HURT: End of Les Miles at LSU isn't a happy time
LSU and Auburn once met on the football field and the crowd generated so much noise that that night was known henceforth as the "Earthquake Game." But even that game didn't change the SEC landscape. Their game on Saturday night did.
Les Miles, the LSU coach, was fired Sunday, less than 24 hours (according to normal time-keeping) after his LSU team seemingly won, then lost upon further review, in a madhouse environment. It's wasn't just losing to Auburn that cost Miles his job. He'd been high on the hot-seat watch list since last year, when a group of boosters had AD Joe Alleva convinced to cut Miles loose but couldn't finish the deal because of Miles' popular support.
A lesson was learned, though, as watchers of "The Wire" could tell you. "You come at the king, you best not miss."
Certainly, the anti-Miles faction wasn't going to risk missing a second time. The final act of the drama, Saturday night at Auburn, contained certain themes that run through the entire Miles' saga: the offensive struggles that Miles perennially promised to fix were still there, as was the haphazard clock management at the end. But the real beginning of the end, although no one saw it at time, occurred in Ames, Iowa, nearly five years ago.
That's when Iowa State stunned an Oklahoma State team that was headed to a BCS title game berth against LSU's great 2011 team. Until that moment, Miles was poised to win his second BCS title. (You are welcome to your own opinion but mine is that LSU would have crushed Oklahoma State like a bug.) More than giving Miles a trophy to hoist, that title would have exorcised the ghost of Nick Saban from Baton Rouge where it sat prominently perched on Miles' shoulder. LSU has beaten Alabama in an overtime battle in Tuscaloosa that fall. Miles was No. 1, sitting on top of the world.
Then came the rematch.
Everyone knows what happened. LSU lost devastatingly, shut out and left with lingering doubts about its offense. Alabama won that title, and the next one, and the next, and it had to be more painful, more emotionally complex for LSU fans that it was their former coach doing the winning. There had to be a thirst for revenge that matched, well, every other thirst among a famously thirsty fan base. But payback never happened, and now, for Miles, it never will.
Alabama isn't the entire SEC world, just the biggest part of it. There were other issues, too. LSU hasn't had a top 10 finish in the polls in four years, despite repeated top 5 recruiting classes. The LSU players seemed to love Miles and play hard for him, but there were occasional, puzzling lapses in concentration. The offense was always an issue, shackled to the past in an era where other teams (even Alabama) adapted. Those things all added up and made the decision -- abrupt as it seemed -- unavoidable.
Understanding the thought process is one thing, but it does nothing to stop one from feeling a pang of pain for Miles. For media members, he was the ideal combination -- a good guy who provided good copy. He responded to questions in an original fashion, and wasn't one to duck an issue. Off the field, by all accounts, he was an exemplary citizen of the state of Louisiana, standing tall through more tough times than most states have had to endure. The day will come, perhaps, when he'll be recognized and appreciated at Tiger Stadium once again. There's a chance of a happier ending than the one imposed on Sunday -- and, as a man, Les Miles deserves it.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.