They came by the hundreds Wednesday to pack the stadium club high atop the south end zone of Tiger Stadium to hear Les Miles’ annual end-of-summer address to the Baton Rouge Rotary Club.
They came to hear news, hints, anything about the LSU football team and the upcoming season already potboiling with subplots, intrigue and rampant if tempered optimism.
There was some of that from Miles, in the form a two-minute drill-like briefing that tapped into some of LSU’s key players and key issues.
But there was more, much more than anyone could have expected and some you didn’t care if you ever knew, either.
There was a long anecdote about Bobby Piper, the neighborhood bully back in Elyria, Ohio, the Nick Saban of Miles’ youth, who used to steal his lunch money and once even ripped off his shoes and tossed them in an icy creek – with Miles’ father watching.
There was an anecdote from Miles’ summer trip to Cuba and his plans for economic expansion there. Hillary and Donald, we can send your people the transcript if you need a Miles plank in your platforms. I'd explain more, but I must profess I lost this Miles digression in the lights.
There was an update on the Miles children (they're growing up so fast). And, on a somber note, Miles again spoke of the high-profile shootings that have put Baton Rouge in an unwelcome spotlight – with Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie, East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux and Louisiana State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson in the audience. All three, and by proxy their officers, troopers and deputies, got a well-deserved standing ovation.
Of the police and deputy killer, Miles said with an icy edge in his voice, “He dies in anonymity to me. The guys who wore blue are heroes.
“I want you to know. He (the killer) does not define us (as a community).”
It was a praiseworthy moment for Miles, who for weeks has dealt with the law enforcement and Alton Sterling shootings with exceptional eloquence, depth and humanity.
In general, though, what is typically Miles’ last speaking engagement before the start of preseason camp (players report next Wednesday) was a classic Miles ramble through a wilderness of topics, with the rapidly approaching football season the only clear objective on the other side.
Dave Aranda, LSU’s new defensive coordinator, with his multiple looks designed to keep offenses guessing, you have certainly come to the right place. Because there was no way to handicap Miles’ Rotary address this year, perhaps the most off the rails since the year Snoop Dogg showed up and shared the podium with The Hat.
As for Bobby Piper, and why his name should be invoked some 50 years after tormenting Miles, well, there was actually a point to it all from his perspective.
Seems the Miles family, wife Kathy and the kids, stole Miles away to Cleveland on a mystery trip that culminated with him getting to be in the stands as the Cavaliers completed their improbable NBA Finals upset of Golden State (Miles’ hometown of Elyria is near Cleveland). So while there, Miles decided to take the fam on a magical mystery tour of his own and show them where Bobby Piper deep sixed his shoes while Hope Miles waited in the car.
“He’s going to get tired of beating on you,” Miles recalled his father saying.
As promised, there was football talk. Briefly. Miles said kicker Colby Delahoussaye will miss some part of preseason camp after surviving a fiery car crash in Wisconsin over the weekend that claimed the lives of Nebraska’s punter and a former Michigan State punter. He said signee Edwin Alexander from Karr, a freshman who could be a keystone in Aranda’s 3-4 defensive line, is expected to get green lighted shortly by the NCAA Clearinghouse.
And he said quarterback Brandon Harris will be more prepared to play this season than last, noting that the loss of key starters during the season like full back J.D. Moore and former blocking tight end Dillon Gordon really put a crimp in LSU’s offense.
“I think you’ll like what you see in him,” Miles said of Harris.
If Miles adhered Wednesday to the old show business axiom of always leaving them wanting more, he certainly succeeded, even if somewhere Bobby Piper is feeling more than a little overexposed.
And in the end, what Miles’ team does will matter a lot more than what he says.