Yesterday, LSU fired their eighty games over .500 coach Les Miles after a five point loss to Auburn and, in the eyes of the administration, an unacceptable 2-2 start to the 2016 season, a campaign that saw them open with playoff aspirations and a number 5 ranking.
In doing so, the Bayou Bengals have moved on from one of the most successful coaches in the history of college football. I wrote extensively about the Les’s head coaching future three weeks ago after their abysmal showing at Lambeau Field against Wisconsin; you can find that here. At the time, I felt like moving on from Miles was an extremely tough decision, and one that I probably wouldn’t have made, considering his almost unparalleled accomplishments, which are as follows:
- · 114-34 record at LSU
- · National Championship (2007)
- · Two SEC Championships (‘07, ‘11)
- · 9 Top 25 finishes (’05, ’06, ’07,’09, ’10, ’11, ’12, ’13, ’15)
- · 5 Top 5 finishes (“05, ’06, ’07, ’10, ’11)
- · 11 straight bowl appearances
- · Averaged 10 wins a year
I’ve probably gone the other way now, though I do still think Les is fine coach, and deserving of another job somewhere else if he wants one. At some point though, it became apparent that the offense wasn’t ever going to get any better, and Miles’s inability to get consistent quarterback play led to his eventual downfall. Think about it; how many quarterbacks got significantly better from the time they arrived on campus until the time they left during Les’s tenure? I can’t think of one. During his last 8 seasons, even when the Tigers had Zach Mettenberger, an NFL talent, LSU never finished higher than 6th in the conference in passing.
Here’s the Mad Hatter’s legacy; a zany guy who doesn’t know how to clap, a grass eater, and someone who shot from the hip, for better or worse. He was an ace recruiter who won a hell of a lot of games despite consistently taking offensive football back to, at times, the pre-forward pass days.
Then again (and I’ve made this point before), it’s amazing how a few plays or games can completely shape the perception or entire career of a coach. Before Tennessee defeated Florida for the first time in 11 years on Saturday, the narrative with Butch Jones was that he was a choker who couldn’t win the big one. Now he’s the King of Knoxville. In 2013, during Gus Malzahn’s first year, Auburn pulled off two of the most unbelievable and improbable victories in the history of college football; the Prayer at Jordan Hare and the Kick Six. If they don’t win those games, Malzahn finishes Year One with at least three losses, and probably gets fired this past off-season, considering he followed up with less than stellar 8-5 and 7-6 campaigns the following two years. Instead, because of his SEC Championship victory, and narrow BCS Title Game loss in 2013, the administration allowed him a longer leash, which gave him the opportunity to fight for his job against LSU two days ago.
The same goes for Les. If Brandon Harris doesn’t throw the worst interception of all time against Wisconsin when LSU was driving for the winning field goal, and if they were able to get the last play off in time against Auburn, the Tigers are sitting at 4-0, with a top 10 ranking, and he’d still be employed.
But that’s just the way it is, and sometimes, one or two decisions end up shaping where you end up in life. Goodbye Les, we’ll all miss your quirkiness.
So who should LSU hire to replace Miles? I have a few ideas.
I’m sure the administration and fan base would prefer an offensive-minded coach, considering that side of the ball was the major factor in firing Les in the first place.
So here’s a Top 8 list, slanted towards offensive guys, ranked from most to least desirable.
1. Chip Kelly
If I was the athletic director of any Top 15 job (which LSU is), Kelly would unquestionably be the first person I’d call. He revolutionized offense across all of football, and presided over the highest highs in the history of Oregon Football. The only caveat is that he’s currently in his first year with his second NFL team, the 49ers, but then again, it’s not like that’s an extremely stable situation. San Fran just fired Jim Tomsula after one year, and they’ve got a terrible roster in a brutal division. It’s at least worth giving him a phone call right? He’d score a ton of points, give Nick Saban fits, and ultimately, win at an extremely high level. Kelly is the pipe dream.
