By Kevin Besser
Within 24 hours of LSU’s devastating defeat at the hands of Auburn on Sat. Sept 28, LSU announced the firing of Les Miles and Defensive Line Coach Ed Orgeron was later named Interim Head Coach. Ranked No. 5 in the preseason, LSU opened the season by losing 16-14 to an unranked Wisconsin team at Lambeau field. LSU beat both Mississippi State and Jacksonville State by unimpressive scores, before the eventual loss to Auburn brought the LSU to a 2-2 record by Week 4.
In a disappointing 2015 season where LSU ended the regular season losing 3 out of 4 of their last games and winning AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl against Texas Tech, the least impressive bowl appearance during his tenure, Miles was barely brought back for another season. Knowing that his team would need to improve for his job security, Miles team underperformed in the first four games this season. In a region of the country where football is a religion and wealthy boosters are in the ear of the Athletic Director, it was only a matter of time before Miles got fired, either later on in the season or after the season.
Miles recruiting classes improved while his winning percentage significantly decreased. According to Bleacher Report, Miles had the 2nd best recruiting class in 2014, 6th rated class in 2015, and 3rd ranked class in 2016. You would expect that having three straight years with top 6 classes would amount to an improved team. However, the opposite occurred. Miles had winning percentage of .798 from 2005-2013 but significantly dropped to .655 while these top recruiting classes were coming into the program. A member of these recruiting classes is RB Leonard Fournette. Fournette was rated #1 in 2014 ESPN 300 rankings barely beating out Michigan CB Jabrill Peppers and Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett. After rushing for over 1,000 yds his freshman year, Fournette carried high expectations. He met and exceeded these expectations by rushing for over 1,900 yds in 2015 and becoming an All-American and First Team All-SEC member. Unfortunately, the rest of the LSU team did not perform as highly as Fournette did finishing with a disappointing 9-3 record and a fairly mediocre bowl victory. Fournette played in 3 of Miles 4 games rushing for 386 yards and 2 TDs while LSU went 1-2 in those games. In his first game playing for Ed Orgeron, Fournette rushed for 284 yds and 3 Tds on only 16 carries averaging 17.8 yds/carry. Although it is early, Orgeron has demonstrated that he can get more out of Fournette than Miles did this season and that he can translate Fournette’s success into wins.
In the SEC, it doesn’t matter to fans where you finish if you don’t finish SEC Champion. It doesn’t matter to LSU fans that they finished top-4 in the SEC 8 out of 11 of Miles’s seasons. It only matters what you’ve done recently. And recently LSU hasn’t finished first in the SEC since 2011 where the lost to Alabama in the National Championship game. LSU beat Bama in the regular season of that year and that was the last time they have won. Failure to beat Alabama was the most important reason for Miles’s firing. Miles went 5-7 in his LSU career vs. Bama, but is 0-5 since 2012. Alabama is LSU’s biggest rival and has also been arguably the best team in the SEC every season since 2009, winning four National Championships. LSU fans essentially wanted Les Miles to be Nick Saban. Although early on Miles seemed just a peg below Saban as the best coach in the SEC, since LSU’s loss to Bama in 2011 Championship game, Saban’s stock has soared winning two more championships since while Miles stock has fallen.
|SEC Final Rankings|
|Year||Total Offense||Total Defense|
*2012 National Championship Appearance*
LSU is known for a football style that is less and less common every year. While most teams are running fast tempo, shotgun, spread offenses, LSU sticks with their pro-style, ground-and-pound offense. LSU is known for a strong, stubborn defense, and an offense that runs the ball well, can manage a game, and often scores enough points to win a game. LSU was able to get by with an average offense, ranked 6th in the SEC, by having the 2nd best defense during their run to the 2012 BCS National Championship Game. However, that was the last time LSU made a BCS Bowl Game and their offense has gotten worse (with the exception of 2013) since that game. In 2014, LSU was the most run heavy offense is the SEC finishing 9th in total offense and offensive efficiency. They finished with 5 record, finishing tied for 6th in the SEC, their worst finish in the SEC since 2008. Meanwhile Miles refused to make any major changes to the offensive scheme. LSU having multiple top 5 recruiting classes an 8-with tremendous athletes could have had a terrific spread offense. Now granted Cam Cameron was the Offensive Coordinator during this time. However, in college football head coaches have a lot more say and control in the offensive scheme and play calling than in the NFL. If Miles wanted to change the offense he would have had the ability to do so.
Although Les Miles was a well-established coach who had 11 successful seasons at LSU, all fans and the Athletic Department care about in the SEC is what have you done lately. Miles winning percentage decreased significantly even after having 3 straight top recruiting classes. He failed to beat Bama in the last 5 seasons and refused to update and elevate the offense. With these reasons and LSU going 3-0 with a convincing win over Ole Miss, it is clear that Miles leaving was the right decision for the future of LSU.
All Stats via Bleacher Report, SB Nation, and LSU Sports.