Whatever these next two games hold for Les Miles, there’s every reason to believe he will face fate on his own terms.
That’s how he got to this point — for better and for worse — after nearly 11 full seasons as LSU’s football coach.
Miles isn’t going to change now. He certainly isn’t, for example, going to let criticism of his offense become an epiphany that will have him ditch the power running bedrock of it for a spread ’em out, up-tempo, newfangled attack like the one the Tigers will face Saturday at Ole Miss.
No, he’s convinced his way is the right way. That’s how he got to this point. That’s how he got to be Les Miles, blending the pound-it-down-their-throats style that would have made dear old Bo Schembechler grit his teeth and growl “Yeah!” with an approving snarl with the occasional “Who else would have called that?” trick play.
“I like us” is one of Miles’ favorite phrases, no less true now after two straight thumping losses than it was after the seven straight wins with which LSU started the season. He’s for his team, and believes in his young men. Always. And they play for him. Always. In all the conjecture about Miles’ present and his now hazy future, reject one notion: that Miles has “lost” the team. It’s absurd.
He’s convinced his Tigers can play their way out of this recent slide, slither out of the infamy of being the first LSU team to lose three straight games since 1999, right the ship and keep on rolling to another top-10 finish.
Miles should believe that. He’s the head coach, after all. Even if the true believers are thinning out like Tiger Stadium did by the fourth quarter of last week’s loss to Arkansas, he has to stand there and take it. And dish it out. Sixty minutes of hell for one side or the other. Afterward, there’s the one that wins and the one, as Miles would say, that finishes second.
LSU has done too much finishing second in Southeastern Conference games in recent seasons to keep Miles’ seat well air conditioned. A perfect 8-0 in SEC play in 2011 has been followed in stair-step progression by a 6-2 record in 2012, 5-3 in 2013, 4-4 in 2014 and this year’s 4-2 mark to date with two hugely important games ahead against Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
Win them both, and LSU may be off to the Sugar Bowl and all’s well.
Lose them both, and it may be off with his hat. Lose badly to Ole Miss or A&M and he could be a goner, too.
Miles hasn’t ducked the crimson elephant in the room this week. In lightly veiled statements such as he’s coaching “like there’s no tomorrow” and “I stand at the front of the (team) room; I share the lion’s share of the responsibility,” Miles is making his stand.
I think Miles knows the kind of fix he’s in. I think he knows that neither his athletic director nor his school president nor some million-dollar-a-year booster is going to be his fourth-quarter white knight. His team will have to do it on the field, or he may be done at LSU. Miles is either going out on his shield or on the shoulders of his players. (Why don’t they do that anymore?)
So, what the hell? He’s going to do it his way, I’m sure. There’s a permanence in play here that from the outside is both maddening and yet in a way noble.
“The need for victory doesn’t change,” Miles said this week. “The program is put together so at the end of the week we have success.”
There are LSU fans who will cheer for Miles and his Tigers on Saturday. There are LSU fans who will root for them to lose so he can be shown the door, the door that some misguided few apparently think will open onto a paradise where LSU never loses, always wins the national title and still changes coaches every year for sheer entertainment value.
Miles hasn’t lost the team, but he has lost the fan base, to a large degree. Among those are fans eager to prove true Greg Schiano’s crack that every man in America thinks he can work a grill and coach football.
Most of them think they can coach football better than Miles. Maybe because he has so much of that everyman quality, a blue-collar guy who I’m convinced would have been happy if he was just coaching high school football somewhere back home in Ohio.
Instead he’ll be on LSU’s sideline Saturday, in his purple windbreaker and high white cap, a figure both formidable and flawed, and in the end completely human.
“They are always for a man when he is winning,” Harry Truman once said. “But when he is in a little trouble, they all jump on him with what ought to be done, which they didn’t tell him before.”
Truman was talking about Gen. Douglas MacArthur and his troubles in Korea.
Truman eventually fired MacArthur.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.