As he settled in for his final on-campus news conference of 2014 Monday night, Les Miles mentioned the Forbes article that rated LSU as the nation’s fifth-most-valuable college football program.
The price tag: $103 million.
Someone asked Miles if he should get a raise for his role in leading such a lucrative “franchise,” but he smiled and shook his head no.
Done. Miles will have to continue to scrape by on $4.3 million per year.
But The Hat may deserve a Christmas bonus if he can keep the key players in LSU’s football playing band in harmony for another season.
If we start from the assumption that Miles is staying at LSU and not going to Michigan — at least for now, the folks in Ann Arbor appear to have bet all their chips on Jim Harbaugh — his work isn’t going to start and end with the Tigers’ preparations for Notre Dame in Tuesday’s Music City Bowl.
In a Twitter message Sunday, someone asked whether Odell Beckham Jr. was having a good day. The response was, “Is he playing?”
The remarkable rookie seasons for OBJ with the New York Giants, Jarvis Landry with the Miami Dolphins, Jeremy Hill with the Cincinnati Bengals — even Zach Mettenberger’s now injury-stunted season with the Tennessee Titans — have been a shining example of the kind of prepared talent LSU has churned out of late, making JaMarcus Russell’s imploded pro career a distant memory. Just chatting about the subject made “Monday Night Football” analyst Jon Gruden, the name perpetually tied to every college job open or closed, opine during the Denver-Cincinnati game what fun it would be to go to LSU and coach talent like that.
Before anyone starts having heart palpitations, remember, Miles likely isn’t going anywhere. And neither, for his part, is Gruden.
The uninformed question being asked these days is “How did LSU not contend for the national championship last season with weapons like Hill, OBJ, Landry and the Mett Show?” The reason is for much of 2013, LSU’s defense was the Bayou Corne sinkhole, negating the best efforts of the offense.
But that defense slowly came around, in no small measure thanks to the leadership of defensive coordinator John Chavis.
Reports surfaced in recent days that Texas A&M was trying to court Chavis for its vacant defensive coordinator spot. There are reports that the Aggies defense was so bad this season A&M’s defensive coordinator spot was already vacant (Rim shot! Thanks, I’m here until Saturday).
Chavis gets that kind of courting virtually every season, and it wouldn’t be a shock if Steve Spurrier tried to lure Chief back to South Carolina, his native state, too.
But LSU has already put a new four-year deal in front of Chavis; and like Miles, it appears he’s unlikely to go anywhere. The same for LSU’s other assistant coaches whose contracts are up for renewal. Of the five — running backs coach/recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson, defensive backs coach Corey Raymond, defensive line coach Brick Haley, receivers coach Adam Henry and tight ends coach Steve Ensminger — at least two are believed to have already signed extensions.
Miles said LSU is working to keep them all, certainly laying to rest any impressions that he will be making any staff changes in the wake of a less-than-satisfying 8-4 regular season. Staff stability can certainly improve the chances of an improved season in 2015.
But Miles has never had much trouble in attracting talented assistants, especially since every coach in the biz has to know that LSU has the highest-paid staff in college football.
Keeping talented underclassmen at home has been a different story of late.
Miles and LSU must walk a tightrope when it comes to early NFL entrants. If you’re LSU, you want to be seen as a pro football proving ground, and talented underclassmen going out and going off in the NFL doesn’t hurt that impression.
But too much of a good thing is a bad thing. It’s no small stretch to assume that if Hill, Landry, Beckham, defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson, and offensive lineman Trai Turner had returned, LSU would find itself preparing for a CFP bowl instead of the Music City Bowl.
There are seven likely possibilities for early entry into the draft this season: offensive linemen Jerald Hawkins and Vadal Alexander, defensive backs Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins, linebacker Kwon Alexander, defensive end Danielle Hunter and wide receiver Travis Dural.
Dural has already reportedly said he will return, along with punter Jamie Keehn. Collins is widely expected to go, but WAFB’s Jacques Doucet tweeted Tuesday that Collins is miffed at such assumptions and is still weighing his options.
It would be foolish to think all seven will return, but it does look like for now LSU may be, to use a Miles word, “nicked” less by the draft than it has been the past two seasons. Vadal Alexander or Hawkins are expected to return (it would be a coup to keep both, but likely Alexander), and there are reports Hunter and Mills are leaning to staying. Kwon Alexander is a tougher call, but he is seen as likely leaving at this point.
Miles and LSU are pursuing another highly ranked recruiting class (currently a composite No. 17 nationally per 24/7 Sports, but with a lot of big names still undecided), and that’s important.
But recruiting the people he already has on hand may be just as important for Miles and LSU in 2015. Maybe more.
-- Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.