By GLENN GUILBEAU | Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
BATON ROUGE – Twelve years ago Tuesday on Jan. 3, 2005, LSU athletic director Skip Bertman – after an extensive search that included a face-to-face interview with Louisville coach Bobby Petrino – officially announced the hiring of Les Miles, formerly the head coach at Oklahoma State.
“I realized as I looked at LSU from afar, it had everything,” Miles said at a press conference that day at LSU. “It had a great school, wonderful community, world class facilities and tradition. A great debt of gratitude is mine, the football team’s, the community’s and the new school I represent goes to Nick Saban. He’s a guy with tremendous vision.”
Saban also could and still can recruit out of the wazoo. Saban left LSU for the head coaching job with the Miami Dolphins after the 2004 season, and he left Miles with perhaps more highly recruited veteran, young and incoming talent than perhaps any coach in college football ever left. Usually, when successful coaches leave major programs – even the best ones – they are on a downward slope as was Steve Spurrier when he left Florida for the Washington Redskins after the 2001 season. They’re trying to get out while the getting is good. Most, though, get fired.
Saban, on the other hand, left LSU at the apex of his work there. He won the 2003 national championship with a 13-1 record and was 9-3 in 2004 with two of the losses by a combined six points. Considering what he has done at Alabama, he likely would have won another one in 2005 or ’06 had he stayed at LSU.
That above comment by Miles may have been the last time he ever praised Saban without being asked about him, particularly after Saban failed at Miami and returned to college football just two years later at Alabama. That praise was also very accurate as Saban left for Miles the No. 1 recruiting class from February of 2003 and the No. 2 class from February of 2004, according to Rivals.com
And there were still 10 players left from the No. 1 class from February of 2001 for Miles’ first year (with seven starters noted by an *) – tailbacks *Joseph Addai and Shyrone Carey, wide receiver Bennie Brazell, tight end *David Jones, offensive tackle *Nate Livings, defensive end *Melvin Oliver, center *Rudy Niswanger, cornerback *Ronnie Prude, defensive end Brandon Washington and offensive tackle *Andrew Whitworth. Of those, four were drafted into the NFL in 2006 with Addai in the first round, Whitworth in the second, Oliver in the sixth and Brazell in the seventh.
More than 30 Saban players remained from the 2003 and ’04 classes on Miles’ 2007 national championship team, and most of those were in starting or key rotation roles three full years after Saban left. This may be unprecedented in college football.
From those 2003 and ’04 signing classes, 15 were drafted from 2007-09 – wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (1st round in 2007), wide receiver Craig Davis (1st round in 2007), defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey (1st round in 2008, 5th overall), wide receiver Early Doucet (3rd round in 2008), quarterback Matt Flynn (7th round in 2008), running back Jacob Hester (3rd round in 2008), cornerback Chevis Jackson (3rd round in 2008), defensive end Tyson Jackson (1st round in 2009, 3rd overall), guard Herman Johnson (5th round in 2009), fullback Quinn Johnson (5th round in 2009), safety LaRon Landry (1st round in 2007 and sixth overall), quarterback JaMarcus Russell (1st round in 2007, 1st overall), safety Craig Steltz (4th round in 2008), safety Curtis Taylor (7th round in 2009) and tight end Keith Zinger (7th round in 2008).
As late as the 2009 season with Saban in his fifth year removed from LSU and in his third year at Alabama, he was amazingly still coaching against LSU players he signed in 2004 – defensive tackle Charles Alexander, who was awarded a sixth year of eligibility because of injuries, and linebacker Harry Coleman, who did not enroll until a year after signing.
In the short term for the 2005 season, Miles inherited no less than 19 starters from the SEC West’s second place team at 6-2 – quarterback JaMarcus Russell, wide receivers Davis and Bowe, offensive linemen Whitworth, Livings, Brian Johnson and Rudy Niswanger, tight end David Jones, Addai at tailback, fullback Kevin Steltz, defensive linemen Claude Wroten, Kyle Williams and Oliver, linebackers Kenneth Hollis and Cameron Vaughn, safeties Jessie Daniels and Landry, kicker Chris Jackson and kick returner Skyler Green, who was basically a starting receiver as well. He went 11-2 and won the West at 7-1 before losing the SEC Championship Game and followed that with another 11-2 campaign before the national title year.
New LSU coach Ed Orgeron, on the other hand, inherits a program from a fired Miles that was on a downward slope record wise – eight losses in the previous two seasons with a 9-7 SEC mark. From the 8-4, 5-3 SEC team in 2016, Orgeron will likely inherit just 10 regular starters, and that’s counting wide receiver Malachi Dupre, who may enter the NFL Draft after a career game in the win over Louisville in the Citrus Bowl. The six others on offense are linemen K.J. Malone, Will Clapp and Toby Weathersby, quarterback Danny Etling, tailback Derrius Guice and fullback J.D. Moore.
With defensive tackle Davon Godchaux declaring for the NFL Draft and safety Jamal Adams expected to do so, there will be only three regular starters back from the defense for 2017. Those are defensive end/outside linebacker Arden Key, nose guard Greg Gilmore and cornerback Donte Jackson.
The first round or high round draft choices inherited by Orgeron? At the moment, it looks like only Guice, Key and perhaps Dupre if he stays. Maybe Jackson. And down the road, maybe Devin White, Michael Divinity Jr. and others. But it clearly not as star studded as what Miles inherited.
Miles did leave Orgeron the No. 8 recruiting class from 2015 and the No. 5 class from 2016, which Orgeron was obviously a key factor toward as he joined the program in January of 2015. The 2017 class is ranked No. 6, but nothing at the very top.
LSU has not been as impactful on NFL Draft Day in recent years either. There were no first round picks in 2015 or ’16 after at least one in every year from 2004 through 2014 with the exception of 2010 and 15 overall in that span. Of those 15 first round picks, though, nine were Saban signees.
Miles’ best parting gifts to Orgeron were unquestionably Guice and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. The offensive line he leaves, though, may be the worst of his 12-year tenure. Orgeron was reminded of that clearly in the 10-0 loss to Alabama.
So, you may not want to hear this, but Orgeron deserves a significant grace period – much more than Miles, who admitted above that he inherited “everything.”
Orgeron should not realistically be expected to be a national championship player until about 2019. With Aranda, new offensive coordinator Matt Canada, Etling and Guice, the Tigers could sneak up and make a run in 2017, but there is not enough talent on the offensive line to really go far.
Orgeron nailed it after the Alabama game when he said LSU needs some first round picks on its offensive line to go against Alabama’s first round picks on its defensive line. And I’d get some quarterbacks, too. Not sure about the two coming in.
“We look forward to building a championship program here,” Orgeron said after the game Saturday. “We’ve got work to do.”
That was as accurate as what Miles said 12 years ago.
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