HOOVER, Ala. -- LSU senior linebacker Ryan Baker was just a freshman when he discovered what he had gotten himself into by signing with the Tigers.
During fall camp one day, this middle-aged man came strolling into the team meeting room. This man was decked out in a head band, wearing tight shorts (envision Magic Johnson/Larry Bird circa 1980 hoops shorts) and started doing the Soulja Boy dance. Well, Baker thinks it was dancing.
"I don't know how to explain it," Baker said. "It was kind of weird that he was actually doing it."
Welcome to the wild, wacky world of Les Miles, the grass-eating, always-entertaining and never-a-dull-moment coach of the Tigers.
|Much of LSU's success this season will depend on the play of QB Jordan Jefferson. (Getty Images)|
LSU senior center T-Bob Hebert said Miles keeps things "fresh" and "fun." That is when the Tigers can decipher what their coach is saying.
Baker said "there's always someone in a meeting room with a dictionary" to try and figure out what Miles is saying. Baker remembered one time when Miles let loose with a "long word with seven or eight syllables." No one knew what he was talking about until a teammate stood up with a dictionary to explain what the meaning of the word. "Who wants to play for your average run-of-the-mill coach?" Hebert said. "The best part of him is he's actually a good coach and wins us ball games.
"He's willing to take risks, which is important as a player. When he takes those risks he shows us he has faith in us which gives us more confidence in ourselves. I think there's a method to his madness."
Mad indeed. The Mad Hatter's play calling might seem just a little unconventional -- fake field goals sparked the Tigers last year to wins against Florida and Alabama -- and his time management skills still need major improvement, but Miles keeps rolling along.
"We practice [those gadget plays], it's not as crazy or random as it looks," Hebert said. "It's something we practice. The situations come up and he's not afraid to call a play. Some guys prepare for those, but when the situation comes up, they back off. He'll go for it.
"Plus we have a touch for the theatrical."
Do they ever. In Miles' six seasons, the Tigers have rallied to win 17 games after trailing in the fourth quarter. While at LSU, Miles has won nearly 79 percent of the time, including a remarkable 25-10 record in contests decided by eight points or less.
And this year could be Miles' best Bayou Bengal bunch ever.
LSU returns 16 starters from last season's 11-2 club. The Tigers were picked by the media to finish second in the SEC West, but still should be ranked among the nation's top five teams when the Associated Press poll comes out next month.
"We've been fortunate every fall we've taken the field, the expectations have been high," Miles said. "I think the expectations in our room are highest. I think the things that our guys want to achieve certainly would match a very ambitious schedule.
"I really don't think [the expectations] is really an issue. Our guys don't wear rankings as a tag or a weight. They understand it's not something that's been earned.
"In fact, they're going to have to finish a season to end up where they want. So rankings can be a compliment certainly and it can certainly by a distraction, but not certainly at this level."
What could develop into a distraction is an ongoing NCAA investigation into LSU's relationship with Willie Lyles, a questionable -- at best -- provider of recruiting services.
LSU paid $6,000 for Lyles' junior college recruiting services package. Oregon also paid $25,000 and Cal $5,000 for Lyles' recruiting information, which has been exposed as incomplete and fraudulent.
Miles said he couldn't comment about Lyles and the school was fully cooperating with the NCAA.
"The only thing I can tell you is we look for film and video anywhere we can find it," Miles said. "Those people that provide those services, we need to cover a broad area and we want to evaluate our guys from a bunch of different spots."
Miles' main focus is clearly on the season opener against Oregon -- perhaps Willie Lyles could do the pre-game coin toss -- in Arlington, Texas, with the winner emerging as a strong contender for the national title.
Whether the Tigers are serious national contenders largely will depend on the development of quarterback Jordan Jefferson. Last season, Jefferson was consistently inconsistent but he believes this season will be much different because of new LSU offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe.
"Coach Kragthrope, he's always working, doing a lot of things to make me better," Jefferson said. "In a short amount of time I've been with him I feel I've improved a lot because he emphasizes the smallest things that a quarterback needs to be successful."
Last season Jefferson was a magnet for criticism, especially by those Internet message board enthusiasts.
"You know what, I don't know really if I've ever been to a message board," Miles said. "I've certainly instructed my team to avoid the Internet. Those people that sign their name 'Slick Willie' don't necessarily have legitimate opinions."
Those whose opinions do matter are Jefferson's teammates and they see a much different person.
"Jordan has risen to a whole other level," Hebert said. "He's flourishing not only as a player, but a leader. He is the definite leader of our team."
Jefferson said he learned a lot from last year's experience.
"Being in that situation, you learn a lot, learn what things you can do differently," Jefferson said. "I was glad I was in that type of situation because it made me aware of what I need to do to be a better quarterback."