2010 LSU football may well be remembered as the year Miles earned the fan's respect. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
As a card carrying member of the Delusional Optimism club, I'm proud to say that we here at ATVS have proudly kept our heads down, kept on plugging and delightfully enjoyed a season with successes that are no surprise of us. I genuinely feel this way, and it's not just some retrospective "I told ya so" rubbish I can spew now that the Tigers are 10-1 and on the verge of locking down a BCS bid.
To be honest, what came as a shock to me this season is when our players played poorly. I've seen many express surprise at Jefferson's recent play. I'm not surprised. I was surprised he played so poorly throughout the first 3/4ths of the season. I'm not surprised LSU broke free from average seasons, because when I reviewed the attrition that ravaged our roster at key positions the previous two seasons, it was no shocker why we struggled. I'm not surprised Miles has succeeded either. Far too much credit is given to Saban for Miles' coached teams in '05, '06 and '07. Not that Saban's impact on LSU should be minimized in any way, but neither should Miles' successes be casually swept under the rug and labeled "Saban's players."The the truth is, the 2010 LSU Tigers may be the most shining example of Miles' brilliant coaching. We knocked out 8 wins with subpar quarterback play. We beat Alabama soundly while losing three starters in the first half. We've lost key starters at every level of our defense for some period of time. We lost an OL starter on the first play of the game. Started the season without our dynamic TE. Lost our best defensive end. Our best safety. And for a time, our best linebacker (I'm speaking of Ryan Baker). Yet, we kept trucking along. The media didn't give us the injuries excuse (I guarantee had Alabama lost three key starters and beaten us, all they would have talked about was "Saban's masterful coaching job."). Many of our own fans scarcely acknowledged the success of the season, loudly proclaiming it would be just like '08 and '09 where we'd lose to Bama, Ole Miss and Arkansas to finish the year with a modest record. Yet here we are, heading into the Battle for the Golden Boot with a chance to beat all three.
The truth is, everything about this team has the stamp of Miles. Their toughness, their charisma... their ability to never say die. There is never a head hung, never a play given up on, never a moment when you can count this team out of it. After the Florida game, I compared Les to Mickey O'Neill. Just ask his opponents, right when you least expect it, Les is liable to knock your ass out. Is it aggravating that we can never seem to just blow the doors off an SEC opponent? Sure. But I can tell you this, from a national perspective, the LSU game is one NO ONE wants to miss... Les' team is fun to watch.
And maybe, just maybe, the 2010 team is the sweet reminder of that very principle that our fanbase needed. Football is a game and a fun one at that. Why shouldn't it be enjoyed? Through the weeping and gnashing of teeth of the previous two seasons, it seems the joy of LSU football was simply drained from the fan base. Some began to boo our own team (shame on you). But Les has reminded us all this season to enjoy it.
What's the point of following if you are going to write the team off midway through the season? Why go if you are going to boo your own team? Why did so many simply quit enjoying the beauty and terror that is Tiger Stadium? I know one man who didn't... Les Miles. He loves it enough to eat the grass. My colleague Richard Pittman wrote a great comment about how Les seems to understand his role in the bigger process of it all. In the era of the domineering, business-like coach (Saban, Meyer), Miles is that rare categorical opposite.
For all the slanderous references to his preference for old school football, he's probably the most anti-traditional coach in the NCAA. Miles gets that the end game isn't about him or his legacy. He isn't obsessed with being perceived as the greatest coach in the history of college football. He doesn't care if people poke fun at his hat or the way he talks. It's not about him. It's about his guys. It's about coming to work every day making sure he does his level best to make sure his guys have the best experience possible. His players love him for it. And I don't know about you, but I love when I hear Miles say things like, "It would have been wrong of me NOT to call that play."
That's what makes Miles a fantastic coach. It's about belief and motivation. It's about trusting that your underlings will do their job without having to micro-manage every little facet of their lives. And regardless of the ridiculously wrong assumptions, it's about training guys to become better and better every day, both as football players and as human beings. The 2010 football team may well be remembered as the squad that restored Miles reputation amongst his own fan base.
I've seen people remark that Les being a nice guy should have no bearing on the perception of his performance as a coach. After all, "who cares if he's an asshole if he wins?" I do. I like that Les is a good person. I like that people enjoy his company. I like that he's gracious to high school coaches and random fans alike. I like that parents trust him. You tell me those things don't matter on the recruiting trail. Gary Danielson commented that Les is a guy he would trust his son to play for. That's a major compliment in my eyes. Danielson is a former player, so he knows the ropes. Saying that indicates to me that he believes that Les would both take care of his son as a person and improve him as a player. And at the very heart of the matter, that's what 2010 has been all about anyways. Care and improvement.
If you've been too cynical and too critical to enjoy the ride, I feel sorry for you. There's a time for analysis, and there's a time for criticism. And then there's a time to just sit back and enjoy the ride. Enjoy Turkey Day folks. Relax and enjoy your Tigers. Delight in the fun that is ahead, because I guarantee there is a lot of it, both this year and in the years to come.