I still remember where I was when the news broke that Les Miles had been named the new head coach of LSU. Miles was being brought in to replace Nick Saban, who had helped the Tigers become a relevant program on the national level.
Before the arrival of Saban, the LSU football program dwelled in the land of mediocrity. Even when they had a season that the Tigers considered a success, it would have been considered a disappointment for the elite of college football.
However, this was no longer an issue, as the Tigers were only one season removed from winning the BCS National Championship.
The next hire for the Bayou Bengals was crucial. Saban was the right person to build the program up from the ashes, but they needed a much different style of coaching to keep the program at a high level.
LSU did not go after a coach with a resume baptized in success; instead, they chose Miles.
Miles had previously spent four seasons as the head coach of Oklahoma State. While the Cowboys were an improved football program under him, he still had an unimpressive career record of 28-21. In his final season with the Cowboys, they were 7-5 and were dismantled in the Alamo Bowl by Ohio State, 33-7.
During that final season with the Cowboys, they did upset the Oklahoma Sooners, who finished the season ranked No. 6—but did that warrant a promotion to LSU?
The start of Miles’ coaching career was disastrous—literally. Hurricane Katrina struck southern Louisiana just days before the Tigers' home-opener. As a result, their home-opener against North Texas was rescheduled for later in the season.
Because of the tragedy that struck the Tigers' home state, LSU was forced to make several adjustments during the season. For example, they had to give up their Week 2 home date against Arizona State and play the game in Tempe, Ariz., instead. The Tigers pulled out a nail-biter, 35-31.
During the second week of the season, physical and emotional fatigue finally took its toll in their game against Tennessee. Despite a 21-0 halftime lead, the Tigers would fall 30-27 to the Volunteers. Despite all the pressure and turmoil they faced during the season, Miles would rally the troops after the loss, and the Tigers would not taste defeat again until the SEC championship against Georgia.
The Tigers finished the season 11-2.
LSU would have another strong season in 2006, when they finished 11-2. The following season, coach Miles led LSU to their second BCS National Championship in five seasons. Despite his success, though, the critics would accuse LSU of not winning the National Championship but backing into one instead.
Losses to Kentucky and Arkansas had critics proclaiming that Miles only won the championship because he was coaching with Saban's recruits, and had Saban still been there they would have been undefeated.
The following two seasons did not do much to silence the critics. LSU completed those two seasons with a cumulative record of 17-9. The Tigers were talented, but seemed to find new ways to lose games. Their schedule was difficult, but it was the losses against inferior teams that seemed to drive the fans nuts.
Even some of the games they were winning were the result of risky, yet rewarding plays.
In 2010, however, we began to see the evolution of Miles as a coach. He still had his moments of horrific clock management, most notably against Tennessee. However, he was learning how to channel his aggressive style; he remained aggressive, but used more wisdom in his decision-making.
A prime example of this was when the Tigers hosted Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide. It was 4th-and-1, and Miles decided to make what was perhaps the best call of the season. Instead of the conventional wisdom to run the ball up the gut, he ran a perfectly timed and perfectly executed reverse to DeAngelo Peterson, picking up 23 yards and leading to the go-ahead touchdown.
It was a defining moment in the career of Les Miles and the next step in his evolution as an elite college football coach.
This season, the man nicknamed "Mad Hatter" looks more like a pure genius. In seasons' past it seemed LSU always had a minimum of one letdown game. The outcome of the game was dependent upon a risky play or pure luck.
However, this season Miles has had his team prepared to play every game. There are no letdowns for this Tigers team. They have played on the road against three teams that were ranked in the Top 25. In all three games, the outcome was never in doubt.
This season, under Miles, the Tigers are not just slipping by the teams they should beat—instead, they are beating them by multiple touchdowns.
Each season, we turn on the TV searching to find which college football players have taken the next step in their progression. For those who have followed LSU over the past six seasons, they know Miles has progressed into one of the finest coaches in America.
Critics will argue that the hiring of John Chavis is the reason the Tigers were able to turn around the LSU program. However, one of the most important tools in winning is surrounding yourself with a solid coaching staff.
Regardless of the outcome of tonight's game, LSU is the No. 1 team in the nation and is getting stronger every week.
Moreover, there is the thought by many that the Tigers will be even better next season.
The success of the Tigers is not about recruits, luck or coordinators in themselves; this LSU program is succeeding because they are under the leadership of the greatest coach to ever grace their sidelines.