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Why all the confusion? It's just football, stupid


They're not stupid, OK?

Derek Dooley is a lawyer, an articulate son of a legendary coach. LSU's Les Miles has won a national championship as well as shepherding his program and the region through one of the nation's worst natural disasters.

But on their campuses this week they are Dumb and Dumber without a laugh track. They are contestants to become The Biggest Loser and the title has nothing to do with weight loss.

You think your week was bad? Both coaches seemingly need remedial Sesame Street classes. They have trouble counting to 11.

By now you've at least seen the highlights from Saturday. LSU -- no timeouts, clock ticking down to 16 seconds -- begins to change a personnel group with the ball on the Vols' 1. Two problems: There's no timeouts and the clock continues to tick down -- 14, then, 13, 12 seconds left ...

Incredibly, Tennessee answers by running new defensive players on the field. Only not enough go off. When LSU center T-Bob Hebert snaps the ball in desperation, it scoots past quarterback Jordan Jefferson. It seems like the game is over. Dooley is celebrating. It seems like half the Vols are already in the locker room. Then the officials do the right thing and review the play. Unlike the coaching staffs, they are not confused and the Vols are sunk.

(Way) too many men on the field.

Given another chance with zeroes showing on the clock, LSU scores. Ballgame. For Tennessee, the game will become known as Unlucky 13 -- or whatever. For mismanaging the clock, his quarterbacks and, almost, the game, Crazy Les adds to his "legend".

"That's the scenario going on around here," said Brennon LeBlanc, a typical rabid LSU fan from New Iberia. La. "Dumb and dumber."

The only person feeling totally good about it might be SEC commissioner Mike Slive. He left the LSU-Tennessee game early to take in Florida-Alabama. Informed in the 'Bama press box that his officials got it right Slive replied, "Thank God."

Except that there is no closure to this. Twenty years after the Fifth Down Game, (Oct. 6, 1990), how are grown adults trained in the intricacies of the game still making a mockery of it? You wonder after all those millions and hours spent practicing studying film if any of this is sinking in.

Two decades ago the officiating crew and both teams lost track of the downs in a Missouri-Colorado game. Now there is further evidence that understanding the sport we've been sold as the ultimate test of mind and body really isn't decoding the human genome. N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson had no football activity for 250 days while he played baseball. Now he's returned to lead the Wolfpack to a 4-1 record, its best start since 2002. Nebraska is less than a year removed from turning it over eight times at home in a loss to Iowa State.

Maybe the game of football itself is being exposed. Don't overthink it. It's ... just ... not ... that ... difficult.

Derek Dooley (left) got the short end of the poor coaching decisions last Sat. (AP)  
Derek Dooley (left) got the short end of the poor coaching decisions last Sat. (AP)  
Cut the crap with jumbo packages, pattern matching and combo coverages. I just wrote that and I don't understand it. Hell, cut down practice. Look what all those hours are getting us.

"C'mon," LeBlanc said. "We were the laughing stock of the nation Monday morning. You find me a team that's 5-0 in the top 10 and wants their coach fired? I sat at home and practically tackled my TV."

That's the point. You're 5-0 and ranked in the top 10 in the coaches poll. Try being Florida, attempting to figure it out after that Alabama beat down. LSU is the last thing Urban Meyer needs Saturday at The Swamp. When the teams met in 2007 in Tiger Stadium, Miles went for it five times on fourth down -- and made all five. It was the difference in a 28-24 victory that was the foundation of a national championship season.

Two weeks later, Demetrius Byrd caught the winning 22-yard touchdown against Tommy Tuberville's Auburn with a second left in a night game. Never mind that a bobble, interception or incompletion could have cost Miles that final second. Never mind that a 39-yard field goal attempt would have been the sensible thing to do.

Think how Tennessee feels as it heads into the Georgia game. It lost. Dooley was ultimately the one caught overthinking the most, trying to match LSU's substitutions with more players than the rules allow.

Not ... that ... difficult.

Coaches are supposed to be sports oracles. Leaders. Strategists. Motivators. Wise. Sometimes it goes in one ear hole and out the other. Wise? Steve Spurrier left Florida for the Washington Redskins. Howard Schnellenberger made one of the biggest coaching blunders ever when he left Miami for the USFL. Both of their legacies are at least nicked. Even Bill Belichick went for it last year on fourth down from his own 28 in Indianapolis. Of course it didn't work.

What, are they all trying to pay homage to Gene Mauch?

Miles and Dooley are low-hanging fruitcakes for critics this week. Tuberville knows the territory. Coaching gaffes are exaggerated. Coaching gaffes in the SEC are grounds for firing.

"I've been in a couple of those with Les myself," said Tuberville, now at Texas Tech. "Sometimes winning is winning. I don't care if it's ugly. They're struggling on offense but they've got great talent, great defense and they find ways. If it was one or two times it would be different, but Les wins big games."

Not all the big ones. There was that botched finish to the Ole Miss game last season. Mostly, Les Miles is like a Wallenda who has been working without a net. Crazy Les, though, always seems to regain his balance. Since winning that national championship in 2007, there's no doubt LSU as a program has declined. The Tigers run it OK, the defense is good. Quarterback is a mess which, is kind of a big deal if you play in the SEC or the Sun Belt.

Whether LeBlanc is upset or not, the school and its fans are in limbo. It would cost the school approximately $15 million in buyout money to get rid of Miles.

"Obviously he does something good because he brings in big names, recruits well," LeBlanc said. "But he needs Big Ben on the sidelines. He needs a digital clock around his neck."

That's a good start, but Miles is Richard Daley in a trucker's hat. No one can touch him, even if they wanted to. Failing to get rid of a coach who has won almost 80 percent of his games, the pack has turned its critical eye on LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton. That would be Gary Crowton who won 12 games as BYU head coach in 2001 while leading the nation in total offense. Same guy who is nicknamed "The Wizard" and has overseen an offense that scored at least 30 points in 25 of his 39 LSU games coming into this season. His national championship ring sparkles just as much as Miles'.

Dooley is, in a way, untouchable himself. He's a version of Lane Kiffin with a Southern drawl. What experience he lacked to be a head coach was made up for by his brand-name last name. That and AD Mike Hamilton apparently couldn't get anyone else to say yes.

Like LSU, it might look bad at the moment, but nothing is going to happen for a while. Dooley is in his first season and deserves a chance to prove himself. Hamilton is busy with NCAA investigators sniffing around both basketball and football. Tennessee, 2-3, plays at Georgia wondering how it ever got this bad. Three coaches in three years. A mash-up of offensive coordinators.

LSU still controls its own destiny in the SEC West. This wild ride could end in Atlanta or, as guys like LeBlanc will tell you, going off a cliff.

But let's make this clear? The game is not that difficult and they're not stupid.



Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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