By JIM ENGSTER
President, Tiger Rag Magazine
Every game is now characterized as a must win for Les Miles after the debacle at Lambeau Field to open the season. Saturday’s workmanlike 34-13 triumph over Jacksonville State moves the LSU coach back to 80 games above .500. Miles owns a glittering 113-33 record in 12 years at TigerTown, but remains an embattled leader as LSU prepares for its SEC opener at home against Mississippi State.
On the eve of the Jacksonville State bout, a contrarian LSU Board of Supervisors stopped short of approving a $100,000 bonus to Miles for advancing to the Final Four of college football. Miles will nonetheless become the highest paid coach in American college football if LSU wins 13 more games in succession and takes the national title (his contract assures this). Anything short of a title appears to be cause for review from the LSU Board for a coach who enjoys the top winning percentage in the storied gridiron history of the Ole War Skule.
There are only ten SEC football coaches in the lifetime of Miles (born Nov. 10, 1953) who have compiled records at one SEC institution and are 80 or more wins above the .500 mark at that university. Prior to Miles, Charles McClendon was closest at LSU with a 137-59-7 record (78 games above .500) from 1962-79.
SEC Coaches 80 games above .500 at one school.
Coach School Record Years Wins Above .500
Bear Bryant Alabama 232-46-9 1958-1982 186
John Vaught Ole Miss 190-61-12 1947-1973 129
Vince Dooley Georgia 201-77-10 1964-1988 124
Phillip Fulmer Tennessee 152-52-0 1992-2008 100
Mark Richt Georgia 145-51-0 2001-2015 96
Steve Spurrier Florida 122-27-1 1990-2001 95
Shug Jordan Auburn 175-83-7 1951-1975 92
Nick Saban Alabama 107-18-0 2007-2016 89
Bobby Dodd Georgia Tech 142-56-7 1945-1963 84
Les Miles LSU 113-33-0 2005-2016 80
An abrupt break in the love affair for Tiger fans with Miles can be traced to the night of Jan. 9, 2012 at the Louisiana Superdome. Miles and LSU stormed into the BCS Championship Game with a 13-0 record and had already whipped 11-1 Alabama in the Game of the Century two months earlier in Tuscaloosa. It was considered by many that LSU, the SEC champion of 2011, would waltz out of the Dome against an overmatched group of visitors from Alabama, a team that could not even win the SEC West that year.
Even though Alabama was a slight favorite in the clash, fans were convinced Miles would capture another crown and equal Nick Saban at two BCS titles each. Saban and the Tide prevailed 21-0 as LSU was limited to five first downs, the same number of national championships currently belonging to the man who preceded Miles as boss in Death Valley. Louisiana’s newspaper of record, The Advocate, had scoffed at Bama being favored in the pivotal match 56 months ago by confidently asserting to its readers, “Never bet against Les Miles.”
Miles was 75-17 overall with 16 SEC losses in seven seasons entering that fateful January night. Since then, the coach is 38-16 with 13 conference defeats in 33 SEC games.
Saban is 100-12 overall since 2008 at Tuscaloosa, an amazing winning percentage in the toughest conference in the land of .893. With five national championships in his last eleven years in the college ranks, the Alabama mentor is surpassed in a SEC major sport by only LSU’s Skip Bertman, who secured five College World Series victories in ten years in the dugout between 1991 and 2000.
It is the inevitable comparison with Saban that is the primary difference between the way Miles is judged in Baton Rouge and the assessment of Sean Payton as coach of the New Orleans Saints.
Miles and Payton have each captured one championship with Miles having a vastly superior winning percentage of .790 to .600 for Payton, who is 93-62 (including postseason games) since 2006.
When Payton and crew dropped their opener in the Dome on Sunday, 35-34 to the Oakland Raiders, there was minimal demand for the dismissal of the Saints coach. A much different reaction than the one Miles encountered after his Bengals bowed in Green Bay by two points to Wisconsin. Miles has never weathered a losing season at LSU while Payton has not posted a winning season in New Orleans since 2013. Yet Payton reigns as a fan favorite in New Orleans with his primary domicile in Dallas.
Payton had the luxury of replacing Jim Haslett, who was 45-51 in six years with the Saints, while Miles inherited a program two years removed from being No. 1 in the land.
Miles is perpetually judged by the accomplishments attained by Saban at LSU (one BCS and two SEC championships in five years) and at Alabama (four SEC and four national championships in nine years). It is unacceptable for LSU fans to grin and bear it as Alabama continues to dominate a series in which the Crimson Tide has won two of every three times through the years.
The fact that Miles at 5-7 is the winningest coach LSU has had against the Tide is not relevant. The only thing that matters to most in Bayou Country is that Miles has lost five straight times to Saban. The outcome of the duel between the two on Nov. 5 in Baton Rouge looms as either the catalyst for a 13th season for Miles at LSU or $13 million in walking away money for LEM from the Board of Supervisors.
Fournette kisses Heisman chances good-bye
Leonard Fournette’s absence in the win over Jacksonville State makes it even less likely that Fournette will win the Heisman Trophy. The junior from New Orleans might have cracked the 200-yard rushing mark against the Gamecocks. Instead, he stands at 138 yards through two games.
If LSU plays another eleven games this season, Fournette will need to play in every contest and average 165 yards per game to reach his total of 1,953 yards in 2015.
Some Heisman historians have noted that USC’s Charles White missed a game due to injury in 1979 and rebounded to take the honor in a season in which he gained 2,050 yards for the Trojans. But USC went undefeated that year, a feat that LSU cannot accomplish in 2016.