There was a little something for everyone involved in Les Miles-Arkansas flirtation that flared up and burned out quickly the last couple of days.
Miles got a raise of undetermined value and a couple of years on his contract through 2019, buying him the kind of security every coach craves.
Arkansas got to look like it was aiming high in its coaching search for one of the very few top-flight college football coaches it could have gotten. The Razorbacks swung and missed — no shame in that. It will make the man the Razorbacks eventually settle for go down a lot smoother.
And LSU got to avoid looking like it could get outbid by a Southeastern Conference rival, buying its way out of a tremendous loss of face for a very reasonable price.
The ground wasn’t of LSU’s choosing when it came to the hastily hashed out contract negotiations between the school, Les Miles and his agent, George Bass.
LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva can be believed when he said he wanted to give Miles a raise. But the time and place of the negotiations was hardly what he had planned, as the still incomplete agreement (no facts were released Wednesday, other than the two-year extension) will attest.
For that, LSU shouldn’t protest too much. It showed some love, or commitment to use Alleva’s word, to a coach who still elicits both strong positive and negative reaction from Tigers fans despite having won a national title and 81 percent of his games, without getting fleeced too badly. Whatever Arkansas offered and whatever LSU will eventually pay (some say in the range of a $500,000 to $750,000 raise), it’s a lot less than $5.5 million per year.
The new deal also virtually ensures that Miles won’t be going anywhere. As long as he keeps winning on something like his current clip, that will be a bargain for LSU.
LSU has had to deal with the Miles-Michigan courtship twice and both times held serve. This week, LSU faced the surprise left hook of a big-money Arkansas offer — despite Miles’ denials, you have to believe Dallas Cowboys owner and former Razorback Jerry Jones played a part — and managed to dance around that one as well.
Unless Jones one day comes calling with the keys to Valley Ranch (the Dallas Cowboys’ headquarters) in hand, Miles isn’t likely to go anywhere. And even then, he’s very likely at LSU to stay.
The NFL has never been the siren song for Miles that it was for Nick Saban. Saban spoke practically every week of the NFL. If Miles talks about his days as a Cowboys assistant, he usually has to be drawn out.
Given the length of his contract, if Miles can continue to average 10 wins a year (a feat that’s harder than he’s made it look), then he can reach two career goals that have eluded every other LSU coach:
- He can leave as LSU’s winningest coach ever. Should Miles continue to win at his current rate, he would pass Charles McClendon (137 wins from 1962-79) sometime during the 2018 season.
- He can leave on his own terms.
The first is, of course, uncharted territory for anyone but the affable “Cholly Mac,” with whom Miles has more than a few similarities. As for the second, McClendon was forced into retirement. Successors like Jerry Stovall, Mike Archer, Curley Hallman and Gerry DiNardo were fired. Bill Arnsparger and Saban left to pursue other ambitions before they got anywhere near the top of LSU’s all-time wins list.
Miles, 85-20 so far, is well on his way, about to sign a contract that will allow him to leave an indelible and perhaps permanent stamp on the LSU football program for decades to come.
“I will be the LSU coach for as long as I can be,” Miles said.
Miles’ detractors have always fretted that the other cleat is about to drop, that his program is about to tank. Welcome to the world of big-time college football, where preseason top-10 rankings (see Arkansas) and NFL-caliber playmakers (see Tyler Wilson throw to Cobi Hamilton) are no guarantee of success. Injuries and dismissals forced LSU to dig deep for a total of 31 starts by freshmen this season. The result could have been a lot more like 7-5 instead of 10-2, though certainly had LSU forced one more stop or gotten one more score against Alabama, the Tigers would now be a win away from a return to the BCS championship game.
The truth is, LSU can do more to ensure its continued winning ways with Miles than without. Now that a deal is all but done, the coach and his program’s future both look more secure — and Arkansas deserves an assist for that.