Les Miles heard the cheers when he trotted out for pregame Senior Day activities, but at first he didn’t realize they were for him.
“I didn’t expect cheers,” Miles said after his team turned back Texas A&M 19-7 on Saturday night, then turned the page to the first day of the rest of his LSU coaching career. “I wondered at first, ‘Is that for me? That Les Miles sounded like that was for me.’ ”
It was indeed, Coach. And even more than beating the Aggies, that groundswell of popular support may have gone as far as anything to keeping Miles employed at LSU. That and possibly the news out of Florida that Jimbo Fisher, LSU’s top candidate to replace Miles were there a change, was telling folks there he was staying at Florida State.
Still, there were other candidates to replace Miles. Just when it seemed he was teetering against the ropes after three straight successively worse losses, he rallied. Certainly his public image did.
National media types with few exceptions couldn’t begin to understand why LSU would consider parting with a coach who has won a national title and more than 77 percent of his games over 11 years (now again nearly 78 percent). Fair and trenchant criticism, and perhaps it began to take a toll on the will of the people who were aligning for Miles’ ouster.
Like a late comeback out of the hurry-up offense or a savvy political veteran bringing in the vote from outlying precincts, in the last couple of days leading up to kickoff, Miles began to rally.
In fact, it would have been difficult for him to enjoy a bigger public display of confidence than what he got.
They cheered Miles off the team bus. They cheered him as he walked down Victory Hill. They painted their chests in the student section and cheered as the still smartly suited Mad Hatter came out to survey Tiger Stadium’s turf a couple of hours before kickoff. They gave him a standing ovation as he trotted back onto the field and waived his pristine white cap before pregame Senior Day ceremonies.
The positive energy seemed to transfer to Miles’ team, at least to the defense, a unit that has deserved an equal share of criticism as the offense. They defended the old coliseum heroically. Save for a couple of long passes they gave up yards grudgingly most of the night. It was a salty effort worthy of former LSU and current A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis, who by the way got a couple of hugs from Jalen Mills and Tre’Davious White as he crossed the south end zone while Miles stood in the north and sang the alma mater with his team.
Fair to say Tiger Stadium, which dropped the curtain on its 92nd season Saturday night, never saw a game like this.
LSU has had plenty of coaches find themselves on the hot seat, just as Les Miles found himself as the post-Thanksgiving entrée of the day going into the regular-season finale against Texas A&M.
But while most of the soon to be departed coaches were sent off with a “Goodbye, good riddance,” for Miles the reception was something else entirely.
After it was over, Miles got hoisted up on his players’ shoulders, swept off the field in an emotional triumph. To my memory it was the first time an LSU coach was carried off the field since Charles McClendon in 1979.
“Now I know what it’s like to ride an elephant,” Miles said.
Add another quote to the Miles treasure trove. More to come next year, I’m sure.
Just when did it become next year for Miles?
In a dramatic moment to top a day of them, athletic director Joe Alleva strode to the podium first ahead of Miles and announced, “Les Miles is our football coach and will continue to be our football coach.”
Sifting through the tea leaves of Milespeak, apparently he didn’t know he still had the job until right after the game when LSU President F. King Alexander and Alleva told him.
Alleva said he wanted to wait until the season was over to complete his evaluation of Miles. That evaluation apparently lasted as long as it took for Miles to sing the alma mater with his team.
The offense, when Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice weren’t running the ball, continued to look sluggish when the Tigers put the ball in the air. Brandon Harris, whose November nosedive coincided with LSU’s 1-3 record after its 7-0 start, was only 7-of-21 passing for 83 yards.
Miles said there would be offensive changes. Whether those changes involve changing out offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and/or any other coaches was a pool Miles naturally wasn’t about to dip into.
That’s a matter for another day.
This was Les Miles’ day, and no one or nothing needs to overshadow that.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.