Posted by Jerry Hinnen
No, we haven't done any scientific surveys or hired Gallup to conduct a poll. But we have an edcuated guess as to how most college football fans would react to this CBSSports.com Mike Freeman report that several NFL teams are looking at Les Miles as a serious head coaching candidate. And that reaction is: WHAAAAA?
Even amongst college football fans -- heck, even amongst LSU fans -- Miles is rarely viewed as some kind of coaching savant. There's the late-game clock mismanagement. The years of underachieving offenses. The inability to gets his uber-talented teams over the hump to an undefeated season, national title or not. (Say it with us, Miles skeptics: "You can't spell Les Miles without two L's.")
But even if you aren't impressed by Miles' record -- and with a national title, two SEC West titles, and four seasons of 11 wins or more in only six tries, you should be -- the wildly successful start to his team's 2011 season should be evidence enough that he's doing something right. Several somethings, in fact, somethings that could very well make Miles a success even after making the leap to the NFL.
And if you've missed them along the way, these are them:
He coaches to win. Sounds simple, right? But truckloads of coaches base their in-game decisions on not losing rather than winning, and the end result is that their record in close games hews to the .500 mark you'd expect when allowing luck to be the deciding factor. Not Miles: whether it's throwing the famous last-second bomb to beat Auburn in 2007, calling the last-minute fake field goal that helped down Florida in 2010, or a dozen other examples, Miles is committed to calls that give his team a chance to win, not just a shot at avoiding a loss.
The proof is in the pudding of his record in close games: 22-9 in his six seasons in games decided by a touchdown or less. In a league by nature even more conservative than the college game, Miles's go-for-broke approach could pay even bigger dividends.
He surrounds himself with the right coaches. Not every move Miles has made on his staff has been gold; after defensive coordinator Bo Pelini left to become Nebraska's head coach following the 2007 national championship. Miles promoted Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto as co-coordinators to fill that spot ... and promptly watched the Tiger defense take a massive step backwards in a disappointing 8-5 2008 season.
But Miles didn't wait around to see if Mallory and Peveto could get it together. He promptly went out and hired respected ex-Tennessee coordinator John Chavis, and the LSU defense has never looked back. Even many of Miles's less popular hires have paid dividends--look no further than Steve Kragthorpe, the widely reviled former Louisville head coach brought on as offensive coordinator this offseason to general disdain. But it's Kragthorpe having the last laugh: former pick-six machine Jarrett Lee is playing the best quarterback of his life and the Tigers have been ruthless in the red zone.
Assuming Miles learned the pro game well enough from his two-year stint with the Dallas Cowboys to have an idea of who he'd want on his NFL staff, that same eye for coaching talent should serve him well.
His special teams are dynamite. For years, LSU has boasted some of the best-coached, most consistent and most explosive special teams units in the SEC. Much of that success has been chalked up to the Tigers' string of top-notch return men: Trindon Holliday, Chad Jones, Patrick Peterson. But after watching Morris Claiborne emphatically end West Virginia's second-half rally with a kickoff return for touchdown last Saturday (and Tyrann Mathieu do much the same to Oregon with his forced fumble and reutnr-for-touchdown on punt coverage), it's time to acknowledge that LSU's special teams success runs deeper than just the guys asked to field the ball.
He connects with his players. It's not worth belaboring the point already made by Freeman in his report, but no one has ever accused Miles's teams of not playing their hardest for him, nor Miles himself of being unable to reach recruits or manage his star players. Motivating and focusing college kids is a very different task than doing the same for seasoned professionals, but Miles's homespun charisma and willingness to trust his players to win games (see the first item on this list) should go a long way towards helping him make the adjustment.
Miles would no doubt have a lot to learn about the NFL -- two years as a tight end coach doesn't seem like an ideal level of pro experience for someone being asked to take over his own team -- but he appears to have a foundation in place that would serve him well should he make the leap. With NFL teams apparently willing to offer him the chance, the question is: will he?