By CODY WORSHAM
Tiger Rag Editor
Like everyone else, Les Miles was confused.
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How much time was left on the clock, after LSU’s illegal shift penalty on fourth down with one second left?
Miles wasn’t sure.
Where would they get the ball? Would the clock be running? Would LSU have time to line up and snap the ball?
Miles wasn’t sure.
Like most of the rest of the watching world, Miles had no clue what was going on at the end of LSU’s clash with Auburn on Saturday.
The result? His team lost the game. And Miles lost his job.
There were $4.3 million reasons, annually, Miles should’ve known what was going on in that moment, chaotic as it was.
He was paid, and paid well, to know that LSU, after the penalty, was to get the ball at the 20 yard line with one second left, trailing 18-13, and that the official would start the clock on his signal.
He was paid, and paid well, to know that he should have had a play called and his team lined up, ready to snap the ball, as soon as the man wearing black and white stripes put it on the ground.
He was paid, and paid well, to know that just a second of hesitation from anyone on the field or on the sidelines wearing purple and gold would spell the difference between finishing first and finishing second.
But with his team’s meager championship hopes and his own job hanging in the balance, Miles had no idea what to do. Neither did his players.
He was paid, and paid well, to watch 55 seconds turn to 33 seconds after Malachi Dupre’s first down set up LSU’s last series of downs. He was paid, and paid well, to watch Travin Dural fail to get out of bounds a few plays prior, costing dozens of precious seconds. He was paid, and paid well, to hold out his hands, looking the officials for answers after the fourth down illegal shift. He was paid, and paid well, to watch his team not get the ensuing snap off, though. He was paid, and paid well, to watch Danny Etling’s touchdown pass to DJ Chark win LSU the game, before time said otherwise.
He was paid, and paid well, to stumble into another defeat courtesy of the clock.
The clock isn’t the only culprit in LSU’s 18-13 to loss to Auburn. The offense might deserve some blame. Special teams and penalties didn’t help, either. The film, surely, will reveal dozens of mistakes, any one of which, if reversed, might have changed the course of the game.
But none will be as memorable as The Play That Never happened.
This, of course, isn’t Miles’ first brush with poor timing. That came in his first game in Tiger Stadium, an infamous loss to Tennessee, in which Miles tried to call timeout to stop the clock after LSU intercepted the ball, somehow unaware that the clock stops automatically on a change of possession. An assistant coach virtually had to tackle him to keep him from making the blunder.
Perhaps that assistant should’ve been kept around. The clock cock-ups are as memorable as they are maddening for LSU’s fans. 2005 against Tennessee. 2009 against Ole Miss. 2010 against Penn State. 2010 against Tennessee.
And now, with others omitted, 2016 against Auburn.
His last clock gaffe proved costliest yet. The others caused Miles some grief. This one cost him his employment.
With the loss to Auburn, LSU has now dropped two games before October for the first time since 2000, Nick Saban’s first year on campus. Saban’s 2000 Tigers were expected to be competitive. Miles’ 2016 group was expected to be champions.
After Miles hauled in an elite 2014 recruiting class, and two more exceptional groups in 2015 and 2016, this was the year it was all supposed to come together.
It now appears to be the year it all fall apart.
And now Miles will be be paid, and paid well, to seek employment elsewhere.
Miles, the loser of The Buyout Bowl, has a $12.9 million buyout, which is negated by a) any pay he’s already received this season and b) any pay he receives at another job after leaving LSU.
On Saturday night, before Miles was ultimately canned, I had one source on the record saying that Joe Alleva was preparing to fire Miles, and it was my most trustworthy source: my own common sense.
After all, Alleva was ready to pull the trigger on Miles after three consecutive losses in November last season. If not for an intervention from LSU President F. King Alexander – who feared that Miles’ then-$15 million buyout would become a roadblock in the political quest for higher education dollars – LSU would, almost certainly, be coached by someone else this season.
On Sunday, Alleva faced a coach who has lost two games before September’s end for the first time in 16 seasons, a coach who has lost 11 of his last 25 SEC games, and a coach whose buyout is substantially lower and substantially less politically taboo than it was 10 months ago. And he had the support of a board that just balked at giving Miles a hypothetical raise, citing “poor timing.”
For Alleva, the timing was right. It was less a matter of if he would let Miles go, but when.
In truth, the hourglass was flipped on Jan. 9, 2012, when Miles failed to best Saban in New Orleans. Since then, the Tide and Tigers have taken two divergent paths. A Miles win that night would’ve given him two titles, same as Saban.
As we all know, that’s not what happened. Saban won his third that night, and two more since. Miles has won a Texas Bowl and a Capital One Bowl.
That’s all the ammo Alleva ever needed. But last November, the timing wasn’t right. A new governor was on his way in office. An old one was on his way out. F. King Alexander was set for a summer budget battle and needed every perceived advantage possible. A $15 million buyout, even if privately funded, was not such an advantage.
But summer is gone. Alexander, then an anonymous figure to most Tiger fans, is now very much in the public spotlight. The voices that wanted Miles gone last fall are only louder. And angrier. And their message is unchanged.
The writing was on the wall: Miles’ time is up.
So it’s fitting, if not bitterly ironic, that this is how the last chapter of Miles’ tenure at LSU is written: a clock blunder. If Miles had good timing, he’d have left LSU on his players’ shoulders last November, a winner in his final game in Tiger Stadium. He’d been given a standing ovation by the fans. He’d tipped his famous cap to them, and they loved him for it. It wasn’t a perfect farewell, but it was a damn good one.
But good timing and Les Miles have never seen eye to eye. Saturday’s loss, we know, was not his first encounter with a clock that went the wrong way.
It was the last one, though.
I want to mention two points in the game (among many) where coaching and player missteps hurt the Tigers.
The first came right after the play where Etling was injured. After the review that led to a 15 yard penalty and the ejection of the Auburn defender, Brandon Harris handed to Fournette, who gained 4 yards to the 20. I wanted Harris to stay in for the rest of the series to give Etling time to recuperate from the hit to his head. Even if he passed the concussion tests, he needed time to literally “clear his head.” But Miles put him back in. To make matters worse, Cameron called for back-to-back passes that resulted in a flat pass that lost 4 yards and a 10-yard sack. That pushed Delahoussaye into a 51-yard FG try that missed.
The other event occurred on LSU’s final drive. Etling completed a pass to Dural along the LSU sideline BUT TRAVIN FAILED TO GO OUT OF BOUNDS WHEN HE COULD HAVE. The Tigers could have used the 15-20 seconds that would have saved later when it had no more timeouts.
Finally, do you think Jimbo Fisher would still be interested in the LSU job for 2017? I’m not put off by Louisville’s thrashing of FSU last week. One game doesn’t negate his overall record. Nick Saban’s 2004 Tigers got clobbered at Georgia.