We live in a fake, plastic, pre-fabricated world.
Jeez. That sounds like a shitty liner note to an even shittier Fall Out Boy song (as if there's any other kind of Fall Out Boy song), but it really is true. There isn't much left in this world that isn't hyped, marketed and sold. Nothing makes my blood boil more than the phrase "perception is reality," because it's not -- but people all too often have a really hard time seeing the difference. If you tell them something enough times with enough conviction, they'll inevitably believe it. Bill Simmons wrote as much this week regarding movie "stars." If you call an actor one long enough, it doesn't really matter if he's critically or commercially successful.
Its how our culture operates, and it's a fact that shapes how we view almost every sort of public figure, including football coaches. Almost every one of them (and this isn't a quality unique to football, but that's the sport we're dealing with here) has a particularly crafted persona they present to the public at all times. There's always somebody watching, be it a potential employer or a potential recruit, and if they're not seeing an image they can (or want to) relate to they'll keep on looking until they find one that fits. That isn't to say that all coaches are fake or false or phony. The degree of the person underneath visible on the surface varies from person to person, and there are a certain set of qualities universally inherent to the profession. But, by and large, coaches, especially at elite football programs, rarely say or do much of anything publicly without a great deal of forethought (again, you can replace "football coach" with almost any type of public figure and the principle stands) about their image.
Very few people have the guts to stand before the public and simply be themselves. Truly and unapologetically. And that is what makes Les Miles so refreshing amongst his peers. It's what makes him bold.
How many major, BCS program coaches would have done a video like this? I don't know if any of them would. Les Miles openly made fun of himself to pander to a freaking radio host and have some fun with his kids. Why? Why not? Sure, his detractors, the ones that think he's a doofus who lucked his way into 62 wins in six seasons will watch it and think "God, what a clown." And his fans will eat it up and have a laugh along with him. Whatever the reaction, he got to spend a few hours joking around with his kids. Go ask Urban Meyer if he wishes he'd done that a few more times the last couple of years. The rest of it didn't matter.
And yeah, that attitude extends to the way the man does his job, for better or worse. The trick plays, the gambles, the fourth-down calls -- it's amazing what you'll let yourself do when you just don't care what people think. There's no greater example of that then the tight-end reverse from the 2010 Alabama game. Sure, it seems crazy to call a tight-end reverse (personally, I've only seen the play called twice, both during the last season), but the real risk was no greater than any other typical fourth-and-one call, like a tailback dive or quarterback sneak. If the play call doesn't work, you turn the ball over deep in your own territory in the fourth quarter of a tight game. Of course, the reaction to a stuffed reverse would be pretty different compared to those other plays. But if it does work, this happens:
We as fans and pundits will be debating the wisdom and/or sanity of these plays forever. And none of that matters to Les Miles. He's having the time of his life, coaching his team, his way. Is he the best at what he does? No. But he's managed to do a pretty damn good job of winning a lot of games and having a lot of fun in the process. And he's managed to do it all while being true to himself. His terms. His way.