By JIM ENGSTER
President, Tiger Rag Editor
Les Miles starts his 12th tour through the SEC positioned to win conference and national honors and possibly have his marquee player win the Heisman Trophy. It’s an amazing time for a coach both revered and reviled on home turf. Just nine months ago, Miles had his tenure extended at LSU in the third quarter of a coaching assignment at Tiger Stadium. When he was carried off the field by his players, Miles apparently had no assurance he was receiving a reprieve or getting a pink slip when he hit the locker room.
While LSU’s brass was weighing the fate of Miles during the regular season finale’ at Death Valley, his Tigers were showing new life by snapping a three-game losing skid. Miles might have retained his job anyway, but the 19-7 decision over Texas A&M provided a much needed jolt for morale in the Tiger Kingdom. Prior to the verdict against the Aggies, LSU had lost consecutively to Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss by a combined score of 99-47, an average defeat of 33-16.
A firing squad set its sights on the 62-year-old coach of the Bengals. Miles was vulnerable because he has gone eight years without capturing a second national title, an unforgivable sin for a program that went 45 years between its championship seasons of 1958 and 2003.
When President King Alexander, Athletic Director Joe Alleva and on-the-fence board members realized the cost of canning Miles coupled with the price of landing Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, the dump Les movement stalled. Suddenly the resilient leader of the Tigers is the most popular fellow on campus. That remains the case until LSU loses its next game.
LSU closed its 9-3 campaign with a 56-27 rout of Texas Tech in a Texas Bowl clash that enabled Miles to complete a disappointing year with a No. 16 national ranking and rate as a title contender as he preps his charges for 2016.
Miles is signed through 2019, when he will be 66 years old. If he survives for the duration of his contract, Miles will have completed 15 years at LSU, eclipsed only by the 18-year reign as head coach of Charles McClendon from 1962-79.
Miles has the best record of any football coach in LSU history with a 112-32 mark from 2005-15. It is record assisted by a non-conference diet of cupcakes, a luxury McClendon did not have in compiling a 137-59-7 mark. But Miles has faced stronger SEC competition than did McClendon and outpaces his predecessor in overall winning percentage, 77.8 percent to 69.9 percent, and in SEC winning percentage, 68.1 percent to 59.4 percent.
Miles has quietly become the winningest LSU football boss in conference competition, an accomplishment reached with the triumph over Texas A&M last November. It was a significant game indeed for the man from Elyria, Ohio, who has inched ahead of Charlie Mac.
Here is the Top Ten list of LSU coaches and their number of SEC victories.
LSU Coach (SEC Wins)
- Les Miles (61)
- Charles McClendon (60)
- Bernie Moore (43)
- Nick Saban (28)
- Paul Dietzel (26)
- Gerry DiNardo (18)
- Gaynell Tinsley (17)
- Mike Archer (15)
- Bill Arnsparger (13)
- Curley Hallman (10)
Miles is only the third LSU football mentor to last a dozen seasons. McClendon guided LSU to a 9-3 record in 1973, his 12th season at TigerTown. Bernie Moore, who served as head coach from 1935-47, directed LSU to a 9-1-1 ledger in his 12th season in 1946.
The 1946 and 1973 seasons were impressive, but ended in similar disappointment. In ’46, LSU blitzed to a 5-1 conference record marred only by a 26-7 setback to Georgia Tech. The team featured Y.A. Tittle, who bitterly recalls the Cotton Bowl closer in Dallas where a sheet of ice kept LSU and Arkansas off the scoreboard. LSU outgained Arkansas 271-54 and produced 15 first downs to one for the Razorbacks, but LSU was held to a 0-0 tie.
In ’73, LSU started 9-0 but lost at home on Thanksgiving 9-0 Alabama in a clash that determined the SEC champion. A demoralized Tiger team then bowed in New Orleans to Tulane 14-0 on Dec. 1 before what was then largest crowd to ever watch a sporting event in the South. To make matters worse, the Tigers outplayed but were defeated 16-9 in the Orange Bowl by an unbeaten Penn State crew directed by Joe Paterno.
The 1946 and 1973 seasons proved pivotal for the LSU coaches. Bernie Moore had the makings of an SEC and national title winner and fell short, then weathered a subpar 5-3-1 year in 1947 and left LSU to become SEC Commissioner in 1948.
McClendon’s career record at LSU was 97-29-5 (77 percent) through his first nine games of 1973. In the six seasons and three games remaining at LSU, his record dipped to 38-32-2 (54.3 percent) on the field (two losses to Mississippi State in 1975-76 were awarded to LSU because of NCAA infractions by MSU).
This year will set the stage for Miles to either coach the Tigers until he is a septuagenarian or perhaps leave the scene before Christmas. It is incumbent for Miles to avoid a November collapse that afflicted his unit in 2015 and to snap a five-game losing skid to Alabama.
The ingredients are present for a year to remember, but Miles is fully aware of the fickle nature of his profession. Erase 15 days from last season, and LSU was unbeaten and zoomed to No. 4 in the nation. But the losses to the Crimson Tide, Razorbacks and Johnny Rebs were sufficient to put the coach on a sizzling hot seat. It will get warm quickly if LSU does not live up to spectacular expectations this season.