LSU's Miles survives, but knows he has work to do
Nov. 29, 2015
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Les Miles looked to his right, beyond a crowd of reporters to where his wife, Kathy, and their four children had been waiting anxiously for the 62-year-old coach to emerge from LSU's locker room. He smiled and gave them a reassuring wink.
After coaching the Tigers to a 19-7 triumph over Texas A&M on Saturday night, Miles learned that he'd survived an apparent behind-the-scenes campaign to oust him — at least for now.
If Miles wants to see his current contract through to its 2019 expiration, LSU likely will have to be better than it was this season. The Tigers (8-3, 5-3 Southeastern Conference) were eliminated from contention for an SEC crown with two games left in the regular season and endured the first three-game skid of Miles' 11 seasons at LSU. Those results had led to speculation that Miles could be out of job after this weekend's home finale.
"We're a talented football team. We seemed to undershoot our mark this year," Miles said shortly after LSU athletic director Joe Alleva announced that there are in fact no plans to make a coaching change. "Winning championships is something Joe wants to work toward fully and I'm right with him. It's not enough to win occasionally. You have to win all the time. I get that."
LSU has not played in an SEC championship game since winning the league in 2011.
The Tigers also have struggled to develop quarterbacks since Miles arrived in 2005, when he inherited JaMarcus Russell and Matt Flynn. Miles was able to bring in Zach Mettenberger, who is now a backup in the NFL with Tennessee, but Mettenberger only came to LSU after being kicked out of Georgia and spending a season in junior college.
Some of the very aspects of LSU's game that have bothered Miles' critics for years showed up against the Aggies (8-4, 4-4).
There were a handful of pre-snap penalties and the passing game was largely ineffective. LSU sophomore quarterback Brandon Harris was 7 of 21 for 83 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. A number of his passes sailed over intended receivers or skipped off the grass short of their mark. Most of his completions came on check downs to running backs, including a critical third-down swing pass to Leonard Fournette for a 17-yard gain that sustained the Tigers' final scoring drive.
LSU's frustrations on offense were encapsulated by the opening possession of the second half, which began on the A&M 25 after Derrius Guice's long kickoff return in which he broke more than a half-dozen tackles before finally getting pushed out of bounds.
Hindered by a false start and a sack, the Tigers had to settle for a 46-yard field goal try, which Trent Domingue pushed wide right for the kicker's third miss of the game.
When the Tigers finally got a big play to take a 13-7 lead, it came on Guice's 50-yard run. Fournette, whose 1,741 yards rushing in his sophomore season has set a single-season school record, added his 18th TD of the season on a late 4-yard run.
Miles asserted that LSU's offense is in pretty good shape because of its running game, which accounted for 244 yards against an A&M defense coached by former LSU coordinator John Chavis.
"There's not a serious overhaul (to be done) because the motor seems to be pretty stinking strong," Miles asserted. "Do we want to consider change? You betcha'."
Miles also foreshadowed potential changes on his coaching staff, saying it "would be a natural contemplation."
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's contract is up, and it's not clear if he'll return.
"We have to develop a passing game and throw the football if we want to be successful," said Fournette, who has been encountering defenses that have emphasized stopping the run and dared Harris to beat them through the air.
The Tigers also have been inconsistent on special teams under Bradley Dale Peveto.
Expectations have been high not just because of LSU's enormous athletic resources, but because Miles has succeeded in recruiting players at numerous positions who've been good enough to make it in the NFL.
Miles is 111-32 at LSU, winning a national title in the 2007 season. He also reached 100 wins faster than any coach in LSU history.
The question is whether Miles can ultimately escape the same fate as former LSU coach Charlie McClendon, whose 137 victories is the most in school history. McClendon, however, was ultimately fired because he struggled to beat Alabama during the era of coach Paul "Bear" Bryant.
Under Miles, LSU has lost five straight to Alabama and coach Nick Saban, starting with the Crimson Tide's lopsided triumph in the 2011-12 national title game.
Still, Tigers receiver Malachi Dupre defended Miles' record as a head coach.
"When you just look at the job he's done and the statistics, his numbers that he's done since he has been here, it's kind of incredible. So getting rid of a guy like that wouldn't have been the best idea," receiver Dupre said. "I'm glad he's my coach and I'm looking forward to keep playing for him."