On Wednesday, Les Miles juggled in front of several hundred high school football coaches.
It’s not what you think.
The LSU coach didn’t stand at the front of the room tossing around three tennis balls or flipping four flaming torches. He juggled topics: the assassination of three law officers and his love, football.
“My emotions will be worn on my sleeve,” he said to open an hour segment at the LHSCA coaches clinic in the Crowne Plaza.
“That guy,” he said of the gunman, “came into our community. (He’s) somebody I despise.”
Minutes later, a projection screen lit up behind the coach. He waved his pointer at the bright display. There, on the screen, two LSU football players, in full gear, crashed against each other in a one-on-one tackling drill.
Oh, yes, it’s a juggle.
Such is life these days in Baton Rouge, a community rocked by the killing of Alton Sterling and Sunday’s triple homicide off Airline Highway. The events have swept the nation, the state, the city and LSU’s football program.
The coach began his speech talking about the slaying of three officers, berating the assassin and calling for change. He spent the next 50 minutes on X's and O's: zone reads, bear fronts and play-action passes.
The name of Miles’ segment was, “LSU offense: Whatever you call it, it must be physical.”
Hard-nosed, old-school, smashmouth football. Naturally the guy who graced the projection more than any other was Leonard Fournette, the Tigers’ pounding star tailback.
It turned into the Leonard Fournette Show. The coach called the junior “one of the best running backs, maybe, ever.” He even poked at some of Fournette’s victims, Auburn’s Rudy Ford and Texas A&M’s Howard Matthews.
Before the Tigers tussle with Auburn last September, Ford said it “shouldn’t be difficult” to stop Fournette. Miles mentioned the quote and showed a clip of Fournette barreling over Ford during the win over Auburn.
“Didn’t look that way to me,” Miles jabbed as the room snickered.
Fournette dropped Matthews two years ago in a victory at College Station — one of the running back’s first signature runs. He lowered his shoulder, sending the safety to the ground and then racing into the end zone.
“You put yourself in great position to make a great tackle on national television,” Miles said about Matthews, rewinding the play and showing it again, “and you realize it’s Leonard Fournette.”
Football talk ended promptly at 3:30, and Miles shuffled to the side of the room for interviews with local reporters.
Shooting talk began again.
Express yourself, Jabbar Juluke told his group of LSU running backs and fullbacks last week.
“This guy that came in here, ya know,” Miles said, unprompted, about the gunman, a Missouri man. “He didn’t represent us. He’s not from Louisiana. He’s a guy that had his own agenda and wanted to make his own mark and wanted to do so in a militaristic way and not a guy who represented what Louisiana is.”
Miles visited and met with East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputies and Baton Rouge police officers on Tuesday. During the meetings, the coach also spent time with the family members of the slain officers, he indicated Wednesday.
“I had little to offer. I was just there wishing them well,” he said. “What I saw was family and people caring for people, and it was wonderful. I certainly saw a great family unit.”
The coach expounded on his relationship with Montrell Jackson, one of the officers killed when Gavin Long orchestrated an ambush on authorities at the B-Quik on Airline Highway.
Miles knew Jackson “in passing,” he said. During their brief conversation, Jackson reminded the coach that he was the nephew of Fred Jackson, a Baton Rouge native whom Miles coached with while at Michigan in the 1990s.
“He was just extremely kind to my wife,” an emotional Miles said of Jackson. “We talk about what a kind guy and how sweet he was and how he showed us around. We appreciated the kind heart of Montrell Jackson.”