National Signing Day Notice to LSU Recruits: This Is the Real Les Miles!

Henry BallSenior Analyst IJanuary 24, 2010

It’s not nap time, or play time; it’s not dinner time nor is it Miller time. For high school seniors expecting to make the transition to bowl championship (formerly Division I) level football, it is decision time.

National Signing Day—Feb. 3, 2010—is less than two weeks away, and this may be the biggest decision that most of these young men have had to make in their lives. 

It’s a decision that could impact the rest of their life.  It is a decision that will determine where they prepare for the rest of that life, no matter the course.

Whether it’s a career in the "real" world or in professional sports where a "real" fortune could be waiting, this decision could make or break that future.

Not surprisingly, some have delayed the final decision until the final possible moment, and most have put years of thought and discussion into their decision.

Reading recruiting material, letters from coaches, and school marketing collateral. Studying Web sites, blogs, and social networks. Taking visits from coaches and making visits to campuses, sometimes all over the country.

Some have already made their decision, yet very few have actually signed a letter of intent—due to NCAA restrictions—and there are normally last-minute changes and de-commitments, as one might expect when 3,000 17- and 18-year-olds make a singular decision with 120 choices and a myriad of consequences.

The university I cover—LSU—has 23 students committed (ranking them anywhere from fifth to eighth on the various recruiting services) with up to four available scholarships still available.

This weekend may have gone a long way in determining who is awarded those final few scholarships and who will don the purple and gold for the next four or five years. 

Up to 15 recruits—including several players who had previously committed to other schools—are taking official visits to Baton Rouge.

Trovon Reed —a five-star prospect from Thibodaux, La.—is considered the top WR in Louisiana and committed Auburn on Nov. 13, but coaches in his home state have stayed in touch and LSU is now thought to have a decent chance of landing his services.

Jarrett Fobbs —a Shreveport standout who is committed to Texas A&M—is a versatile four-star receiver with the ability to carry out of the backfield and is considered to be a Percy Harvin-type athlete with good size and breakaway speed. 

His commitment to Texas A&M is considered soft, and he has not visited campus.  With visits only to LSU and Ole Miss scheduled, Fobbs is receiving the red-carpet treatment and has become an important target for the Tigers.

Kadron Boone —a former Texas Tech four-star WR commit—is also considered a top priority and may be leaning toward the Tigers. The Florida standout is taking his final visit to Baton Rouge this weekend and has LSU listed as one of his three finalists.

James Wright —a four-star WR from Belle Chase, La.—has long been considered a lean to LSU and would likely see time early in his career if he becomes a Tiger.

Justin Parker —a three-star line backer—and Brandon Jackson —a three-star defensive tackle—are among the other expected visitors not already committed to the Tigers.  

LSU has a strong need at the wide receiver position—due to the recent de-commitment of two out-of-state prospects—and several of these guys could have an immediate impact. 

Nonetheless, with a strong finish, this class—which was expected to be down due to a lack of top Louisiana prospects—could be one of the top five in the country and will only strengthen one of the most talented teams in the nation.

With that said, if you follow certain blogs or social networks you might get the impression that LSU has fallen into the college football abyss, and they’ll have to go Marshall a la 1971—when the Thundering Herd was forced to rely on players from the track, soccer, and junior varsity teams due to a fatal plane crash that wiped out the team—and field the practice squad.

The rumors of the Tigers’ demise may indeed be greatly exaggerated. Unlike the 1970 Marshall Team—may God keep them in his memory—the Tigers are alive and well.

As a service to any recruits who might still be contemplating their decision and for the benefit of those Tiger fans who just don’t understand why LSU’s future is so bright I, your humble Bleacher Report CFB Czar, have decided to provide you with a real "State of the Program" synopsis.  

There is no doubt that the last two years have not lived up to the standards Head Coach Les Miles set in his first three years in Baton Rouge (35-6, 3-0 bowls, 2-0 in the BCS), and the 17-9 (9-4 in 2009) record over the last two years is not what LSU expects from itself.

It is important, however, to understand how LSU went from a national championship in 2007 to back-to-back less-than-stellar (by some standards) years and what does the future really look like. 

Is there evidence of an insidious decline or the inevitable fall into mediocrity because of an underachieving coaching staff? In short, no.

LSU was on top of the world in early January 2008 with a veteran team that had taken the time to get healthy in preparation for its second BCS National Championship.

The Mad Hatter—a term of endearment Les Miles' had earned for his willingness to place faith in his players and take risks others might not—had avowed his loyalty by turning down his "dream job" at Michigan

LSU had two of the best coordinators—Bo Pelini and Gary Crowton—working under Miles, and after the title game the Tigers would welcome in Miles’ second-straight top-five recruiting class.

With Ryan Perrilloux—who led the Tigers to the SEC Championship in place of the injured Matt Flynn—returning with a veteran line and a fantastic force of skilled position players, many experts believed LSU could be the first three-time BCS champion before anyone else got a second.

Two things would transpire that frankly had far-reaching effects on the program.

