Since arriving at LSU, the one thing heard early and often was that Les Miles won with Nick Saban's players.
Few realize that the drumbeat began with the Alabama press and bloggers from the day Miles arrived on the LSU campus. These folks know that due to a solid home state recruiting base and their proximity to Texas, LSU was the one western division team that could stand toe to toe with the Tide year in and year out.
As long as LSU was strong, Alabama's return to dominance was in serious jeopardy. The question the REC (Red Elephant Club) faithful asked themselves was, how can we take these guys down?
- Attack LSU as being corrupt? Due to their history of NCAA violations, the Tide faithful couldn't accuse the comparatively squeaky clean LSU program of being crooked.
- Insist LSU's team was inferior? LSU had just won the second in what was to become a five-game winning streak against the Tide the year before Miles arrived.
- Point out LSU's inferior facilities? The athletic facilities at LSU are as modern and updated as any in the conference.
- Attack the head coach? Bingo! Being a public figure, Miles was open to all but the most libelous slander.
The opening salvo was "Miles wins with Saban's players." This mantra reached a fever pitch during LSU's 2007 national championship year. It was said so loud and for so long that Miles is given virtually no credit for the team's success. Almost any time Miles' success is mentioned, "with Saban's players" is included somewhere in the sentence.
If this is true, then one must wonder why this criteria is not applied to other coaches who win national championships primarily with their predecessor's players.
Here are four recent examples:
- 2000: Bob Stoops wins his one and only championship in his second year at Oklahoma with John Blake's players. Despite making the BCSCG three times since, he has failed to win with his players.
- 2002: Jim Tressel wins his one and only championship in his second year at Ohio State with John Cooper's players. He's been back to the BCSCG two more times with his own players and has failed to win.
- 2006: Urban Meyer wins his first championship in his second year at Florida with Ron Zook's players. At least Meyer managed to win a second championship in 2008 with his players.
- 2009: Nick Saban has an undefeated regular season in 2008 in his second year, followed by a championship in his third year at Alabama with Mike Shula's players.
Why doesn't the media add the clause, "coach X won the national championship with (fill in the blank)'s players"?
Why, despite the fact that both Stoops and Tressel have repeatedly demonstrated their fallibility by repeatedly losing the BCSCG with their players, is it neither is seen as a failure?
The reason: Without any use of a rational thought process, the national media has bought into the Alabama propaganda machine.
The most recent idea being pushed by the Alabama crowd is that Miles is a super recruiter, but he doesn't develop players for the NFL.
What the critics fail to mention is that Miles' first recruiting class, which would have been the seniors, redshirt juniors in 2008, and redshirt seniors in 2009, had only 13 recruits.
Of the 13, the plum recruit, 5-star QB Ryan Perrilloux, was rightfully kicked off the team for disciplinary reasons following the 2007 season. There was no one-game suspension that ends up lasting only one half, a la Nick Saban in 2007.
Do you seriously think Perrilloux would have thrown seven pick sixes in 2008? There is a good chance LSU would have played a rematch with Florida for the 2008 SEC Championship had he played instead of an untried red shirt freshman and a transfer from Harvard.
Another convenient omission was that, for various reasons, none of the six offensive linemen signed in 2006 played a meaningful down.
For example, Phil Loadholt, AA offensive tackle for Oklahoma, was signed by LSU but couldn't meet the SEC academic standards.
The remaining five recruits transferred, quit football, or were lost due to injury or other reasons. They would have been the seniors and redshirt junior linemen the team sorely needed in 2009.
It's rather difficult to develop players who are not on the roster. Anyone who knows football knows that if you don't have the hogs up front, even the most skilled players go nowhere.
Before anyone accuses me of whining, I realize that attrition is part of the game. It is just highly unusual to lose all the players at a particular position in a given class.
I think that if Miles loses his job at LSU in the near future it will be as much due to the national media's constant portrayal of him as a buffoon who lucked out by landing the LSU job more than anything the team does on the field.