ENGSTER: Les at Louie’s on Game Day

By JIM ENGSTER | President, Tiger Rag Magazine

As the team he constructed was starting its day 530 miles away in Fayetteville, Ark., Leslie Edwin Miles opened his Saturday morning at a venerable restaurant perched at the gates of LSU. Miles sauntered into Louie’s Cafe, now operating on Lake Street, its’ third location in 75 years on the fringe of the campus where Miles remains a big man for good reasons.

Miles was visiting with a bevy of well-wishers who seemed as pleased to see him as they were when their Louie’s seafood omelets and jet-fuel coffee arrived at their tables. Saturdays are different for the veteran coach 48 days after his firing and two days after turning 63 years old.

The man who guided the Tigers to a national crown and a pair of SEC titles is noticeably leaner in exile. Miles appears to have lost as much as 20 pounds in the seven weeks since he was unceremoniously booted from his post.  He credits a rigorous workout program, but public humiliation is a stressful process. Miles holds his head high, and why not? For Curley Hallman to have achieved the same record at LSU as LEM, Hallman would have had to go 98-6 in his last 104 games.

The new look Miles is rounding into shape like presidential candidates of yesteryear, perhaps hoping to impress potential employers with his vigor and stamina. Miles is certainly an energetic fellow and has impressed the masses with grace and dignity after getting the axe from President King Alexander and Athletic Director Joe Alleva less than 24 hours after his troops dropped an 18-13 decision at Auburn on Sept. 24.

Miles has criticized no one and will be a wealthy man no matter what happens in the next chapter of an atypical coaching voyage that has included just five locations—Ann Arbor, Boulder, Dallas, Stillwater and Baton Rouge. He has placed his Bocage Lake home on the market with an asking price of $1.8 million and will likely be coaching elsewhere in 2017. Miles yearns for another shot at the bigtime, but jobs like the one he departed are not plentiful.

The most likely scenario is that Miles will be toiling at a school with a significantly reduced shot at winning a national title, but at a place that could lead to a better opportunity. After his exit at Arkansas, Bobby Petrino migrated to Western Kentucky before returning to Louisville where he has the Cardinals in contention for a championship. Miles was not scandalized like Petrino, but he and his former rival possess the coaching bug that must be satisfied somewhere.

Another possibility for Miles is to reinvent himself as a top assistant at a major school. Alabama’s Nick Saban has hired two former head coaches sent to the scrapheap by USC in Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian. It would be a story if Miles wound up in Tuscaloosa working for a rival he once detested.

Miles leaves an admirable legacy at LSU with a 114-34 record and a galaxy of stars he brought to TigerTown. Saban has more hardware on his mantel, but Miles lured Odell Beckham Jr., Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice to LSU. There is no coach in America who assembled a better cast of NFL standouts in the last ten years.  Miles enjoyed uncommon rapport with stellar African-American recruits who would have been off limits to play for the Tigers a half century ago and unavailable to many current coaches hoping to sign them for LSU.

Departing LSU was once the kiss of death to any coach who was either fired or dared to venture elsewhere. Leaving was not glorious for Paul Dietzel or Gerry DiNardo. Their records at other schools post-LSU was a combined 71-98-2.

Charles McClendon, Jerry Stovall, Bill Arnsparger, Mike Archer and Curley Hallman never had another college head coaching post after their tenures in TigerTown. The pattern changed with Saban’s pivot to Alabama.

Miles may follow in Saban’s footsteps once again.

SEC is Donald Trump country

On Aug. 21, 2015, President-elect Donald Trump’s attracted his first massive crowd in his quest for the White House at Ernest F. Ladd Stadium (Now Ladd-Peebles Stadium). This is the arena in Mobile where LSU opened its SEC campaign in the championship year of 1958. The Tigers beat Alabama 13-3 in Bear Bryant’s first game as head coach of the Crimson Tide.

On the night of Sept. 27, 1958, the 45th American president was a 12-year-old lad in Queens, N.Y. while Bear Bryant was a 45-year-old legend in the making. It is curious that the Donald and the Bear kicked off game-changing campaigns in the same rickety arena in the Deep South 57 years apart.

The Bryant Era opened inauspiciously on several fronts with more than 60 fans injured in the first half when bleachers collapsed in the north end zone. A stoppage of play took several minutes as LSU regrouped from a 3-0 deficit to spoil Bryant’s debut, and Paul Dietzel had begun the road to LSU’s last perfect season.

Trump addressed a rapturous throng in Mobile 15 months ago, and the billionaire from Gotham City roared through the South as prolifically as another Yankee, LSU founder Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, conquered the region during the Civil War.

Trump won all eleven states of the SEC. Here is a look at his dominance in the conference with his percentage of the vote in each state.

State                                                     Trump Percentage of Vote

Alabama                                              62.9

Kentucky                                             62.5

Tennessee                                          61.1

Arkansas                                              58.3

Mississippi                                          58.3

Louisiana                                             58.1

Missouri                                               57.1

South Carolina                                   54.9

Texas                                                    52.6

Georgia                                                                51.3

Florida                                                  49.1

Collectively, there are 150 electoral votes in the SEC, 56 percent of the magic 270 needed to win the White House. Without his success in the conference, Trump could not have defeated Hillary Clinton, who outpointed him 232-156 in scoring of the remainder of the Electoral College.

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Jim Engster | President, Tiger Rag

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