By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
On the field, the Les Miles Era at LSU ended the only way that would’ve befit the coach himself: a thrilling, magical comeback somehow occurring in unison with an excruciating, hard-to-fathom defeat.
Within his own Fortress of Solitude, the Football Ops Building he’s ruled for 12 of the most successful seasons in program history, it ended with a heartfelt goodbye and a standing ovation from a room full of misty-eyed players. To borrow an oft-used Les-ism, “in just the way it should be.”
Miles left the players, each one of whom he recruited and mentored, with a final message, according to LSU spokesman Michael Bonnette, who was in the room: “Ya’ll go run the table and make me proud. I’m pulling for you every Saturday night.”
That may be true. Miles may consider himself a Tiger for the rest of his life. Or perhaps he coaches again. Either way, once some time passes, the same fans who sharpened their pitchforks to run him out of town will have their own standing ovation to honor the colorful character who brought the school its third national championship and won at a higher clip than any coach who came before him.
None of that changes the fact his days of coaching the Fighting Tigers have finished.
LSU fired Miles Sunday afternoon along with his offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, and assistant director of ops, Dean Dingman, both long-time friends and trusted confidants.
Not 24 hours had passed since one last clock mismanagement fiasco lead to an 18-13 loss to an inferior Auburn team on the Plains. The defeat dropped LSU to 2-2, its worst start since 2000, and effectively dashed whatever fleeting aspirations of a College Football Playoff run remained for a season that began surrounded by championship aspirations.
While the news came as a shock to LSU’s players and many around the nation, it’s felt inevitable Miles wouldn’t see 2017 since his team laid an egg against Wisconsin in Green Bay. It’s been a question of when the hammer would fall rather than if.
Surviving a coup last November bought Miles one last chance to adapt to a changing college landscape in college football. If he’d won big, as the returning talent on his roster and upgrades to the staff around him created the opportunity to do, he could’ve stayed as long as he wished, and his many detractors would’ve faded into the background.
Instead, his devotion to the same old outdated offense he arrived in Baton Rouge with back in 2005 sealed his fate. There’s no other way to sum up losing two games against unranked foes in which LSU’s defense allowed just one touchdown.
It was time for a change. So, what now?
Well, Life After Les began with a simple message delivered in a barely-audible Cajun drawl. Oh, and a rope. There was a large rope, too.
“He brought a rope in and everybody touched the rope,” safety Jamal Adams recounted after the team meeting. “We all move one way.”
The he in that sentence of course being interim head coach Ed Orgeron. Hired two winters ago, the fiery Cajun referred to the opportunity to coach defensive linemen at LSU as being his dream job. So you can imagine how he feels about the opportunity to take over as head coach, even on an interim basis.
Cue up the “Hold that Tiger” sound byte. No doubt it’ll get a lot of play in the coming weeks.
In-season changes can be tough on a team, particularly when the dismissed party is a player’s coach like Miles, but Orgeron’s promotion should inject some energy into the building, if nothing else. The guy practically mainlines Red Bull as he eats, sleeps and breathes both football and Louisiana.
Will that be enough to get LSU’s derailed campaign back on track? For what it’s worth, the players who’ll take the field for him this Saturday night against Missouri seem to think so.
“Coach O just wants to bring a new energy to the room,” senior center Ethan Pocic said. “Coach O is a fiery guy, and now that this all happened, being sad is not going to help us. We just want to play ball this Saturday.”
Asked how LSU could turn its season around, Leonard Fournette put it simply: “Just stay focused. With everything going on right now, our job is just to stay focused.”
It’s a chaotic situation, but one Orgeron has been through before. He took over as interim coach at USC when Lane Kiffin was famously left at the LAX tarmac back in September of 2013.
Given eight games, the same amount of contests LSU has left this season, Orgeron rallied the floundering Trojans to a 6-2 record.
Duplicating that mark could be awfully impressive considering LSU still has road trips to Florida, Arkansas and Texas A&M, not to mention visits from high-powered Ole Miss and top-ranked Alabama.
Cornerback Tre’Davious White, another one of those seniors who put the NFL on hold for another chance at a national championship, set the bar even higher.
“The only positive of it would be to just win football games,” White said. “Win the rest of the eight and that’ll be the positive that we get out of it.”
Doing so would be cause to remove the interim from the job title Orgeron has pined for since he was born on the bayou in Lafourche Parish.
Otherwise, the pressure will shift squarely to Athletic Director Joe Alleva to land the type of big fish that’ll excite the big-money donors who fork over the eight-figure buyout the school presently owes Miles.
Canning Miles in season should allow Alleva to cut to the front of the line once the coaching carousel reopens for business later this fall. His top two targets — likely the only two that would be deemed a “successful” hire — will undoubtedly be Houston’s Tom Herman and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher.
Both possess the offensive bona fides and track records of producing quarterbacks that Miles so obviously lacked. Herman’s overnight transformation of Houston into a playoff contender has made him the nation’s hottest coaching commodity. Fisher won a national championship as LSU’s offensive coordinator in 2003 and brought another one to Tallahassee as a head coach in 2014.
Louisville’s Bobby Petrino and former Baylor coach Art Briles will also be brought up as candidates. Both are great offensive minds, but toxic in their own way — Briles even more so given the severity and freshness of the Baylor sexual assault scandal.
Any lesser names would be viewed as disappointments for what’s perceived as one of the elite jobs in the country. At a school like LSU, athletic directors who botch their first chance to hire a football coach usually don’t get a second.
But that’s a conversation for another day. For now, Life After Les begins an earnest with Orgeron and his reshuffled staff working to get the Tigers back pulling in the right direction.