Impressive numbers have accumulated as part of the Les Miles coaching story the way some people collect matchbooks or cars or, as in his case, a fresh white LSU baseball cap to wear to each and every game.
Numbers like 95. That’s how many games he’s won at LSU since arriving in 2005, the most for any Southeastern Conference football program in that time span.
Or a number like 60, the SEC-leading number of NFL draft picks Miles has recruited and coached the last nine years.
Or even a number like one. That’s the number of national championships Miles has won at LSU, tying him with Paul Dietzel and Nick Saban.
Here’s a number from Miles’ coaching career you probably didn’t know about:
That’s the number of times Miles called his former coach, Michigan legend Bo Schembechler, to plead with Bo to give him a graduate assistant’s job with the Wolverines.
Miles had left the program and was working for a trucking company making $32,000 a year, good money for 1976. But he ached to get back in the game.
Bo finally gave Miles a job making $8,200 a year.
For a guy now making $4.3 million a year, it was, to borrow a Miles term, a damn strong return on his investment.
But who’s to say if Miles had stayed in business he wouldn’t be pulling down $4 million per owning his own trucking company or some other business?
“I always tell him he should have been a lawyer,” said his wife, Kathy Miles, “or a doctor. He would have been the best he could have been.”
Right now, there are some of you choking on your morning coffee or freshly buttered bagel. Les Miles a doctor or a lawyer? The guy who rocked the “Harlem Shake” video with his players and rappelled down the side of a Baton Rouge skyscraper and is drinking a grass smoothie in a new ESPN College Football Playoff video? Loud, hand-slapping, singing the alma mater, Mad Hatter Les Miles?
Yes, that Les Miles. The one who has the best winning percentage of any LSU coach ever to last more than two seasons on the job (or to put it another way, better than any coach since 1908). The one whose Tigers have never lost a regular season nonconference game, like the one LSU plays at 8 p.m. Saturday in Houston against Wisconsin, a perfect 35-0.
The guy who pays much more attention to detail than most not within his inner circle can appreciate.
Virtually every day in practice Miles, the old offensive guard, is hands-on working with the offensive linemen. He has serious input into special teams, typically an LSU strength through his tenure. Every day, his players are available for media interviews, Miles wants to see the list.
You could label him a control freak and that would be accurate. But it would be to paint Miles with the same broad brush as every other football coach worth a darn.
To coaches, control equals wins.
Most indications to the contrary, Miles may be the most in-control person in Louisiana. He looks like he just lets things happen, like he just fell into four straight seasons of 10 wins or more, the first time that’s happened at LSU. The Jacques Clouseau of coaching.
Hardly. It’s always occurred to me that part of Miles’ genius is his ability to act, sometimes the fool, getting you to underestimate him and his team, then scratch your helmet and wonder how he just beat you.
“He’s probably much more calculated than people think,” Kathy Miles said.
Something in the man burns to be the best, bubbling to the surface in his inability to say his team lost (“We finished second”) or refer to old Big Ten nemesis Ohio State by its full name (It’s invariably “Ohio”).
“He’s not satisfied being second fiddle to anyone,” Kathy Miles said.
“The part that’s funny to me is how his image is more laid back, laissez-faire. It’s absolutely not the case. I always ask our kids if they think he’s a laid-back dad.”
That would be four no votes right there.
But there is a soft underbelly to Miles, carefully hidden but often revealed in his interaction with a former player or a visit to a sick fan in a hospital room away from the cameras and blogs.
“Les has been a father figure to me, he really has,” said Jacob Hester, former LSU running back. “He’s that kind of guy. He’s that kind of coach.
“Not many coaches who have been in a program like LSU for 10 years can come up to a guy who played seven years ago and know all his kids’ names and his wife’s name. I saw him in Shreveport this spring for the Tiger Tour and the first thing he said was, ‘Let me see how your boys look.’
“Stuff like that is special. That’s the kind of guy he is and that translates to the football field.”
Bradley Dale Peveto was a Miles assistant from 2005-08 at LSU, left to be head coach at Northwestern State then moved on to Kentucky last year.
When offered a chance to return to coach special teams and defense, Peveto jumped. It was a chance for the Beaumont, Texas, native to get back closer to home, certainly. But coaches don’t return to the scene if they’ve been done a crime professionally.
“One thing I’ve always known about him — from 2005 to now — he’ll handle situations,” Peveto said. “He handles people.
“He can be as tough as he needs to be, and there ain’t a tougher guy to work for, but he cares about your family. He has an innate ability to keep things tough and light. He’s got a great mixture to him. It’s Les. It’s part of his magic.”
If LSU is to win at least 10 games for a fifth straight season, Miles may have to conjure up some of his best magic yet. The Tigers have next to no experience at quarterback and wide receiver and multiple-choice questions to answer on the defensive line.
Wisconsin is a swing game that could push LSU back toward 10 wins or down toward seven or eight.
But for Miles, the numbers usually work out in his favor. It would be a pretty safe bet once again.