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Offensive struggles ended successful

For all of Les Miles' good qualities, the way he related to his players, the way his players swore by him and the way he made college football fun with his quirkiness, it was his stubbornness that brought about his demise.

He was the Mad Hatter, the guy who would munch on grass during tight ballgames, but he was also the guy who squandered a maddening amount of talent, according to his critics, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

And in a nutshell, that's how a coach was sent packing after winning a national title, two SEC championships, 10 or more games in seven of his 11 full seasons and 77 percent of his games.

Years of success, including a national title, were undone by an inability — or unwillingness — to adapt his offense to a new era in college football. Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

On Sunday morning, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva told Miles that the coach would no longer represent Louisiana State. Only hours earlier, LSU had lost 18-13 at Auburn, the third time in four games that LSU had failed to score more than 23 points.

Alleva told Miles the decision was made late Saturday night. In reality, it was probably made last year, when Miles survived a coup in the final hour after beating Texas A&M late in the season. It was only a reprieve, though, because the same power brokers who wanted Miles out didn't go anywhere. And Miles was either too hardheaded or too loyal, and maybe both, to make any sweeping changes on offense.

Sure, he changed quarterbacks earlier this season, going from Brandon Harris to Danny Etling, but the approach, and the result, was still the same.

Miles loves physical, shove-it-down-your-throat offense. He loves fullbacks and tight ends and running the football. There was a time during his career when that style was good enough to remain nationally relevant, particularly with the way the Tigers recruited under Miles.

But as the college game started to change, Miles dug his heels deeper in the Louisiana soil, and while everybody else was spreading it out, running tempo, finding ways to be creative and scoring points, Miles was still trying to do it his way. The hard way.

It cost him his job.

 

 

Miles' offensive coordinator, longtime pal Cam Cameron, didn't buck the system. He ran what Miles wanted to run, how he wanted to run it and when he wanted to run it. Some of the other offensive coordinators under Miles (Jimbo Fisher, to be specific) were more willing to fight Miles and branch out and be more imaginative offensively.

Rarely, if ever, did Miles meddle with the defense. But he was a master meddler with the offense, which was all the more frustrating for LSU fans.

Go back and look at some of the receiver talent that has come through LSU over the years — comparing what those players did at LSU and what they've done in the pros. Granted, there were some nice passing numbers when Zach Mettenberger was throwing to Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, but that was more the exception than the rule.

The Tigers were never able to develop a quarterback out of high school under Miles (Mettenberger was a transfer) and, for the most part, were never able to get it right offensively.

It was always obvious that LSU players loved playing for Les Miles. That was especially evident in a win over Texas A&M that saved his job last year — temporarily, it turned out. AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman

In this age of wide-open offensive football, that's a tough way to make a living, even when you're pulling in top-10 recruiting classes every year.

Let's be honest. The shadow of Nick Saban didn't help Miles' cause, either. Saban has set a dizzying standard at Alabama with four national championships in the past seven years. Having Saban in your same division is hard enough, but coming in behind him the way Miles did at LSU makes it even more daunting.

Early on, Miles stood his ground, on the recruiting ground and on the field. But once Saban got Alabama's machine rolling, the Tigers haven't been much opposition. Alabama has won five in a row against LSU.

The hardest part in all this, especially for those who really know Miles, is that he's such a likable guy, refreshing in a lot of ways because he never seemed to take himself too seriously. He was deeply involved in the Baton Rouge community. Miles also genuinely cares about people and always had his players' backs.

At times, you needed a special "Les Miles thesaurus" to decipher what he was really trying to say at news conferences, but he was good for the game and provided a nice break from some of the stoicism that grips the coaching fraternity.

Having talked to countless players who played for Miles over the years, it's obvious they loved him and loved playing for him. Miles is eternally devoted to his own family and treated his players the same way. Patrick Peterson, now a cornerback with the Arizona Cardinals, probably said it best a few years ago. Peterson was a coveted prospect coming out of high school in Pompano Beach, Florida, and could have gone anywhere he wanted.

"If I had it all to do over again, I'd go back and play for coach Miles every time," Peterson said. "He's always going to be there for you no matter what."

Miles will no longer be at LSU, and maybe it's not a surprise that it ended the way it did.

But nobody can ever say he didn't do it his way.

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