Les Miles: Separating Facts From Fiction on LSU's Mythical Mad Hatter, Part I

Henry BallSenior Analyst IMarch 15, 2010

(This will be part I in a weekly series on the biggest criticisms of LSU’s Head CoachWe’ll answer the question; are the criticisms justified in reality or by Wonderland fantasy?)

Perception is reality, or so they say.


For LSU head coach Les Miles—the School’s most successful coach by winning percentage—reality is truly in the eye of the beholder.


In fact, some LSU fans read the previous sentence and immediately transposed the word successful with dismal.


If one were to spend a day on Tiggerdroppings.com or other Internet forums chronicling the fighting Tigers from the Bayou State he or she might determine that Les Miles is the second coming of Curley Hallman—the School’s worst coach by winning percentage.


One poster at andthevalleyshook.com commented that Les Miles was to blame for his bad health and that his wife would no longer allow him to watch his Alma Mater’s football team. 


He explained “I was in School during the Hallman days when watching football was fun and I never got upset and angry.”  


Some readers may not remember the ‘interception game’ or ‘welcoming’ Arkansas to the SEC by allowing them to ‘hog wild’ in Fayetteville, or losing 28 games in four years, but most Tiger fans did not consider it more fun!


Nevertheless, Miles may be the most hated LSU coach since Hallman, or at least that is the ‘impression’ you might get from a  contingent of LSU fans. 


It begs the question; why?


Miles is a member of a very small fraternity of National Championship coaches and enjoys the best win-loss record in his school’s 116 year history.  Yet for some reason a number of fans want him fired or fired at, depending on the site.


I, your Bleacher Report College Football Czar, have compiled the 10 most common complaints about the Mad Hatter and will separate fact from fiction.  In this week’s addition we’ll start with the big one.




He won with Saban’s recruits; most Miles' critics begin here and move forward, we'll do the same. 


When Steve Spurrier left the University of Florida to fun and gun the NFL from the nation’s capital Gator Fans were devastated and none too impressed with the replacement hire of Ron Zook. 


In his short (three year) tenure Zook had modest success going 23-14—with most of his success coming in the biggest games, such as LSU in 2003—handing Nick Saban his only loss that year—and against FSU crashing the Bobby Bowden field naming party, inspiring Florida fans to refer to it as ‘Ron Zook Field’.


The one thing Zook has done exceptionally well throughout his career is recruit and he did just that at Florida.


So when Urban Myer won a National Championship in his second year at the helm with 22 of 24 starters recruited by Zook you would have expected Florida fans to wonder if he was only winning with Zook’s recruits.


By and large they did not; nor did they two years later when the last of Zook’s recruits helped him earn his second National Title.


Closer to home, Nick Saban—Miles’ predecessor—took over a very talented LSU team in 2000.  He led that team to an SEC Championship, largely with recruits left behind by Gerry DiNardo.  Moreover, several key senior’s on the 2003 National Championship team helped lead the Tigers to its first National Title in forty five years.


Yet, Miles is accused of only being successful with Saban’s recruits despite the fact that the National Championship came three years after Saban’s departure and many of the key contributors were either recruited by Miles or never saw the field under Saban.


If Miles had won in the first year—like Frank Solich did at Nebraska after taking over for Tom Osborne—and then declined you might almost have an argument.


That didn’t happen with Miles as he had the best three year stretch in LSU History going 35-6 with two West Division Crowns, 3-0 Bowl Record, including two BCS victories and a National Title.


On that note, you could actually say Miles did more with ‘Saban’s recruits’ than he did himself. 


In 2004, Saban’s defending National Championship team limped to a 9-3 record with several lack luster performances and a disappointing loss to Iowa in the Capital One Bowl.


With virtually that same team in 2005, on the heels of Hurricane Katrina, Miles energized a storm devastated state and led the Tigers in a Herculean (Humanitarian &) Football campaign that netted 11 wins, an SEC West Title and a 40-3 drubbing of No. 9 Miami in the Peach Bowl. 


The greater fallacy though, in both of these arguments is the possessiveness of calling them (insert coaches’ name here)’s recruits in the first place.  For starters, many of the players are/were in-state or regional recruits and would likely have come to LSU regardless of the coach.


That’s not to say some coaches don’t recruit better than others but if you go by the rule of thirds (a third of the recruits you want are yours either way, a third will sign else where no matter what you do, it’s the third in the middle you have to win) you’ll get some of the same ‘recruits’ either way.


More importantly once a coach takes over it is by and large what he does with that talent that matters.


One might then argue that the decline of the last two years (compared to the first three) is the verdict on what Miles is able to do with said Talent.  We’ll discuss that more in a future slide but sufficed to say; the body of work as well as the trending experience has to be weighed.


Bottom line: This argument is pure fantasy land fiction; He won with LSU’s recruits.  Some were signed by Saban and his staff and some by Miles and his staff.  There is no asterisk nor should there be.



Next Up: 'He can’t manage the clock / game.' (Coming Soon)




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