2. Bobby Petrino
Petrino’s already competed at a high level in the SEC at Arkansas, where he went 10-3 and 11-2 in his final two seasons. He, like Kelly, is an offensive mind who has scored points everywhere he’s been. The issues with Petrino, however, are all off the field. Whenever you have the “Motorcycle accident reveals that you had your mistress on the athletic department payroll at Arkansas”, the “left the Atlanta Falcons in the middle of the night after one season”, and the “During his first tenure at Louisville, he with Auburn boosters at the Louisville airport to negotiate a potential contract after he just signed a contract at Louisville” triumvirate attached to your name, saying that hiring Petrino would be an enormous risk is a vast understatement. But if he’s cleaned up his life like everyone seems to think he has, then he’d probably be a slam dunk in Baton Rouge, for the same reasons as Kelly.
3. Art Briles
Briles elevated Baylor to levels never seen before at the school, while scoring a ton of points in the process. His problems, like Petrino, are also personal. Though, to be fair to Art, Baylor did pay him to go away, meaning they didn’t fire him with cause, meaning he himself was not implicated in all of the Title IX violations that went on at the school. If LSU can deal with that headache, and they gave Briles a call, I think he’d take the job. What other better things does he have going on?
4. Jimbo Fisher
I’d have him higher on the list, but he’s already got a great job at Florida State, one that I doubt he’d be willing to leave. Fisher, LSU’s offensive coordinator from 2000-2006, has to ask himself this question: “Would I rather stay at FSU and compete in the ACC, a conference I know I can win 10 games year in every season, or would I rather go to LSU and fight Nick Saban, Kevin Sumlin, Bret Bielema, and zillion other smart coaches to death every season? Oh yeah, and if I go 8-4 in back-to-back years, I’ll probably get fired”. I think he’ll stay where he is.
5. Tom Herman
Herman, the head coach at Houston, and the former offensive coordinator at Ohio State, is the hot name at a non-Power 5 school, though it appears that the Cougars might join the Big 12 at some point. Herman is Petrino and Briles, without both the baggage and the experience. Remember, this is only Tom's second year as a head coach, and he wouldn't be the first guy to be prematurely labeled a "genius" (Charlie Weis and Malzahn come to mind).
I think the next coach will be one of the previous five (my guess: Herman), but, just for fun, here’s three wildcards to round out the list.
6. Brian Kelly
I don’t think Kelly is coming, but the fan base at Notre Dame is disgruntled after the Irish’s 1-3 start. If he feels unnecessarily slighted by those in South Bend, is it entirely implausible that he could jump ship? And if he were going to, why not head south to Baton Rouge? It’s the best open job, and he’d no longer have to deal with the rigorous academic standards placed on the football program by the school itself. Kelly is a really good head coach, someone that’s won everywhere he’s been.
7. Bob Stoops
Stoops’s expertise is defense, but there’s no way he wouldn’t excel at LSU. I don’t feel like the Sooner fans have ever properly appreciated him, despite his National Title in 2000, 9 Big 12 Titles, 4 BCS Title Game Appearances, and 180-48 record. Getting Stoops on the sidelines in Tiger Stadium would be a huge win for LSU. The season is spiraling out of control right now in Norman, and if it continues to, Bob might be on the market looking for a job. Or, if LSU offered enough, he might just leave. No current great coach in the country is more hated by the fan base than Stoops. That has to wear you down after a while. Maybe he wants a fresh start?
8. Lane Kiffin
Only for offense. Personally, I wouldn’t hire Kiffin to clean toilets, but he certainly knows how to get the most out of his quarterbacks. Hell, he turned Jonathan Crompton into a semi-competent starter during the 2009 season, his one year at Tennessee, despite the fact that Crompton looked completely clueless about how to direct an offense the prior year. Of course, if you hate LSU, this is the person you want them to hire. A sexy name that, at least as a head coach, has been all bark and no bite.
Good luck Tigers on your coaching search. If things go poorly, you can always hire Joey Freshwater.