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Ten-Point Stance: NFL teams going mad for Les Miles

by | CBSSports.com National NFL Insider
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NFL owners and general managers over the past few years have always been intrigued by LSU coach Les Miles, but something about Miles always made them hesitant: They thought he was a goofball.

The wacky, Mad Hatter rep made some NFL executives who considered hiring him nervous, I'm told. They weren't certain if he had the maturity to be an NFL head coach, so in the end, they stayed away.

That is changing drastically. After interviews with several team executives, it has become clear Miles has vaulted near the top of some lists as the next hottest NFL coaching candidate.

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To be sure, there are still skeptics uncertain what to make of him, but that number is decreasing. Most now see Miles as someone who can lead an NFL franchise and will definitely be pursued by teams in need of a head coach at the end of the season.

"He's the most intriguing coaching prospect I've seen in a long time," said one team executive. "I think he has a great deal of talent and can deal with the modern athlete."

And that is what I've heard repeatedly about Miles from team executives. Their belief is that Miles is, as one told me, the next Jimmy Johnson in terms of knowing how to coach the 21st-century player. Take that comparison as you like, but to me there's no bigger compliment since Johnson deftly handled a Cowboys locker room full of gigantic egos.

League executives also seem to be impressed with Miles' ability to build and maintain a top-level program. While the challenges and differences between professional and college are obvious -- the salary cap being the biggest -- Miles has made LSU into a staying power in the toughest conference in the country.

His weird play calls and unusual use of the English language -- not quite Bobby Bowden-like but in the same universe -- were once used against him, but are now being ignored. Winning will do that. There's also the fact he has NFL experience spending two years as tight ends coach of the Dallas Cowboys.

An LSU spokesman initially said Miles would speak with me. He even suggested a day. Then, communication ceased. My guess: The university wasn't going to help promote the fact that Miles had drawn extensive NFL interest.

Can't blame them. But I think they're fighting the inevitable. I think it's only a matter of time before Miles is gone to the pros.

2. Miles Austin to me this summer on Tony Romo when we spoke at Austin's charity golf tournament in New Jersey: "We've always been behind Tony. One thing people don't know about him is how mentally tough he is." This was of course before The Rib that Cured Cancer. Very prescient of Austin, and he was right all along.

Speaking of Romo: There's some sentiment around football that the high-tech flak jacket worn by Romo on Monday night was so advanced it constituted an unfair playing advantage. Somehow, I'm not buying that.

3. Jets coaches, I'm told, are far more irritated at Joe Namath's recent comments than publicly known. Here is what Namath said to ESPN 1050 in New York following the Jets' ugly loss to Oakland: "It wasn't disheartening so to speak. It's rather alarming is the way I'm looking at it. It starts at the top. Coach Rex Ryan I think has been doing a great job getting the team to two [AFC] Championship Games. But if there's one thing about the athlete, if you keep telling him how good he is, he's going to start believing it, to the point that he may not be preparing not quite the way he should. He may be losing some respect for the other team."

Now, there isn't more of an insult you can make against a head coach than saying his team is unprepared. That's, um, what coaches do for a living -- prepare their teams. So Namath's words weren't a shot across the bow; they were a frontal assault.

Jets coaches think Namath is meddlesome, talks too much and can be publicly petty. They also say, rightfully so, no way in hell Namath would have put up with an ex-player criticizing the Jets when he played. Yet few coaches want to take him on publicly because he is such a folk hero in New York. Sometimes, frankly, it seems the Jets organization is afraid of Namath.

The closest any have come to telling Namath to zip his pie hole is what Ryan told the media this week: "I'd welcome Joe out here anytime he wants to see this team prepare, because this team prepares as well as any team I've ever coached and ever been a part of."

That's a tame response, but Ryan can't risk saying more or Namath will target his old team even more. What Namath truly deserves is someone telling him: We respect you, your accomplishments, and the fact you're a former Jet. But, with all due respect, shut the (expletive deleted) up.

4. The pounding Michael Vick continues to take confirms what many around the league have said for some time: he won't last the season. That's not news.

But what some coaches believe the true problem to be is Andy Reid's system with the Eagles. Reid is brilliant, except that he doesn't protect quarterbacks. Never has, going back to Donovan McNabb. First, he consistently sends more receivers out into the pass pattern, including his backs, leaving the quarterback less protected. Second, he has never been a huge proponent of a strong ground game. Even with a comfortable lead, Reid likes to throw the ball. I don't think Reid will change, so Vick will continue to get blasted.

5. The outstanding Pittsburgh linebacker, James Harrison -- his practically game-winning sack aside on Sunday night -- doesn't look right. I think he's hiding an injury.

6. Assistant coach to me: "If there was one team that could start 8-0 or 10-0, it's the Packers. Watched them on tape. Some of the stuff they're doing on offense is scary."

7. In the end, Rex Grossman will let you down. Every. Time.

8. A) Champ of the week: Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Buffalo quarterback beat the Patriots and took the Bills to 3-0. But this game meant more than that. Fitzpatrick is making the Bills relevant again.

B) Chump of the week: Darnell Dockett, who tweeted after his Cardinals landed in Seattle: "I didn't know it was a lot of Asians in seattle, geesh and it's a lot of sushi spots too! Like on EVERY CORNER!"

This isn't the first time Dockett has said something racially ignorant.

And he seems to have an obsession with Asians. So, there's that. And there will be no further comment on that particular part of this subject. But his DefCon-1 level of ignorance shouldn't be ignored. I detest bigotry of any kind. Imagine if a white player flew into D.C. to play Washington and tweeted: "Damn, look at all these freaking black people! I didn't know there were so many! And soul food restaurants! Like on EVERY CORNER!"

I'd be irritated and criticize the player. This should be no different.

C) Tweet of the week: You know, if Dockett's tweet weren't nomination-worthy, there had to be something pretty good. This was Giants punter Steve Weatherford tweeting before the Giants played at Philadelphia: "Just arrived in Philly. What a dump. Let's get a W and get the heck outta here." Man, that takes guts. Fortunately, Weatherford didn't catch a bunch of batteries upside the head.

9. Jaguars assistant coaches are operating on one-year contracts. None is happy about it. Since coach Jack Del Rio is about as loyal to his assistants as Genghis Khan was to failed lieutenants, some are getting itchy. If the Jaguars continue to struggle, Del Rio might get rid of a few of them. Or management might get rid of Del Rio at the end of the season. Either way, not good for them. My guess: They privately start looking for jobs elsewhere pretty soon.

10. You've heard the adage before. It was true then, remains that way, and will be the case in the year 2315 when football is played in orbit in another galaxy: Win the turnover battle, and the majority of times, you'll win the game. Through Week 3, teams turning the ball over fewer times than their opponent are 28-7.

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