Lamar Louis has tried to ignore the rumblings, but friends and family members keep on reminding him.
Everyone wants to know about the fate of his coach, LSU’s Les Miles.
“People texting you, calling you, seeing it on the news,” said Louis, the Tigers’ senior starting linebacker. “Can’t really run from it.”
Multiple national reports surfaced Monday confirming what The Advocate reported last week: that Miles’ job is in jeopardy and that his $15 million buyout isn’t an issue. ESPN and Yahoo! Sports both posted stories about the possible, if not likely, ouster of the Tigers’ 11-year coach.
The news quickly spread nationally, stunning many national columnists, TV pundits and other college football experts.
Players weren’t removed from the noise.
Some gathered around televisions in the program’s training room watching Miles’ weekly news conference, shown live on ESPN2, a rarity. Miles addressed players about his job in their weekly team meeting in the LSU football operations building.
During interviews with reporters Monday night, players said the coach broached the subject of his job. He told players not to focus on the issue.
“His message was the same it always is. Didn’t allude much to his situation and all of the speculation,” receiver John Diarse said. “I know he realizes that we’re hearing a lot — just like everyone else is. He doesn’t want that to affect our performance.”
“He didn’t speak on it much at all,” receiver Malachi Dupre said. “He said it’s something he’s going to deal with. We don’t have to worry about any of those things coming to us, and get ready for A&M.”
The constant message from Miles: team first, linebacker Kendell Beckwith said.
“(He) said to focus on the team and all about putting the team first,” Beckwith said. “That’s what we did. Started talking about the next opponent.”
That would be Texas A&M (8-3, 4-3). The Aggies and former defensive coordinator John Chavis visit Tiger Stadium on Saturday night for the regular-season finale. It’s not easy to push away the distractions of Miles’ job.
Louis, for instance, is being bombarded by friends seeking news regarding Miles.
“Me personally, it’s not distracting, because I don’t have any answers. I don’t know anything. He hasn’t addressed us about it,” said Louis, who met with reporters in the afternoon session of interviews before Miles met with players at 3 p.m. “Either I don’t reply or I tell them, ‘I don’t know.’ I’m pretty sure they’ll find out anything before I do.”
For players like starting right guard Will Clapp, things hit closer to home.
Miles, a former offensive lineman, spends much of his time in the O-line meeting room. He was a big part in recruiting Clapp, the son of former LSU starter and captain Tommy Clapp.
“It’s tough to hear all of that stuff, but we’ve got to ignore all of it and get back to work this week,” he said. “We’ve still got a good Texas A&M team to play, and I want to send our seniors off right with a victory in their last game.”
That’s the focus for a group of players who have seen a promising season turn south quickly.
LSU was 7-0 and No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings released the week before the game at Alabama — just 16 days ago. The Tigers have lost three straight for the first time since 1999, dropping those consecutive contests by a combined 55 points.
The latest was a mistake-filled 38-17 defeat at Ole Miss.
“It’s been one of the toughest things I’ve had to experience in my life. I don’t believe I was ever 7-0 in my life before,” Louis said. “Just being 7-0 and feeling that rush, doing so well and it ending like this … it’s a pretty big blow.”
Despite the national reports Monday, players said nothing changed around the LSU football operations building. It was business as usual, Clapp said.
Players attended workouts and meetings, watched a replay of the Ole Miss game and then practiced.
“Nothing’s changed,” Clapp said. “Had the same schedule. Got back to work today.”
What has changed: the questions they fielded from reporters.
As they did after the loss to Ole Miss, players defended their coach.
“That’s not our situation. We know that Coach Miles is the man,” Clapp said. “He’s our guy. We love him. He worries about us, and that’s what we love about him. He’s not only our football coach, but he also worries about us as men and teaching us life after football.”
“I don’t feel like we have to stand up and defend the coach,” Dupre said. “Our best and easiest way to defend the coach is with our play and eliminating the mistakes we had this past game and the week before that.”
Will they play for their embattled head coach in the game against the Aggies?
“Not just Coach Miles. It’s for everybody in this building,” Clapp said. “We play for each other. The coaches still believe in us. We believe in the coaches.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter, @DellengerAdv.