Mad Hatter memories: I’ll miss Les, flaws and all

Blake Branch
Blake Branch
I woke up Monday with the strangest feeling.

Sunday afternoon, the news officially broke that LSU was relieving head coach Les Miles, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and an assistant of football operations Dean Dingman from their duties to the Tigers’ football program.

In casual conversation Sunday before the news broke, I spoke about how the blame for this season’s slow start falls strictly on the coach’s shoulders. I felt like a change needed to be made for the future of the program, but when the change happened, it wasn’t relief that washed over me, it was a mixture of sorrow and gratitude.

It didn’t matter whether you were a Tiger fan or not, from the casual consumer to the die-hards of LSU football: Les Miles made LSU football more fun.

He steered the program through difficult times in the aftermath of Katrina, delivered the school a national championship and two SEC titles, displayed pride and passion for our state and its’ flagship school and made men out of boys for more than a decade.

Les earned a reputation as a gambler. He went for, and converted, several fourth downs in LSU’s 2007 victory over Florida and Tim Tebow, called an over-the-head fake field goal in a win over South Carolina the same year and famously chewed on some grass moments before calling a tight end reverse to spark a 24-21 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2010. The Mad Hatter even had the audacity to call a fake field goal against Florida in 2014 that was eerily-similar to the one used against the Gamecocks seven years earlier.

There was a last second touchdown pass to beat Auburn where LSU let the clock drip down to single digits before snapping the ball. Matt Flynn found Demetrius Byrd for the improbable winning touchdown with 0:01 on the clock. Then there was LSU’s comeback victory over Tennessee on an untimed down after it appeared the Vols had defeated the Tigers in Death Valley.

LSU and Miles lived on the edge for nearly a decade.

That’s just the way The Hat coached, and it worked, for awhile.

In Miles’ first nine seasons in Baton Rouge, he won 10 or more games seven times, but the Tigers failed to win 10 games in 2014 and 2015. The turning point came last season when LSU lost three-straight games to Alabama, Ole Miss and Arkansas. The losses looked likely to do in Les at that point in time, but behind closed doors Miles’ job was saved by someone wearing a suit and tie, perhaps during the Tigers’ win over Texas A&M to close the regular season.

Miles and Cameron were gifted one last chance to right the ship with a veteran team loaded with talent. LSU brought in Dave Aranda to reshape the LSU defense, and so far he’s done a serviceable job to say the least.
However, the one thing Miles wasn’t able, or willing, to do was carry LSU’s offense out of mediocrity.

The Tigers were ignorant to their passing woes the past few seasons, depending on Leonard Fournette to carry the Tigers past SEC foes like the Crimson Tide, Rebels and Razorbacks.

Miles and Cameron seemed to make a more concerted effort to balance the offense this season through four games, but the production never came, which led back to another popular criticism of Miles and the offensive staff: player development

With top five recruiting classes coming in year-after-year, the shortcomings grew more and more unfathomable, leading to Sunday’s firing.
Miles finishes his career 114-34 overall and 62-28 in SEC play. It would be fair to say the great expectations that did Miles in are the same expectations he established over the past decade plus.

Given how it ended, some won’t give Miles the credit he deserves for the job he did and love he had for all things LSU. Me personally, I’ll always remember the man in the hat fondly.

Forever a Tiger. Have a great day and a great life, Les.

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