The Les Miles era at LSU ended in the most Les Miles way possible with Saturday night's 18-13 loss at Auburn.
Outplayed. Outgained. Outcoached (let's call it what it is). But there was Miles' team, storming down the field with the clock winding down, Danny Etling throwing a touchdown pass to D.J. Chark with no time left.
It looked like Miles had pulled another improbable victory out of his high white hat, what would have been an incredible 25th fourth-quarter comeback/overtime win in his 12 years at LSU.
But there was no magic left. Etling didn't get the snap off, the touchdown never counted, and Miles had to count one more loss on his ledger before LSU's administration sent him packing Sunday.
It had to end, this crazy thing Miles and LSU had going. It wasn't working anymore. The Tigers were only 12-10 in their last 22 games against Power Five conference foes since 2014, a fairly mediocre 39-17 since losing that infamous BCS National Championship Game to Alabama in January 2012, and 21-13 in Southeastern Conference play over that stretch. LSU isn't paying Miles $4.3 million per year and his assistants nearly $5.5 million per year just to do OK and get to the Music City Bowl.
It will be said Nick Saban, the man who constructed LSU's greatest era of football, an era that Miles kept up the notes on, got Miles fired. Six straight losses to Alabama, starting with that 21-0 BCS title game blowout, certainly were an anchor.
But much more than Saban and Alabama or any other coach and program dragging him down, Miles' worst enemy was himself. The chronic clock-management gaffes which again conspired against LSU on Saturday night — the Tigers squandered roughly half of the 2 minutes, 56 seconds they started their final drive with not getting plays in or lining up quicker. The lack of discipline that led to so many critical penalties and mistakes.
The offense. The offense was offensive. In an age when college football teams ring up 40, 50 points with regularity and roll up 500 to 600 yards per game in the process, LSU's offense always seemed to be struggling for life, even though Miles and his staff brought in top-10 recruiting class after class.
Miles talked a good game when he indicated, going way back to LSU's Texas Bowl appearance in December, that he would modernize the offense, play with more balance, more passing, trade the ox and cart for a Tesla. But he couldn't bring himself to do it. Emboldened by the fact the coup attempt against him in November failed, Miles re-signed offensive coordinator Cam Cameron (who was also fired Sunday). The offense, even with a few more passes and wrinkles and a change at quarterback from Brandon Harris to Etling, struggled on still. LSU's next fourth quarter point will be its first scored this season, for goodness sake. And of LSU's two losses, well, they could have been avoided had the Tigers scored in the fourth, finished drives in the clutch.
But there is a lot to commend Miles for as well. He was quirky and goofy but was never embroiled in any serious off-the-field scandals. He represented LSU and Louisiana like he was from Eunice instead of Elyria, Ohio, like he was one of us and always had been. And he won — that's the darndest thing about his time here — 77 percent of his games, more than any LSU coach during the SEC (or modern) era dating to 1933.
Miles is not irreplaceable, but he will be hard to replace. Good luck to the next guy — the next guy who will probably earn much more than the $4.35 million per year LSU was paying Miles. Good luck to him to win 77 percent of his games, a national title and two SEC championships, while playing for one more of each. And, oh, yes, you'll be trying to contend in the toughest division in college football.
But it was time. Probably well past time. Political football overruled actual football in November when it looked like Miles would be shown the door. What happened Sunday should have happened then, though it is certainly unprecedented in LSU annals for a coach to be fired in September.
Still, what outgoing Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley once said certainly applies here: "What must be done eventually must be done immediately." So was the case with Miles. Good guy, likable — heck, his likability was one reason LSU hired him over Bobby Petrino back in 2005 in the first place. But winning, and in LSU's case winning big, is the ultimate measuring stick.
You can bet on three things when it comes to LSU's next coach:
1. He will be rich.
2. He will believe in a modern offensive principles; in fact, he should throw a football from the podium to someone at his introductory news conference.
3. He won't be as oddly endearing as Miles.
There's a lot of scorn and ridicule for Miles out there today, and relief from many an LSU fan that he's finally gone.
But he did his best and did it the best way he knew how. There is a nobility in that, and for that LSU owes Les Miles a debt of gratitude.