RICHMOND, Texas — Les Miles sauntered into an event here Saturday night called the Rodeo Bowl, one of the big highlights of Texas Bowl week.
He wore a cowboy hat, fashionably untucked button-down shirt, blue jeans and a broad smile on his face.
Maybe it was because he knew Donaldsonville wide receiver Stephen Sullivan was about to recommit to LSU — a huge recovery for the Tigers at a need position from the state’s top player at his position for 2016. Maybe instead it was because in the last month, Miles has gone from twisting in the wind at the mercy of LSU administrators and deep-pocketed boosters to being firmly back in charge of his program, arguably more in charge than he’s been in some time.
Flip the calendar back to this time a year ago. LSU was in Nashville, Tennessee, preparing to play Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl, and Miles was trying to work a new deal for then-defensive coordinator John Chavis.
LSU was offering a slight bump in salary, but money wasn’t the main issue. The main issue for Chavis was a clause in his and all LSU assistants’ contracts that says the school only owes them six months’ salary should Miles be terminated.
Chavis wanted the clause out. Miles wanted to oblige. Athletic director Joe Alleva did not. The clause stayed. Chavis now lives here in Texas, over yonder in College Station, where he coaches Texas A&M’s defense between rounds of LSU contract-related lawsuits.
Typically, winning college football coaches can dictate a lot of terms on their campuses. But Miles, on the cusp of seeing his Tigers lose a squeaker to the Fighting Irish to finish 8-5, didn’t have the political capital to get Chavis’ contract changed a year ago. Perhaps it was because he himself was on a track to having his job security erode to the point he was in jeopardy of the “Les Miles clause” invoked for his staff after a three-game November losing streak.
You can debate Miles’ acumen as a football coach until the calves at the Rodeo Bowl come home. What you can’t debate is that the man is a survivor, always coming up with the play or the win to keep going.
Miles’ team is favored to beat Texas Tech on Tuesday. He’s an even bigger favorite to keep things going the way he wants them to go in his program, at least for the foreseeable future.
After Miles’ job status, the biggest question has been about the fate of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and the tenor of LSU’s offensive philosophy.
Miles, as you certainly would expect, wouldn’t comment Saturday when asked if he is confident in the status quo of his coaching staff as it currently exists. But no one should expect that Cameron is going anywhere. Same for special teams coordinator/linebackers coach Bradley Dale Peveto, who also suffered his share of criticism this season (though special teams coverage did improve toward the “back end” of the campaign.)
Why would they go if Miles wants them to stay? Both are heavily involved in recruiting key pieces for LSU’s 2016 recruiting class. Recruiting analyst Shea Dixon of 24/7 Sports tweeted Saturday that Cameron had a major role in returning Sullivan to the fold, and of course he is trying to help the Tigers land a quarterback to replace Feleipe Franks.
Peveto is seriously involved in helping LSU land some linebackers for 2016, a position that ranks 1 or 1A in terms of critical need for the Tigers.
Miles isn’t any more likely to change his offensive mindset, either. Certainly not for the Texas Bowl. There is hardly any other wise course of action for LSU than to run the ball right at the Red Raiders’ tissue-paper-like rush defense, which will have the twin effect of shortening the game and keeping Tech’s explosive offense on the bench, safely away from all ignition points.
As for LSU’s offense going into 2016 and possibly beyond? Well, Miles gave the answer to that moments after the Texas A&M game, when he was asked if he would consider a “serious overhaul” of the offense.
“Does that include Leonard Fournette?” Miles volleyed in return, referring to his All-America tailback who will be a junior in 2016. “Would we take the running game from the offense? Oh, OK, then. So basically it’s not a serious overall because the motor seems to be pretty stinking strong.”
Miles can say that now. He holds the cards. He can again do as he please. As long, of course, as the offensive motor purrs to a Texas Bowl win and a big season next year.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.