The Mad Hatter is Making Mad Money for the University
Has there ever been a more polarizing coach in college football?
Les Miles is the luckiest man alive. Les Miles is a genius play caller, an idiot, a great man. Les Miles eats grass. Les Miles doesn't know a hole in the ground from his sassafras.
In the last six years, Les Miles has been described as anything from a completely oblivious boob to a conquering hero of national championship fame.
Truth be told, he could be all of those things and a lot more. Yet, if you ask key members of the athletic department, particularly those who see the profit and loss statement, you might hear the only relevant description of LSU's oft-criticized head coach.
"Les Miles is the most valuable college football coach in America."
Is that right? We know he is one of the most expensive at $3.8M per year through 2014, but is he really worth that kind of dough?
Some LSU fans, and not a "conservative reporter"-type minority of sport media pundits, don't think so. At 10-2, in a year when LSU beat more ranked teams than any other top-10 team, there are still some calling for his ouster.
That doesn't make sense when you consider that Miles has the highest winning percentage of any coach in LSU history. By any traditional method of evaluating coaches, Miles is 'Hall of Fame' great.
How Valuable is Les Miles?
But this is Les Miles we are talking about; traditional doesn't translate into his vernacular.
In typical Louisiana fashion (I am familiar), Miles is judged not by the 61 victories, but the 17 losses. The victories are not judged even by the result but the margin and if you didn't win by a lot, you might as well have lost.
If a player is better than expected (Jacob Hester), he was just over looked by recruiting services. But if he is not yet performing at the level of his initial hype (Russell Shepard), then it's because Miles and crew can't evaluate or develop talent.
If a player doesn't execute, it is because Miles didn't coach him up. On the other hand, when players do execute, it's because they were just great to begin with.
When Miles won in his initial years, it was because he inherited Nick Saban's players. Yet this year, without a single Saban recruit and with a still struggling offense, LSU traverses one of the most difficult schedules in the country and it’s because LSU recruits talent that wins despite him.
Is your head spinning yet?
Mine too, but we still haven't addressed the question of Miles' value as a coach. What does he bring to the table?
According to Les Miles, "The full measure of success is to graduate and win championships."
Since 2005, when Miles took over the program, LSU's Football team has increased its APR—Academic Progress Rate, a measure the NCAA uses in determining a school's compliance with academic regulations—from 923 to 960 in 2009, which ranks in the top four in the SEC.
Miles has two SEC West crowns, an SEC and a National Championship to his credit.
The team is poised to receive its fourth major (New Year's Day or greater) bowl invitation this year.
Under his leadership, LSU's recruiting has finished only once outside of the top 10, finishing No. 11 in 2005, when Miles was hired with less than a month to go before National Signing Day.
LSU is currently projected to finish in the top five for the fourth time in Miles' six years in Baton Rouge.
Miles also runs, what is by all accounts, one of the cleanest programs in the increasingly ill-reputed toughest conference in the country.
More importantly, to those that watch the bottom line, Miles has been very good at generating profit for a university that is in dire need of increasing that particular asset.
Due to severe budget deficits in Louisiana, state legislators are driving sweeping cuts to virtually all departments of the University system, including its flagship in Baton Rouge.
Yet the Athletic Department—one of only two self-sustaining ADs in FBS sports—is enjoying an ever increasing profit margin with Miles at the helm of its crown jewel, the football program.
In 2004, LSU ranked in the middle of the pack in contributing about $2.2M to the bottom line. Last year, LSU's Football program alone was valued at $89M, raking in a whopping $39M annually in profits.
This year, LSU's national marketability reached such a critical mass that the National Media began to dedicate whole segments to the ups and downs of the LSU football team and it's sometimes embattled head coach.
Scott Van Pelt, who became a self-avowed Les Miles fanatic, proclaimed that Miles has "mystical powers" and he and his co-host Ryan decided that LSU's only non-nationally televised game of the of the year—a midseason tilt with FCS (formerly DII) in-state foe McNeese State—would be their can't-miss game of the week.
Yes, Les Miles became "must-see TV!"
Gary Danielson, CBS color analyst, and Verne Lundquist have become as familiar to LSU fans as Jim Hawthorn—“The Voice of the Tigers”—as LSU has now appeared on CBS’ Game of the Week more than any other team in the country, save Florida and Alabama.
LSU has always had the potential to be a national powerhouse and LSU’s previous coach, Nick Saban; former Chancellor now president of the NCAA, Mark Emmrett; along with former coaching great and then athletic director, Skip Bertmen, set LSU on its current course.
Without question though, LSU’s grass-eating, mystical power wielding coach—who is loved by his players, as evidenced by them awarding him with a players' only "game ball" after the win versus the aforementioned Saban’s Alabama Crimson tide—has increased that National Presence ten-fold.
Indeed, the annual coaching carousel—that so clearly highlights the prize and peril of the profession—has already been set in motion and will include several schools looking to improve, not only their play on the field, but their value as a program. At least two of the schools (and one pro team) thought to be in the market for a new coach have previous ties to coach Les Miles.
No doubt many would be interested in a proven commodity like Les Miles, but don’t underestimate the loyalty (and happiness) of the man.
In 2007, when LSU was poised to play for the SEC Championship, rumors of his departure became a breaking news story when (ESPN) College Game Day’s Kirk Herbstreit announced that he would be the next head coach at Michigan, his Alma-Matter and reported "Dream Job."
At an impromptu news conference, the coach blasted the network and proclaimed his love and loyalty to LSU.
Even amidst the most brutal commentary—mostly from LSU’s own fan base and local media—over the three years that have followed that press conference, Miles has maintained his deep affection for the school, its fans and the state of Louisiana.
As other suitors come calling, the fanbase is still somewhat divided. But for those hoping that LSU can maintain not only a competitive football team, but an enviable bottom line, the thought of losing the most valuable coach in college football is more than a little scary.