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
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
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
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
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
”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.