Ron Zook used to be the coach at the University of Florida.
After three excellent recruiting classes but five-loss seasons and no wins against the state of Mississippi, Zook was let go.
He wound up in Illinois, and after two tough years, his recruiting and sugar packet diet paid off, as Illinois went 9-4 this year, including a win over Ohio State and a trip to the Rose Bowl.
Zook is hailed as a hero in the state of Illinois.
Les Miles should have followed Zook’s lead to Big 10 Land.
While Miles has certainly had much more overall success than Zook, the two men were linked together ever since Miles showed up at LSU. Whether it was their oddball press conferences, strange play calling, or the knack to end up on the losing end of games their teams were “supposed” to win, neither was or has been embraced by fickle SEC fans, even as their schools found some success.
Not long before he earned his national championship two days ago, Miles considered heading to Michigan, where he played and coached.
As we have seen with so many coaches, the desire to coach at one’s alma mater is strong—for some, it’s the ultimate job: Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech, Phil Fulmer at Tennessee, Steve Spurrier at Florida, and, we thought, Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia, until Miles gave the Michigan job a pass.
Sometimes the urge is so great that it takes ditching another successful program to land at one’s former stomping grounds.
Roy Williams left perennial powerhouse Kansas for UNC. After only one year, Bob Huggins left Kansas State—a program that took a gamble on him—for his beloved West Virginia. Dave Wannstedt left the NFL to take over his former team at Pitt, and although “Wannstache” has garnered more attention for his facial hair rather than wins, he engineered the seismic upset of West Virginia that got LSU a ticket to the Superdome.
Along those lines, even by Les Miles’ own admittance, he is still bleeding Blue and Maize.
Does the following quotation sound like the head coach of an SEC powerhouse?
"I love Michigan. I will always be a Michigan man...I'm going to root and pull for the Blue, and they will eventually win that (Ohio State) game."
I’m sure the folks in Baton Rouge were thrilled to hear that.
Pretend you are Les Miles: Your LSU team is losing 20 seniors, your defensive coordinator bailed for the Big 12, you have run out of Nick Saban’s recruits, and your talented quarterback for next season has been suspended more times than Ricky Williams.
And you just took a look at next year’s schedule, highlighted by away games against Auburn, Florida, South Carolina, and Arkansas. You also face Georgia and Alabama, among others.
Most of those teams—now, suddenly, loaded with veterans—will be seeking revenge after close losses. The others will look to take advantage of your young and revamped team.
Compare that to Michigan’s away games against Notre Dame, Penn State, Purdue, Minnesota, and Ohio State. Their schedule is not a total pushover, however, as the Wolverines also battle Wisconsin and Illinois in the Big House.
To top it all off, Miles just won “that game” against Ohio State—in the BCS National Championship no less. Not a bad way to begin a campaign in Ann Arbor—1-0 before you even show up.
I think it’s admirable that Les Miles is staying at LSU. But while Miles tries to regroup, find coaches and players to replace the ones who are leaving, the SEC will continue to get stronger—and I’m not convinced Miles knows how to keep up.
I know what you are thinking: Les Miles just won a national championship with his “damn strong team.” The guy knows what he is doing.
Perhaps. But do you remember Larry Coker?
Like Miles, Coker took over a loaded team and led it to a national championship—but Coker did it in his first season at Miami.
That was in 2001, when the Hurricanes went undefeated. The following year, Coker led the Canes back to the title game, but this time they lost in double overtime to Ohio State. In his third year, the team went 11-2, and the grumblings began.
Then came back to back 9-3 seasons, and eventually a final season that ended in turmoil, and Coker was led out the door.
Refresh my memory: Where is Coker coaching these days?
I think Les Miles is a good coach, and there is no doubt in my mind that LSU will be a dangerous team next year. But don’t forget that Miles has the dubious distinction of being the only head coach of a two-loss BCS championship winner.
Miles scraped his way through this season while relying on veteran senior leaders and some of the gutsiest play-calling ever—and they still lost two times. With all that leadership gone, can Miles afford to do the same with an unproven team?
The Tigers’ offense has plenty of playmakers ready to fill in next year, and they will certainly put up points. Defensively, however, the Tigers may need help. Not to leave out Glenn Dorsey or Ali Highsmith—or the rest of the front seven—but how exactly do you replace your entire secondary?
Ask Urban Meyer, whose young defensive backs were lit up by nearly every team they played.
In fact, the man known as “The Hat” will now forever be linked with Florida’s head man, who also led a senior-laden team of players he did not recruit to the national title game.
But here’s the difference: Meyer has been able to rest his hat on recruiting coups Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin, two bona fide stars of both the SEC Championship and BCS National Championship games—as freshmen.
After a 9-4 record this season, Meyer's Gators are gearing up for another title run in 2008-2009.
Meanwhile, Miles must rely on the enigmatic Ryan Perrilloux. Perrilloux performed well in situational duty, but was on a tight leash as a starter in the SEC Championship game. Against Ohio State, Perrilloux didn’t even attempt a pass, only coming in for a handful of plays the entire game. He ran just one time for four yards.
Is it likely Perrilloux can guide his team through an SEC schedule? Claim a national title? Win a Heisman?
Hell, can the kid even stay out of trouble?
Maybe, but I’m not putting money on it anytime soon.
Call me crazy, but in this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sports world, I won’t be surprised if a few years from now Miles is once again linked with Ron Zook—this time, with an SEC pink slip.