This is Les Miles. He is currently the face of the LSU program. I think that before we get into the specifics of the program, such as my profiles of incoming true freshmen for the 2008 season, it is important that I introduce you, the reader, to my perspective on where the program is on a general level right now.
The purpose of this introduction is to help those readers who are unfamiliar with me and my previous writing on the subject to catch up, to get a map of the land of this blog. This will put later entries into a proper context.
The LSU football program is stronger now than it has ever been. Since the 2001 season, we have enjoyed an almost unbroken string of success that has made us arguably the #1 team in the country during that time. If the success continues for the next two years, we will be making a case for being the Team of the Decade following the 2009 season, and there is no reason right now why we cannot have that success.
I am a Les Miles-positive fan. I think he is a very good coach, and I think he has been as good as anyone could have hoped or expected since his arrival after the 2004 season.
Remember back to the 2005 season, and what happened to that team. If you remember it correctly, without blinders on, you will see a team that was on the brink. We were coming off a year in which we had very high expectations, with All-Americans returning from a National Championship team. But that 2004 team was a disappointment compared to its expectations. It lost 3 games, including an ugly 45-16 loss to Georgia. It lost its bowl game on a last-second Hail Mary. It never got its QB situation settled, rotating senior Marcus Randall with freshman Jamarcus Russell. Before the bowl game, Matt Flynn worked his way to 2nd string past Russell, but was ineffective relieving Randall.
That disappointing team then lost its coach to the NFL. Internal whispers say the team celebrated the news of his departure. Once again, an LSU coach did not last longer than 5 years (my lifetime has not seen an LSU football head coach last into a 6th season), and a new coaching search was on. We hired a guy whose resume did not exactly wow us.
Then the summer of 2005 came and two very profound events happened. First, star running back and potential Heisman candidate Alley Broussard blew out his knee and was lost for the season. Second, the Louisiana Gulf Coast was hit by two very destructive hurricanes. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss what happened to the team as a result of those hurricanes, but under the circumstances a 10-1 regular season and a loss in the SEC Championship Game was a remarkable achievement.
The 2006 season was perhaps not as "remarkable" as the 2005 season, and Miles has certainly received criticism for his 11-2 mark for that season while having 4 first round draft picks on the team. I don't agree with that criticism, because it's a simple fact that the team played 4 road games against top 10 teams that year and went 2-2 in them. Florida was at least as talented as we were, having 9 players drafted overall plus a quality senior quarterback. Auburn was certainly no pushover. Beating Arkansas and Tennessee on the road, plus dismantling a top 15 Notre Dame team was pretty solid. In most years, a 10-2 team would have made the SEC Championship Game, but Arkansas's undefeated run until meeting us in the final week prevented that.
Then of course, we won the SEC and the National Championship last year.
Not only has the team had success on the field, but Les Miles and his staff is recruiting at least as well as his predecessor did. Often Miles' success is qualified by comments such as, "He's winning with Nick Saban's players", but this team is recruiting like gangbusters, and its success continues unabated despite the exodus of older players to the NFL. The 2007 recruiting class looks as strong as any class Nick Saban has ever signed (at any team), and the 2009 class may be stronger still. The 2006 and 2008 classes were very solid (more on 2008 as the summer progresses). The offensive line recruiting, in particular, has been better than ever.
Nick Saban gets a lot of credit for upgrading our recruiting, and deservedly so, but he gets more credit than he really deserves. It wasn't Nick Saban who "closed the borders" on Louisiana. It was Gerry Dinardo who did that. Dinardo, for all his faults, made LSU relevant again in the New Orleans-area schools that routinely sent players to Florida State or Michigan or anywhere but LSU. Saban came into a situation where he could get whatever Louisiana player he wanted with minimal effort, and was able to focus his efforts on building recruiting pipelines to Texas, Mobile, and Florida. He did so successfully, but he also reaped the benefits of groundwork laid by his predecessor in Louisiana.
Saban's biggest achievement was in upgrading our facilities and modernizing our strength and conditioning programs, which were well behind the times. He was a good recruiter, but his recruiting wasn't the primary reason he had more success than Dinardo. The biggest reason for his increased success was his commitment to building a better strength and conditioning program. That legacy remains with us.
Furthermore, this team appears to have as good of a coaching staff as ever. Gary Crowton threw every kind of formation and style of attack at opponents last year, and it all worked. The defensive scheming has been outstanding, and looks to be unchanged with Bo Pelini being replaced by internal hires. It remains to be seen exactly how that works out, but there is reason to be optimistic.
With the combination of program momentum, outstanding recruiting, and great coaching, this program is right at the top of the heap. Everything is in place for this program to continue to be a contender for the foreseeable future. We have a stability in the program we have not had in my lifetime. We have a recruiting machine working very efficiently at bringing in talent to replace talent.
Les Miles may or may not be a genius, but he's smart enough to surround himself with people who do their jobs very well, and he's smart enough to let them do it. He's not an X's and O's man, and he may not be a guy who is capable of building a program up from scratch, but he is the perfect man to be heading this team right now, and I'm glad he's decided to stick around.