Defensive mastermind, Bo Pelini accepted the head coaching position at Nebraska to see if he could resurrect the Corn Huskers and bring black shirts back into fashion. 

Pelini, hired by Miles when he took over in Baton Rouge, had continued the defensive tradition established by Will Muschamp under Nick Saban and was considered one of the best in the business.

Miles made what many considered to be a risky decision to promote two top assistants to co-defensive coordinator.

LSU still had a lot of talent and played well early in the year, but as the offense continued to turn the ball over and dig deep holes, the 2008 defense faltered.  Without a strong coaching presence to work through the adjustments, the defense fell off significantly.

A change had to be made, and Miles quietly helped his former assistants find new jobs and went out and hired one of the most proven and well-respected defensive coordinators in the country in John "The Chief" Chavis.

The second and most damaging issue was what I have called the Ryan Perilloux effect.

Perilloux—the most efficient passer in CFB this season with an incredible 172.40 rating and a 23-2 TD to interception ratio—finished his college career at Jacksonville State after he ran out of chances with coach Miles in the 2008 offseason.

Miles’ decision—which has been lauded as the right decision by virtually everyone, including Perrilloux—to kick him off the team put an end to the Tigers’ ability to defend the title in 2008.

Instead of having an experienced QB who had already proven he could compete against the SEC and at the highest level, OC Crowton—then known as "The Wizard" and considered an offensive genius—had to try to prepare three freshmen (with completely different skill sets and abilities) who had taken a grand total of one (Ivy League) snaps in college and design an offense to accommodate the differences.

To help you to appreciate what happens to a team forced to start a true freshman, I give you 2009 USC. Though Matt Barkley will be expected to be one of the best QBs in the country next year, I doubt anybody expected to see the Trojans lose four games.

Back to LSU. 2009 was expected to be a better year than 2008 but not many expected LSU to win the West or compete for a championship.

Jordan Jefferson—who was fourth on the depth chart behind Perrilloux—won the starting job, but still only had two starts under his belt and was playing behind one of LSU’s smallest and least-experienced offensive lines in recent Tiger memory.

Other troubles for the young QB—who potentially overcompensated for all of the pick-sixes thrown by his predecessor, Jarrett Lee—had a tendency to hold on to the ball too long, and with the line unable to maintain an extended pocket, he was sacked (34 times) like a grocery store bag boy.

Collectively, this led to an offense that was sluggish all year, but still managed over 24 points per game and at times showed signs of being unstoppable.

The defense under Chavis improved dramatically, giving up only 16 point points a game, and LSU’s special teams was among the best in the country.

So that brings us to the future.  Trust me when I tell you that it is going to be so bright Adam James would have to live in a shed!

Jordan Jefferson showed great signs of maturing and actually had a pretty solid year (137.2 passer rating, 61.5 completion, 2,166 yards, 17 TDs).

With another offseason to study and develop in Crowton’s offense, with a much bigger and more experienced line, and with weapons like Russell Shepard, Richard Murphy, Rueben Randall, Terrence Tolliver, Michael Ford, Spencer Ware, and Stevan Ridley to share the ball with, the Tigers could have one of the most potent offenses in the country in 2010.

The defense should very well get back to LSU dominant standards, with preseason lock for All-American Patrick Peterson and returning seniors like Kelvin Sheppard—who bypassed the NFL to come back for some unfinished business—leading the way and Craig Loston—last years No. 1 defensive prospect in the nation—Sam Montgomery, Lavar Edwards, Kyle Prater, Thaj Jones, and many other four- and five-star athletes throughout the depth chart.

Chavis has a long history of getting the most out of his linebackers and secondary, which should be the best in the conference, and the line should be better as well.

A return specialist will have to emerge with the loss of Trindon Holliday and Chad Jones, but that has not and should not be an issue.

Bottom line, there was a real reason(s) why LSU experienced a brief (two-year) rebuild, and it wasn’t because Miles or Crowton suddenly forgot how to coach.

Those problems have been corrected, and Miles has continued to bring in the top talent (both in players and in coaches—hiring top assistants Frank Wilson and Billy Gonzales from Tennessee and Florida, respectively) from around the country, including top-two classes for the last two years.

If you are a recruit and you have decided to go to another school because you think it will better prepare you for your life and career, then that is what you should do. 

However, if you are concerned that the handful of loud and passionate, yet misguided fans on the Blogosphere are right and Les Miles has changed, then don’t fear the Hat.  

He has been winning his entire career, he is beloved by his players and assistants, and he is well-respected in the coaching community. His .780 winning percentage is the best in school history, and he knows how to win championships.

LSU is home to the most-feared venue (Death Valley) in college football, and that handful of loud and passionate, yet misguided fans will join the other 95,000 in Tiger Stadium on Saturdays to cheer you and your teammates with "earth-shaking" (literally) zeal.

LSU has a proud history and is poised to carry the success of the past decade (one of the two best programs in the country) far into the future. 

Trust me, if you decide to come to LSU you will not need to fear the Hat, opposing coaches do that!



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