The coaching carousel is underway in earnest and it’s not even Halloween. Most notably, Les Miles now finds himself out of a job at LSU with the season not even halfway done.
It was shocking news to hear only with regard to its timing on the final Sunday afternoon of September and not at all that it had happened.
Miles departs with a 114-34 record, a pair of SEC championships and one national title ring. History will end up showing that he was the most successful coach at LSU given the benchmarks, longevity and the era he competed in. He not only won it all once but was winning fairly consistently even when he wasn’t. The school had only seven double-digit win seasons before Miles arrived in town and he simply added seven more to the total.
More than the memorable wins however, what came across to fans, players and the media was how un-coach-like Miles was. He was fun. He was fresh. He pulled trick plays out with aplomb to earn his “Mad Hatter” nickname. He ate grass as though it was the perfect pairing for a lunchtime sandwich. In retrospect, becoming the only modern national title winner with two losses probably only underscores Miles’ legendary quirkiness and penchant for the bizarre.
While nobody ever labeled him the best coach around, he certainly was on the shortlist of very good ones and that’s what ultimately caught up to him in the end.
Miles fooled us. Each and every season. That was part of his charm for a while but soon it turned into the reason he was shown the door. There hasn’t been real change, or more specifically evolution, at LSU in years. The program hasn’t adjusted to changing times, using some remarkable NFL talent as a crutch for not taking that next step everybody else already has.
There has been an obvious need for offensive development at LSU ever since Miles arrived and instead of channeling Urban Meyer with Tom Herman or Nick Saban with Lane Kiffin, Miles doubled-down on Cam Cameron. Fool me once with a move like that, shame on us. Fool us again by giving Cameron a second contract and not developing a passable quarterback, well, that’s firmly on Miles.
So it seems remarkably appropriate that the grass-eating, tongue-twisting, clock-mismanaging Miles ended his career at LSU on a play both did and did not count. That Auburn failed to score a touchdown on Saturday in the win made for a remarkable punchline in the end and a bat-signal that it was time to go.
Sure you could argue that the timing was bad and that it was unfair to somebody so historically tied to a program like he was for Miles to get the axe after just four games. But it was going to be time eventually and the Tigers can finally stop fooling themselves and move on now.
As for where LSU goes from here, you can already read dozens of lists of potential candidates. The first thing to keep in mind is wondering who exactly is running this search. Many within the industry expect athletic director Joe Alleva to follow Miles out the door over the coming months. The Tigers should be able to land a big-name candidate but if Alleva is still around doing the hiring come December, that will likely be viewed as a negative to the job. It’s further down on the list than, say, playing Saban every year, but it’s a factor.
One should have every reason to believe Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher will get the first call when LSU actually starts reaching out to folks later this year. He knows the landscape at the school from his time as an assistant and is one of the four coaches with a national title ring who could realistically leave his current setup for another by choice.
One could argue FSU is the better job than LSU right now and a much better path to the national title in the ACC Atlantic instead of the SEC West. But beyond a decent pay increase, one wonders if Fisher simply wants a new challenge on a slightly bigger stage (a change of scenery after some personal turmoil in the past year is something to consider too).
Tom Herman figures to be Tigers fans’ No. 1 pick to replace Miles and it’s not hard to see why. He’s 17-1 as a head coach and, though young, has quickly developed a reputation for being an offensive guru who can recruit at a high level and instill toughness in a program. There are plenty of reasons why he would fit in well with the purple and gold but Herman can be quite picky as the trendy name for every opening in the country. If he simply decides things aren’t well suited for him at the moment, he can pass for something else down the road.
Bobby Petrino’s name will get some play but, given the size of his buyout combined with Miles’ (and his staff’s) buyout, that’s a lot to ask for any school no matter how big the booster wallets are. Art Briles is unrealistic on a number of levels. The fact is, once you get beyond Fisher and Herman’s names, the options aren’t quite as rosy for LSU. Don’t be shocked when a bungled search plays out in a painfully public manner and the school eventually winds up with new Tigers coach Todd Graham.
LSU football will move on though. Miles will too. It was just time that this great-turned-good combination of coach and school were finally split up. The ending got messy sure but at least we’re finally to a point where both Miles and LSU won’t fool each other again.
Stat of the Week
With Les Miles getting the axe, Nick Saban now has as many SEC titles (6) as every other active head coach in the country does combined. The state of Alabama also is home to the only active head coaches who are still in the SEC and have won the league in Saban and Gus Malzahn. By firing Miles, there are now only four active head coaches to have won the national championship still coaching in Saban, Bob Stoops, Urban Meyer and Jimbo Fisher.
Tweet of the Week
Superlatives of the Week
Best player: Dalvin Cook (Florida State)
Heisman five: 1. Lamar Jackson (Louisville), 2. Christian McCaffrey (Stanford), 3. J.T. Barrett (Ohio State), 4. Greg Ward Jr. (Houston), 5. Jabrill Peppers (Michigan)
Team of the week: Colorado
Honorary Les Miles Goat of the week: Brian Kelly (Notre Dame)
Quote of the week: "Watching them drive the ball down kind of crushed our soul," USC receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said after the loss to Utah, according to the Associated Press.
Play of the Week
I’m a voter in the FWAA/National Football Foundation Super 16 Poll and will be releasing my ballot here every week. Here’s my ballot heading into Week 5.
2. Ohio State
5. Texas A&M
11. Florida State
12. Ole Miss
14. Boise State
Best of the rest: Arizona State, Arkansas, San Diego State, West Virginia, Oklahoma, UCLA, North Dakota State, Miami, Nebraska
Stanford at Washington (Friday)
Both teams squeaked by on the road last week and it probably was the case of a look-ahead game for Washington in particular. The Cardinal haven’t been particularly great so far over the course of a complete game and really need to get Christian McCaffrey going for some big gains on Friday night. Winter comes in the Pac-12 however, as the Huskies pull it off at home and dethrone the defending league champions.
Wisconsin at Michigan
At some point we’ll stop overlooking Wisconsin and recognize the Badgers have a legitimately good defense. The problem is that Michigan has one that is just as good and an offense that, at this point, you can trust a little more. At home, the Wolverines get tested but pull out a win.
Louisville at Clemson
Clemson will undoubtedly be up for this one and should put forth its best effort of the season after a few mediocre ones. The Tigers have the talent to win but Louisville has Lamar Jackson. Advantage: Cardinals, even if the quarterback doesn’t score seven touchdowns.
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.