LSU athletic director Joe Alleva broke his silence Friday, saying he “looked at options” and made “inquiries” regarding a potential new football coach, but those ended four days before the Tigers’ regular-season finale against Texas A&M.
In a 15-minute interview from his office, Alleva, the eighth-year athletic director, said he’s fully behind Les Miles and that the two have agreed that offensive changes need to be made moving forward.
“My plans are to help Les Miles win and be the coach here until he wants to retire. My goal is to help the man win,” Alleva said.
Alleva said, in retrospect, that he wishes he would have “said something” over the past three weeks as speculation and reports circulated about Miles’ future.
“The key here is moving forward,” the athletic director said. “Les is our guy; he’s our coach. We’re going to support him.”
Alleva said he met with Miles, LSU President F. King Alexander and the LSU Board of Supervisors on Friday after The Advocate reported a behind-the-scenes version of last week’s wild week in Baton Rouge.
The Advocate reported that representatives from LSU and representatives for Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher were in discussions as late as last week before the school decided to keep Miles, the 11th-year coach who has the best winning percentage of any coach in the past 100 years at LSU.
Miles has a contract that runs through 2019 with a buyout of $15 million. The total cost of parting ways with the coach and hiring another was a major factor in the decision, multiple LSU board members said this week. Alexander told the Baton Rouge Business Report on Thursday that spending such an exorbitant amount would have given the school a “black eye” heading into the next legislative session.
Alleva brushed off a question about when Alexander involved himself in the situation with Miles’ job.
“I communicate with Dr. Alexander all of the time,” Alleva said.
LSU, once 7-0 and No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings, lost three straight games for the first time since 1999, starting with a 30-16 defeat at Alabama on Nov. 7. The Tigers dropped each by double digits, a first since 1966.
LSU is 8-3 and ranked No. 23 in the AP poll, awaiting a bowl bid that will be announced Sunday night. The Tigers are likely bound for the Texas Bowl in Houston or the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida.
During the skid, Alleva made inquiries with other options, he said. He declined to reveal names.
“We made some inquiries,” he said. “There’s talk about negotiations. There were no negotiations. There were inquiries made. There’s a big difference between inquiries and negotiations.”
“At the end of the day, after doing due diligence, we came to the conclusion that Les Miles is the right man for the job, and we’re going to back him 100 percent and support him and help him win at the highest level,” Alleva said.
Alleva and Alexander made the joint decision to keep Miles, the athletic director said.
Alleva said he talked to Miles last Wednesday, four days before the Tigers ended the regular season with a 19-7 win over Texas A&M. He indicated then to the coach that he would return to the program.
“Don’t worry. Everything is going to be all right,” Alleva said he told Miles on Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
Alleva said he and Miles have agreed that offensive changes need to be made, but the athletic director said that doesn’t necessarily mean staff changes are in order. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is in the final year of a contract that runs through March and pays him $1.5 million.
“People get hung up on personnel changes,” the athletic director said. “I still believe people can change the way they do things. Doesn’t mean they have to change personnel, but you can change how that person does things. Les has been committed to me (and) he understands there has to be some changes made.”
Alleva said he has not discussed Cameron’s future with Miles, “but I’m sure we will in the very near future.”
“I would never tell a coach who their assistant coach is,” Alleva said. “I’m not going to tell Les who his coaches are. That’s his responsibility. That’s his job — to pick his coaches.”
LSU’s passing offense has ranked 111th and 116th under Cameron the past two seasons as the coach broke in sophomore quarterbacks. The offense this year finished ranked 54th and was 80th last season.
LSU went four straight games without scoring at least 20 points, a first since 1993.
The Tigers offense has finished inside the top 50 nationally twice in Miles’ 11 seasons, and the passing attack has been 94th or worse in five of the past six seasons.
Those outside of Baton Rouge are noticing the troubles.
“If he doesn’t make changes, he won’t make it through the whole season,” said former LSU star Marcus Spears, now an analyst for the SEC Network.
Spears spoke Friday during a media session at SEC FanFare in advance of Saturday’s SEC Championship Game in Atlanta.
“I wasn’t a big proponent of Les getting fired,” Spears said. “But if not (offensive changes) now, then he’s stubborn. Because the offense has been stagnant.”
Alleva said he has spoken to Miles “numerous times” about offensive change. LSU is one of the few schools nationally to still use a fullback and multiple tight ends. The Tigers’ ground-and-pound style has irked fans for years, and it’s a point of contention for a program that has lost at least three games in each of the past four seasons.
Miles is heavily involved in the offense and is often seen holding a playcard on the sideline. The coach defended his offense after the A&M game on Saturday but admitted that changes were needed. He was asked if he’d consider a serious overhaul of his offense.
“The serious and overhaul with the offense … does that include Leonard Fournette?” Miles asked to a questioner Saturday night. “Would we take the running game from the offense? Oh, OK then. So basically it’s not a serious overhaul because the motor seems to be pretty stinking strong. Do we want to consider change? You betcha. I think ‘serious overhaul’ is appropriate but would be a little much.”
Alleva said Friday that the recent speculation and stories surrounding Miles’ future have been used against the Tigers on the recruiting trail. LSU currently has the No. 2 2016 class. LSU has lost two commitments over the past month and another from the 2017 class.
“Talking to Frank (Wilson) and Les, it’s OK right now, but the stories that come out are very important because other schools use that against us,” he said. “I think right now, we’re hanging in there, but I want to make sure we hang in there.”
The 2016 season — Miles’ 12th — is shaping up to be a big one for the 62-year-old. LSU has a 9-7 SEC record in the past two seasons, and the Tigers have lost to SEC West rival Alabama five straight times.
LSU is in jeopardy of finishing outside of the AP Top 25 in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1998-99, if the Tigers lose their bowl game.
Alleva, though, said he sees the 2016 like any other.
“I think every season is important,” he said. “Every season is independent entity of itself. Every season is important. Every game is important.
“I think Les puts pressure on himself every year, every game. He’s a fierce competitor, and he wants to win every game.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv. Scott Rabalais contributed to this report.