There was no locker room dissension.
The decision not to play Jarrett Lee was not “a personal slight.”
And if he had to do it all over again, yes, he might do some things differently.
That was LSU head coach Les Miles’ message Tuesday during a 23-minute news conference, his first media appearance since LSU’s 21-0 loss to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game Jan. 9.
“There’s been a lot of heartache for our team,” Miles said in opening to a large group of reporters and camera crews gathered at the Squad Room in the LSU football complex. And he confirmed that he has second-guessed himself since the loss.
“Hindsight being 20-20, let me tell you what, I’d call the first play differently, the 15th play differently and right on through,” he said. He claimed that nobody is a worse critic of the LSU coach than he is. But if there are those more critical than him, he might not be aware of it.
He claimed to be at “arm’s length” from the constant conspiracy theories on fan message boards and the criticism in the media that followed a game where LSU managed just five first downs against the vaunted Crimson Tide defense.
Some in the media gathered in the room were among those who had been strongly critical of Miles since the loss. But the coach’s tone was far from confrontational. At the end of the official news conference, Miles exchanged cordial words with a group of reporters as he exited the room.
“I will enjoy sustaining critical comments from fans as we continue to win,” he said. He noted that LSU went 13-1, a record many would want. He said his team would raise banners for its SEC West and SEC championship in its indoor facility during the spring semester.
But he did know enough to address some of the popular rumors and reports out there.
Perhaps the most prevailing one was that Lee was in the doghouse.
Not so, he said.
“We had confidence in Jarrett,” Miles insisted. “But we needed a mobile quarterback at the time.”
He said there was no falling out between the coach and Lee, who started LSU’s first eight games before losing the job to Jordan Jefferson during the Alabama game.
“It was not a personal slight,” said Miles of the decision to not play Lee. “I admire how he handled his career here and I wish him the very best.”
While he stuck with his preference for a mobile quarterback against Alabama, he acknowledged that with Jefferson and Lee departing, LSU’s future will be with a pass-first quarterback, likely junior Zach Mettenberger.
“We lose the characteristics of a quarterback that can run,” Miles said, but he indicated that Mettenberger would give LSU a better passing game than it got from either Jefferson or Lee.
“It will be a fun approach, a different view of our quarterback position now,” he said. “We will throw it more efficiently.”
With Mettenberger, a pure drop-back passer, likely to be backed up by another drop-back passer, redshirt freshman Stephen Rivers (highly-touted prospect Gunner Kiel enrolled at Notre Dame Tuesday), LSU won’t have the running QB/passing QB dynamic.
If you listen to the rumors and message boards, the word was there was a conflict in the locker room between sticking with Jefferson, the runner, and Lee, the passer, at the BCS game.
“There was not a player or coach interaction that was negative, before or after the game,” Miles said.
LSU also lost Kiel, another highly-touted passer, in the aftermath of the loss. Miles said that despite the loss of Kiel and the state’s top prospect in safety Landon Collins, he expected another recruiting class that “would allow us to compete for championships.”
And he brought up the future, a focus on the next season he said would start right after the news conference, when the returning team met in the same room to focus on next year.
“We return a team that is, in my mind, that has just as much talent and is as capable as any we’ve had.” he said.