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Where Does Les Miles Stand?

Let's get one thing out of the way first.  I have never seen a coach criticized as much without losing a game as Les Miles has been criticized this season.  Let me quote part of a message that appeared on a prominent LSU website yesterday:

With the press and fans on Miles like they are at this point in the season, there is no way he can come back. There is nothing he can do IMO to win back the needed support.

It is just gotten to an unacceptable level. Media allies have turned and will not go down with him.

It's a harsh and dismal assessment.  We see this sort of thing a lot on message boards, but this one is different.  This is not coming from a yahoo, but rather from one of the more respected posters around.  One who, honestly, I would consider to be an asset to any website he frequents. 

This particular poster goes on to specifically criticize Miles for allegedly not always playing the best players, instead opting to reward seniority.  In particular, he is critical of the offensive line personnel and the infrequency of Russell Shepard's appearances on the field.

I don't agree with his assessment, especially the "there is no way he can come back" conclusion.  There's a very easy way for Miles to re-earn the esteem of LSU fans.  Just win.  If LSU wins next week against Georgia, ugly or pretty, personnel changes or no personnel changes, blowout or tight win, pure luck or inevitability, the troubles of the previous 4 weeks will be virtually forgotten.  At least for one week, and probably until the Auburn game.

Before this season, I would have said that winning cures a lot of ills.  And while that hasn't exactly been true this season so far, we always looked at the Georgia game as one of those season markers.  It's a game we would have cautiously said before the season was a 50-50 game (at best).  After four Saturdays, I see no reason to change that assessment.

This is not to say that Les Miles is above criticism until he loses.  Far from it.  In fact, there are numerous criticisms that I have.  I agree with the above poster who says that it appears Miles favors seniority over talent.  2006's heavy reliance on an apparently completely washed-up Justin Vincent was Exhibit A.  Last year's continued reliance on Danny McCray as a nickel back was Exhibit B. 

I will also criticize some of Miles' decisions in recruiting.  We had Frank Alexander in our back yard and let him go without ever seriously recruiting him.  Now he's a highly regarded starting defensive end for Oklahoma, and we're struggling to get consistent production from the position except for Rahim Alem.  And it's not like he was a late bloomer.  OKLAHOMA wanted him.  He refused to seriously recruit Dez Bryant, and let Darrington Sentimore go to Alabama almost without a fight.  Bryant's an All-American, and while the jury is still out on Sentimore, LSU is facing a depth crisis at defensive tackle after this season and there appears to be no immediate help coming in the 2010 class.  The defensive tackle situation has been exacerbated by recruiting a glut of offensive linemen and moving defensive tackles to the other side of the line to make their numbers even bigger.

The 2006 class is its own subject.  Not a single offensive lineman from that class ever played a snap for LSU.  The decision (or perhaps simply the eventuality) not to sign a quarterback to hedge our bets with Ryan Perrilloux arguably destroyed the 2008 season (along with the decision to promote from within to the vacated defensive coordinator job).  The wide receiver corps from that recruiting class (Chris Mitchell, Jared Mitchell, and Ricky Dixon) is devoid of impact players.  The linebackers appear to only now be emerging as good players.

I'm also not pleased that he couldn't reel in a good player like Janzen Jackson.  That loss will hurt bad, as Jackson is on his way to being an impact player for Tennessee in the future.  I will give him a pass for the McKnight situation, because it appears that McKnight was dead set on leaving the state from the beginning, and was only giving us lip service.

As for the specific suggestion that Miles is leaving one or more of his best 5 offensive linemen on the bench, I have no idea, but the experiences we've had with Justin Vincent and Danny McCray certainly lead us to believe it's possible.  As an aside, it appears that now that McCray's role has changed, he's doing quite well, but that doesn't change the fact that he was ill-suited for his previous role.

Les Miles' tenure at LSU has not been above criticism, but again, football is about winning, and except for last year, Miles has done that with an admirable frequency.  And so far this year he continues to win games.  And everyone seems to forget Les's outstanding coaching job in 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and a devastating pre-season injury to our best running back.  We also tend to forget that Miles is only two seasons removed from winning a national championship.  I don't care whose recruits you're playing with.  You can't win the national championship if you can't coach, even if you have superior talent (which is debatable).

In short, I think there's something to the criticism Miles is receiving.  It's not all false.  It's just a little overwrought under the circumstances.  Miles has made mistakes, and the problems this team is facing this year won't go away on their own, but they also haven't cost us anything yet.  Nothing is irretrievable yet, but things must be retrieved. 

I'm a pragmatist at heart, and when something doesn't work I think the best thing to do is to try something, and if that doesn't work try something else.  Whatever you do, don't let a problem sit around festering without trying to do something about it.  It's better to try something and be wrong than to try nothing.  Heck at least you tried.

So let's see what happens in the next 7 days before we start really speculating about Miles' future.