get some people on board: OK, we’re kind of getting that way,”

said Todd Monken, Gundy’s current offensive coordinator and a

former Miles assistant at OSU and LSU. ”Can we take the next

step?”

Miles went on to lead the Cowboys to three straight bowl games

for only the second time ever, then left following a blowout loss

in the Alamo Bowl to join LSU. Perhaps the most important result of

Miles’ success was that it gave billionaire Boone Pickens something

to believe in, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in

donations that have transformed the football stadium and training

areas.

Some in the Oklahoma State community are still bitter about

Miles’ departure, even though he went to a place where he won a

national title three years later and handed the program to Gundy

with a firm foundation in place.

Gundy wouldn’t let Miles come back and tell the team goodbye, a

decision he now doubts had any impact.

”It does not surprise me the success that he’s having,” Gundy

said. ”He kind of got the ball rolling here and I was fortunate

enough to take his place and then able to keep it going from that

point on. Everybody needs to be thankful for what he did here

now.”

Looking back, Gundy said Miles had the right approach at the

right time for Oklahoma State.

”He was smart enough to realize that’s some of the guys that we

had here may not be as good as what we think we need but if we are

tougher than them, we can pound this thing out, win enough games

and kind of get it rolling,” Gundy said. ”That was his philosophy

when he took over here.”

Miles molded the Cowboys into a smashmouth running team with

long practices, running counter and power plays ”until nobody

could stand up any more,” Gundy said.

Gundy employs a far different approach now, using fast-paced

practices that are much shorter and aimed at keeping players fresh

for game days. The former quarterback’s offense throws the ball on

about 60 percent of its plays and is one of only two that averages

more than 50 points per game.

”My philosophy on offense is different than his but the basic

principles of what I believe in are the same as him. This is who we

are, this is how we’re going to do it and don’t look back no matter

what. So, there’s a lot that I was able to take.” Gundy said.

”Even though the cover of the book may be different, the inside of

it’s very similar.”

Gundy described both he and Miles as ”bullheaded” and said

they’re also similar in that they have no hobbies outside of

football.

”He has taken that team to a whole different level. Combined

with the contributions that Boone Pickens has made to the

institution, that is not a program that has done anything but

continue to climb for some time,” Miles said. ”I am proud to have

been a part, but again, they’ve continued and taken that school to

a strong competitive level.”

”Basically he’s put his school, his team, in position to play

for the national championship,” he added.

Divvying up the credit for Oklahoma State’s rise is hard even

for someone like Monken, who has worked for both coaches. He said

some of the foundation dates to Simmons, who brought in NFL-bound

talent such as Rashaun Woods, Tatum Bell and Kevin Williams to give

Miles and Gundy a head start.

Miles then instilled a culture of winning that Gundy has been

able to take to the highest level in the program’s history.

”I think that’s hard to say because I think then what it does

is it takes away from what Mike’s done, and I think that’s

unfair,” Monken said.

”I think that it’s unfair to say that the reason Les is

successful at LSU is because of what Nick Saban did at LSU. I think

that’s unfair to him, although I think both had their place in in

having their own success there.”

AP Sports Writer Brett Martel contributed to this report from

Baton Rouge, La.