Everyone knows Les Miles is an idiot. Everyone knows Les Miles is crazy. (But see this.) Everyone knows Les Miles doesn't understand the concept of punting. Everyone knows that Les Miles is unhinged, one cross word away from tackling Tracy Wolfson.
But as much as "everyone knows" these things, his reputation for being a wild man is a relatively new one. Read this article in the LSU Reveille, dated November 6, 2006, precisely halfway into Les Miles' tenure as LSU head coach:
But the third and most shocking was LSU coach Les Miles has an emotional side.
Miles gave officials an ear full Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn., and he even got a sideline warning.
CBS sports commentator Tracy Wolfson got a question cut off by an explosive Miles after halftime.
Thank goodness it wasn't me, but I still had tears in my eyes from sympathy pain for Wolfson - it happens to the best of us.
But the tears were there, more importantly, because it's the closest Miles has resembled former coach Nick Saban since the almighty skipped out of Baton Rouge after the 2004 season.
After the shock wore off, one question still remained. Why the sudden change of attitude?
After being accused of being a "soft coach," Miles said at his press conference after the University of Kentucky game that there were a lot of things that made him tick.
Can it be? After Les Miles had been here for a season and a half, he was being accused of softness. Him showing an emotional side was "shocking". Now, less than 2 years later, Miles has apparently cemented a reputation as a hot-head who can't keep his mouth shut.
I recall quite distinctively that a lot of LSU fans, myself included, wondered if he had any personality at all in the first year or so he was here, and that interview with Tracy Wolfson (YouTube not available, sadly) was indeed shocking, because it seemed so out of character. Now, after another press conference in close proximity to a game against Tennessee and numerous other incidents, Miles' reputation has gone to the other end of the spectrum. At least among his detractors.
Part of it is because, yes, his public persona changed. I think in large part that has to do with his becoming a little more comfortable as LSU coach, which was a position of considerable natural difficulty early in his tenure.
As an aside, I am ambivalent about Miles' behavior with Wolfson. On the one hand, it was really aggressive. On the other hand, if you want to ask football coaches tough questions at halftime of a game they are losing, don't hide behind a skirt and feign wounds to your feminine delicacy. For what it's worth, Miles apologized later, and Wolfson didn't shrink from him then, and hasn't shrunk from him since. She was tough enough for the task of asking angry coaches the tough questions, and it was other members of the chattering class who were offended on her behalf.
But I digress.
It really sometimes seems as though nothing in Les Miles' career happened before that Wolfson interview, and little happened before Nick Saban was hired at Alabama. T. Kyle King can ruminate on whether Les Miles understands that punting is a sometimes-essential element of football tactics, which is fine. It's funny, and far too gentle to really get upset about, but before last year Les Miles didn't have any kind of a history of using untraditional 4th down tactics.
Could it be that Miles decided that he had a great short-yardage back and a very good offensive line and decided, rationally, that this meant it was in his advantage to take more chances on 4th and short? Could it be that Les Miles examined the strengths of his team and decided, for the 2007 season, that this was a way he could get the most out of what he had?
One might be tempted to think that, given that the previous two years of the Miles tenure did not include any particularly noteworthy or memorable 4th down risks. The answer to the question above, of course, is no. Les Miles did not in any way make a rational decision that his team was well-suited to have success on 4th and short. Instead, he simply threw up his hands and said, "We're going for it!" and got lucky. After all, he's Les Miles, who is obviously an idiot, and thereby incapable of rational, original thought.
Snarkiness aside, Miles is a guy whose reputation perplexes me. For what it's worth, I think he is an emotional guy. I think he is also given to taking calculated risks, but always calculated. Never foolish. He's a poker player, and a poker player who takes foolish risks isn't a poker player long, unless he has a lot of money stashed away. As for his occasional peculiar comment at a press conference, I will just say that his well-publicized elbow to the Bama ribs is certainly no worse than Spurrier commenting on the spelling of "Citrus". And yes, a lot of people love(d) to hate Spurrier in part because of his attitude of superiority, but I don't think it was a reputation-defining moment for him.