Since Thursday, January 5th it's been a seemingly endless wave of bad news for LSU. First, coveted safety, Landon Collins, commits to top rival Alabama. Days later, LSU gets drubbed by that same rival. More than merely losing the game, the outcome was embarrassing to many LSU fans. LSU was the first team to ever be shut out in a BCS bowl. They cracked the 50-yard line only once. They failed to accumulate even 100 yards of offense and 4+ years of poor QB play reared it's final painful blow. Two days later, wide receivers coach Billy Gonzalez announced his intentions to leave to take a promotion as offensive coordinator (may not be bad news depending on who you ask). Rumors floated that Kadron Boone is transferring out. Rumors swirled regarding infighting, players being angry at coaches, players being angry at fans, and players being angry at players. This was only aided by a few ill-thought tweets from Russell Shepard and swirling rumors of his pending departure.
Then today, star defensive players Mo Claiborne and Michael Brockers declare for the NFL draft, as well as LSU's most proven and experienced WR, Rueben Randle. The departures weren't altogether unexpected, though most held on to a sliver of hope that Randle and Brockers may decide to return for one last hurrah. Finally, 4-star OT prospect Patrick Miller somewhat unexpectedly swapped him commitment to Auburn and enrolled for classes there today. Though this was likely in the works for weeks, it just seemed to be one more tidbit of bad news for LSU fans.
All of this leads to a lot of questions for Les Miles. Prior to the MNC, Bruce Feldman tweeted that if Miles took down Saban, people needed to legitimately ask if he was the best coach in the country. Today, hordes of LSU fans want him fired, or, at the very least, to give answers: Why didn't Jarrett Lee get a chance? Why was the team so flat? Why did they seem so unprepared? How did the wills of an entire team break, so easily, after a year of being resilient and swaggerific? To paraphrase Vince Lombardi, just what in the hell is going on in Baton Rouge? Miles has questions to answer. But don't expect the answers to come via press conference. After the jump, let's talk about why there is plenty of reason to be optimistic and how every LSU fan should take a few deep breaths and step away from the ledge.
One anthem I constantly remind myself of is that things are rarely as good, or as bad as they seem. Two weeks ago, the entire nation spent a day commenting on how "unfair" it was for LSU to pull the nation's no. 1 QB prospect, arguably their only real team weakness. Today, voices of reason are drowned out by the "Miles is a moron, and we'll never run a good offense" shouts. It's tacitly absurd.
Does Les Miles deserve criticism for the terrible gameplan and preparation on January 9th? Absolutely. Does one pathetic coaching effort suddenly mean he's an awful head coach? Only in the minds of those with some sort of a complex. How soon people forget that dreadful days even the best of coaches have seen. Lord Saban himself dropped a game to ULL, and perhaps even worse, was drummed by a non-AQ team in a BCS Bowl. Urban Meyer coached a below average season at Florida (a season on par with the single worst year of the Miles era) and the product this year didn't suggest it would get any better. Joe Paterno won 4 games once... in 2004. Bobby Bowden limped through the last half-decade of his career. Bill Belichick hasn't won a playoff game in 3 years. Even the best of coaches struggle and fail. And while failing in a Championship Game certainly stings the most, it's hardly the worst kind of failure.
As LSU fans, for us to whine and gripe about the general lack of media respect for Les Miles and then turn around and eat our own is both intellectually dishonest and counter-productive. A good fan should know when and what to criticize. Unfortunately, there are very few good fans (this applies to all fans of all sports at all levels). Modern society only fuels the foolish, knee-jerk reactions and criticisms and the ability for anyone to easily float their every waking thought into public means, endless amounts of stupidity are readily available for all to see. Why, exactly, should the national media respect our head coach, when our own fanbase does not? Coming into the season, most had national championship expectations, but realistically figured this young team with an impossible schedule would hiccup. Suspensions and injuries only backed that opinion. Yet, somehow, Miles and the Tigers didn't just navigate the schedule, they left a path of destruction in their wake. While the ending wasn't ideal this was truly a remarkable season... and one of the most fun I can remember since I started really following LSU football.
Alas, I digress. I don't want to preach. I'd rather appeal to reason. I understand the loss stings, but don't toss all rationality out the window because of it. The program is in stellar shape. We have a stellar head coach that loves our university. We have more talent than perhaps, we've ever had. We're sending 3 high draft picks into the NFL... and they are all underclassmen. Think about that. Through 4 years of dreadful QB play, LSU managed to win 40+ games, 2 bowls and 1 conference championship. Without a respectable QB. Has anyone else accomplished such?
Additionally, the positive vibes shouldn't halt at the the thought of the 2011 team. Many, both fans and national media, suspected 2012 could be an even better team. Rationally, we have little reason to believe that won't be true. Consider the losses and up and comers for next season:
-Brandon Taylor, Ron Brooks and Mo Claiborne
Brooks was our 4th CB and two of the guys starting ahead of him will be back. Mo is about as big of a loss as can be imagined, but we said the same thing about Patrick Peterson in 2010. Taylor is a loss from both a leadership and football perspective. Yet, we have safeties crawling out of ears, it seems.
-Ryan Baker, Stefoin Francois, Karnell Hatcher
Of the three, only Baker is the only one who could be considered an "impact" player and even he was strangely absent most of the year. Francois and Hatcher can hardly be considered "losses."
-Michael Brockers and Ken Adams
We lose our best lineman and a sound but hardly overwhelming player whose snaps evaporated as Mingo emerged throughout the year. Too bad the guys behind Brockers are only a few highly-touted freak athletes in Freak Johnson and Ego Ferguson. Whatever shall we do?
-Rueben Randle, Kadron Boone and Russell Shepard (potentially)
Many are concerned with our suddenly evaporated WR depth. Randle is a loss, no matter how you slice it. Boone was surpassed by two true freshman, so that's hardly concerning. Shep flashes potential at times, but he's never emerged as a consistent playmaker. This could mean we enter 2012 with Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry as our no. 1 and no. 2 WRs. It seems scary, but WR is a position young guys make impact at all the time.
-Will Blackwell and T-Bob Hebert
Blackwell is a good player, but we have an embarrassment of riches on the OL. T-Bob had a solid career at LSU, but he was a swing backup and more talented, younger players are behind him.
Not sure anyone in the world believes we're losing anything here.
All that being said, there's plenty of pieces in place. We should upgrade at QB. We return our entire stable of dominant RBs. The OL stays mostly intact. The DL stays mostly intact. We're impossibly deep in the secondary, so while there will certainly be some drop off losing Mo, we won't exactly be trotting out Chris Hawkins and Jai Eugene.
And to cap it all off, Miles and company are working diligently on closing out a recruiting class which is already top 5, but also circling two or three more highly ranked players that could be immediate contributors. The rich get richer.
Believe it or not, we're not falling impossibly behind Alabama, if at all. The present is bright. The future, even brighter. Miles has questions to answer, but don't expect them to come via a brutally honest press conference. As LSU fans we should all know by now that that's not how he handles things.Year after year we LSU fans seem to find every reason for why Les is slowly losing his grip: first he can't recruit well enough, then the Co-DC debacle, then the inability to beat Bama, Florida, etc. in the same year. Then Gary Crowton. Now it's Jordan Jefferson/Jarrett Lee and overly conservative offense. Yet, somehow, LSU continues to achieve and Les Miles continues to be the winningest coach in LSU history.
So take a deep breath. Step back and enjoy just how stellar LSU football is and has been for the past decade. This is the Golden Era. Try not to waste it by complaining all the time.