Why Does Les Miles of LSU Get No Respect?

PaulCorrespondent IMay 22, 2009

ATLANTA - DECEMBER 31:  Head coach Les Miles of the LSU Tigers walk on the field during the Chick-fil-A Bowl against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on December 31, 2008 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Recently, a Rivals.com writer ranked the nation's Div. I-A coaches.

Despite having a 42-11 win-loss record, winning a national championship, and being undefeated in the postseason since arriving at LSU, Les Miles is ranked only 28th. 

Most of the coaches rated ahead of Miles seem to fall into two categories. They either returned historically elite programs to glory (e.g. Urban Meyer, Bob Stoops, Nick Saban, Mack Brown, and Jim Tressel) or seem to be able to have teams consistently perform above the level their apparent talent would justify (Kirk Ferentz, Jim Grobe, Frank Beamer, Brian Kelly and Houston Nutt).  

The fact that Miles took over a talent-loaded team just two years from a national championship and among the favorites to compete for the crystal took a lot away from his accomplishments.

Rather than emphasize Miles' near-heroic efforts following Hurricane Katrina, most critics emphasize his inability to win even the SEC championship with all that talent.

While he won the 2007 BCS National Championship, detractors point out that the Tigers had to benefit from a virtual gridiron miracle of upsets to back into the game.

Thanks to Florida kicking the crap out of Ohio State the previous year, LSU's victory was not considered that big of a deal. Check any evaluation of the best of the national championships, and you will find the 2007 game at or near the bottom.

One of the major points detractors of Miles make is that he won the 2007 national championship in his third year with Saban's players.

Why then isn't it pointed out that:

No. 1: Meyer won his first championship in his second year with Ron Zook's players. Little note was given to the outstanding recruiting job Zook did while he was in Gainesville.

No. 2: Stoops and Tressel won their only championships in their second year with John Blake's and John Cooper's players, respectively. This fact is also conveniently ignored. That they both managed to lose their other three championship games with their players as well as performing abysmally in the postseason makes one scratch their head at the rankings.   

By my math, winning a championship in a coach's second year means he most probably depended more on the previous coach's players than a coach who won in his third year.

His 2006 and 2008 really hurt Miles' image. In 2006, he took what arguably is his best team so far to the Sugar Bowl while second-year coach Urban Meyer led his underdog Gators to a rout of Ohio State.

That the light didn't finally go on inside the head of LSU's starting QB JaMarcus Russell until about midseason is little known outside the Tiger nation. The fact that Meyer had to politic to get into the 2006 BCS National Championship game and benefited from a completely unexpected UCLA upset of USC has been conveniently forgotten.

Last year's performance is considered further evidence that Miles only can only win with Saban's players. If it weren't for the rent-a-wins in 2008, LSU would likely have had a losing season.

Personnel losses and injuries are justifiably discounted by critics because they are just part of the game and must be dealt with. The co-defensive coordinator disaster is correctly laid at his feet. 

Thanks to the Mike Archer/Curley Hallman/Gerry DiNardo dark ages, LSU is, in the minds of most of today's college football fans, a Johnny-come-lately to the nation's elite.

2009 is key for Miles and the LSU program. Another mediocre year could have us looking back at 2008 as the beginning of the end of the Miles era at LSU.

Having said all the above, I think Miles is highly underrated, and LSU has a very good chance to win at least 10 regular season games and go to a major bowl in 2009. The fly in the ointment is they must negotiate the most difficult conference schedule in the SEC.