LSU President F. King Alexander says speculation over football coach Les Miles’ future left him with one regret — if even that.
In an interview with The Advocate, Alexander said the school could have better conveyed that it had not made a final decision whether to keep Miles or switch up the football program as speculation swirled that his firing was imminent. He said identifying a date on which the decision would be made for Miles possibly could have helped tamp down some of the gossip.
“I think you have a lot of speculation and people get paid for speculation,” Alexander said. “Until the decision is made, you can’t say ‘yea’ or ‘nay.’ ”
“The press just ran with it,” he added.
The Advocate reported last week the behind-the-scenes story of what led to speculation over Miles’ future and the eventual decision that he would stay at LSU to coach another season — a decision that involved politics and money.
Miles was due a $15 million buyout — a cost that Alexander said could climb to $30 million when other considerations were factored in. Though the money would have come from private donors, Alexander acknowledged that the price tag was a factor in the decision to ultimately keep Miles, particularly as the state grapples with a large budget deficit.
“Whenever we spend money, it’s assumed that it’s state money, regardless of the source,” Alexander said. “It certainly plays a role in this.”
As The Advocate reported, the potential deal to fire Miles began to fall through during the week of the final regular season football game that saw LSU pull off a win against Texas A&M at home.
The university began leaning toward keeping Miles during the middle of that week, Alexander confirmed, after what he described as three weeks of discussions among administrators about the future of LSU football.
Documents obtained by The Advocate through a public records request show LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva ultimately came armed to a post-game press conference with just one statement to give: That “Les Miles will remain the football coach at LSU.”
It was drafted hours before the game started, and there was no alternate.
But LSU leaders don’t deny that they were evaluating their options in the days that preceded that and inquiries were made about other potential coaches.
“That’s my job to look at options. It’s called due diligence. That’s what athletic directors do,” Alleva told The Advocate, adding that he did not feel significant pressure from outside sources to make a call either way.
Alexander similarly defended the inquiries, but downplayed how far discussions got, saying that it’s the athletic director’s job to create options.
“There were a lot of emotions tied into this,” Alexander said.
The documents, emails between university leaders, offer insight into the ongoing talks and the fan reaction as the situation escalated. Fan emails to Alleva were overwhelmingly anti-Miles immediately following LSU’s losses at Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss, followed by a wave of emails calling on Alleva to address the rumors in the run-up to the A&M game.
Just a few days after the loss to Arkansas, on the morning of Nov. 18, LSU Board of Supervisors member Blake Chatelain, who chairs the athletics committee, emailed one sentence to Alleva: “How much longer do we have on his contract?” That day a column in The Advocate raised questions about Miles’ future with the program. “Pretty much it,” Chatelain said in an email about the column.
The following week, after LSU fell to Ole Miss, Chatelain followed up with a Nov. 24 email to Alleva: “Can you scan me a copy of his contract?”
Meanwhile, Alleva was being inundated with emails from angry fans — many of them calling for Miles’ head as the Tigers slid into a three-game losing slump.
On Nov. 21, a fan emailed one sentence to Alleva immediately after the loss to Ole Miss: “How far will you allow Les Miles to destroy LSU?”
Another couldn’t wait for the blowout to end: “Run downstairs and fire Les NOW!!!” the fan demanded in an email sent during the game.
Over and over, the message being sent to Alleva from fans was that Miles had to go.
At least two consultants who aid with coach searches reached out to offer their services.
After the Ole Miss loss, Alleva emailed strength and conditioning coach Tommy Moffitt to ask how the players’ “spirits” were.
“They worked really, really well,” Moffitt said of the morning practice. “Everyone was on time and ready to go but were very quiet, almost silent.”
Then board members began to weigh in via email.
“All of us are refraining from any public comment on the Les Miles matter, as we each in different ways, mull this complicated matter over in our minds. I know we each are mulling it over as fans, as members of the board, as lovers of LSU and as stewards of the institution. This is so difficult,” board member Stephen Perry wrote.
Chatelain responded, asking members to sit tight and let Alleva and Alexander make the call.
The key questions for the university, he argued, were whether the program was improving or declining, whether it was meeting reasonable expectations, what the financial impact would be from either decision, whether the program could be fixed and whether better new leadership could be found.
“(A)s a result of that (Ole Miss) loss, a firestorm has erupted, not coming from the LSU camp, but from fans, the media, the pundits,” he wrote. “Speculation is rampant and every (T)iger fan in (Louisiana) is talking about this.”
As speculation mounted, Alleva then faced a deluge of emails from fans whose anger had shifted to the university’s handling of the speculation.
“Regardless of whether or not Miles ends up being fired, he in no way deserves this disrespect and gossip,” one wrote.
Another emailed Alleva to suggest he was the one who should be fired.
“You have handled this situation in the worse way,” the fan wrote. “This should be your job on the line.”
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