Sam Montgomery is learning one of the rules of life the hard way: never tell the truth during a job interview. When someone asks you about your biggest flaw, you shouldn't bring up your addiction to online pornography. Just a tip.
So Montgomery is getting the expected amount of criticism for his admission that he didn't always give full effort while at LSU. He at least tried to couch it in the terms that he knows there are no off games in the NFL, but the damage had largely been done. He's now due for his obligatory tut-tutting from the media.
There's a Sam Montgomery issue and an LSU issue here, so let's tackle them separately. First, let's deal with Sam. OK, it wasn't his brightest moment in the world, but this admission is not exactly earth shattering news. You mean college athletes play the Alabama game with more focus and interest than the North Texas game? In other news from Obvious Things Quarterly, older people think the younger generation's music sucks.
Of course he took games off. How else can you explain the difference in the quality of play throughout the season? Montgomery wasn't alone in playing better in LSU's big games and showing, shall we say, a certain disinterest in the rest of the schedule. Hell, the fans weren't even interested in the Peach Bowl, and I'm supposed to be surprised the players didn't care either?
It's much ado about nothing, and one of those silly non-stories that pop up before the draft so the cottage industry of "draft experts" can justify their existence. At the end of the day, NFL teams only care if you can play. Montgomery can play. He'll be fine, though he's probably going to lose his bet with Barkevious Mingo.
Let's put it like this: Cordarrelle Patterson clearly took games off as well, and that doesn't seem to be hurting his draft stock at all. Running a 4.34 40 will do that.
OK, so let's turn to the issue of what this means for LSU. Because a guy admitting that he didn't take every game seriously is surely an indictment of Les Miles, right? Let's crank up the Narrative Machine and start penning those columns unfavorably comparing Miles to Saban!
Look, one of Miles' biggest weaknesses is also one of his biggest strengths (see kids, that's how you answer that interview question): he puts a lot of faith in his players. Miles consistently puts his players in a position to make plays and expects them to come through. Usually, seeing as he recruits some serious talent, these kids come through.
It's a philosophy we keep going back to here. Miles trusts his players to make plays. Other coaches manage the game to minimize risk. Miles tends to manage the game to put the game in his players' hands. Games are not an exercise in demonstrating his genius, it is a chance for his team to show what they can make plays. When it works, the players get the credit. When it fails, the coach takes the blame. LSU players have the freedom to fail, mainly because they are permitted to succeed.
Now, it's not all unicorns and gumdrops or every coach would do it. There's a good reason that Nick Saban is a meglomaniacal control freak who micromanages every last detail of his program. I mean, other than the fact that he is what he is. The reason is this:
There is no group of people on the planet more unreliable than a bunch of 18-21 year old boys.
Les Miles putting his absolute faith in his charges to make plays when given the opportunity to do so, in this context, looks nothing short of insane. I don't want to oversell the "Miles is a crazy gambler" meme. He's still a pretty conservative guy, as most college football coaches are. He runs a ball control offense and he seems terrified of turning the ball over. He just seems like a crazed risk-taker in comparison to his colleagues in the coaching profession.
Because of Miles' faith in his players, his teams thrive on emotion. Believe or not, 18-21 year olds tend to be emotional. I don't know if you've heard. These guys aren't robots, despite our best efforts to treat them in that fashion. They read the internet, listen to the radio, and they can see a half empty stadium. When the lights are brightest and the fans are at their frenzied best, this team comes to play. When half of the crowd shows up late in the first quarter and leaves at the end of the third in order to beat traffic, well, they feed off of that, too.
To Miles' credit, his teams rarely lose to teams they shouldn't lose to. LSU under Miles tends to come through. But, by God, they make us work for it. LSU looked like they slept-walked through a majority of the schedule last year, and here's one of the team's star players and emotional leaders confirming that fact.
It's hard for me to jump all over Montgomery for not taking the Peach Bowl seriously. Hell, *I* didn't take the Peach Bowl seriously. I still don't. Miles' team needed that emotional charge, and it just never came. This was a team more concerned with its draft status than winning football games, especially after the Alabama game.
I think it's unreasonable to ask Miles to change who he is. His teams play with emotions and he trusts his players to carry the load. Usually, they reward this trust and they deliver. But the downside is that sometimes they can't find the emotional lift. That's just part of the package with a Miles-coached team. What makes him a great coach is also what can infuriate you about his teams. Ultimately, it's Miles' responsibility to motivate these players, and last year, he didn't do a great job in this respect. The team still won 10 games, so let's not get too angry over this.
However, there is some hope going forward. LSU's teams take the personality of its leadership. The 2011 team was driven to destroy teams, largely due to the influence of that amazing defensive backfield. They set a tone not just with their play, but off the field as well. The 2012 team lacked senior leadership and the juniors were apparently in the world's longest Pro Day. Montgomery was a team leader. When he took games off, so did those around him. When he played at 100%, well, so did everyone else. He set the tone.
Going forward, we will have a new batch of leaders who will give this year's team their personality. I'd like to tell you what that personality is going to be, and that it will be an extremely focused team bent on winning the national title. But that remains to be seen. The early front runners for the job are Zach Mettenberger and Craig Loston.
Right now, they are saying the right things. But talk is cheap, it matters what you do and how you play. Miles trusts his players to lead by example. It's time for the seniors to set that example.