I have been gloriously cut off from the world since Wednesday, chilling out at my girlfriend's ranch in the hills of Texas. We had a TV, so I watched the game, but I have been almost competely out of the loop for a week. Which has given me a chance to take a step back from the team and the season.
Since I've gotten back home, I've done a cursory search online to take the temperature of the fanbase. As a group, we are, frankly put, delusional. Has this season been frustrating? Absolutely. But we set the bar at 9-3 and here we are, at 9-3. Almost every criticism of Miles starts with some variation of this phrase, "Do not pay attention to the record." Ummmm.... why the hell not? If we don't judge coaches on wins and losses, what do we judge them on? Their press conferences? Graduation rate? Hat size?
LSU went 5-3 in the SEC this year, which is good but not outstanding. Once again, Alabama has gone 8-0 in the SEC. And that is the issue. LSU has gone from the dominant power in the West to clearly the second banana. The question is: Is this condition permanent or is it just these past two seasons? Hell, I don't know.
But here's what kills me. If LSU runs off a coach for going 9-3, two years removed from a national title, what coach do you think LSU will then be able to attract? This is where the delusion comes in. Coaches may be an egotistical and narcissistic lot, but this fanbase screams Unreasonable Expectations. One bad year and you're gone. Oh, and the crowd support will suck. Where were all of the fans going in the second half of that game?
LSU fans seem to be operating on the assumption that if we fire Les Miles, Brian Kelly will be hired the next day. Do I think Kelly is a better coach than Miles? Yes, I do. I think Brian Kelly is a superstar. Do I think he's sitting by the phone, waiting for LSU to call? No, I don't.
Miles is not the best coach in the country. However, if LSU fires him, I don't see any realistic options who are better. Miles is not perfect, but who is? Show me a team this year outside of the undefeated teams which did not drop a game they shouldn't have lost? If we're gonna crucify Miles for the Ole Miss game, then there are almost no coaches who would survive such scrutiny.
All of that said, had LSU lost to Arkansas, Miles should have gotten the axe. That's how tough the coaching game can be. It's about wins and losses, and 3-5 followed by 4-4 wouldn't have cut it, particularly with two straight late season collapses. But he avoided the loss and probably saved his job for another year. 5-3 means he can argue last year was a fluke.
But the seat is most definitely hot now. If LSU does not make the SEC Championship Game next year, the calls for Miles' head will get even louder. LSU expects to contend for titles, and Miles is paid to win them. That's the standard. It doesn't make it right, but that's just the way the coaching carousel goes.
But there's absolutely no guarantee that some mythical Other Guy will automatically be better. Just remember that.
And in the rush to condemn Miles, people forget the things that he does well. This team did not give up on him. He's loyal to his players. He's a great recruiter. He's a good person. The way he guided the team through the hurricanes speaks highly of his character. He learns from his mistakes, which shows his pragmatic nature. He's not afraid of being the lightning rod of criticism.
I'm still happy with the Miles Era. A New Years Day Bowl is nothing to be unhappy with. We've just been so spoiled by the recent run of success. And I will humbly submit one small piece of evidence that Miles is a good game day coach: LSU has been consistently outgained all season long, yet we keep winning. After awhile, it stps being luck and it maybe, just maybe, has something to do with the guy on the sideline.