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Delusional Optimism Is Feeling Lucky

 "Luck is the residue of design." - Branch Rickey

Branch Rickey is one of my all-time sports heroes.  I know we're supposed to look up to athletes and coaches, but I've always been fascinated by the genius behind the old Cardinals and Dodgers teams.  He practically invented the concept of minor league affiliate systems, he was one of the first general managers to use statistics (especially on base percentage), and he knew the value of trading player a year too early rather than a year too late.  Oh yeah, and he signed Jackie Robinson and ushered in the era of baseball's integration.  In 1947.  Seriously, the Dodgers integrated before lunch counters.    

I love him because he was a bright guy who wasn't bound by the way things were suppose to be.  He was obsessed with winning, and he took every advantage he could in order to do it.  He didn't integrate because it was the right thing to do, he did it because the Negro League players were awesome. 

I've been thinking of Branch Rickey recently because of the above quote.  No one will deny there is no luck in sports.  There are bad calls, injuries, and the ball going just two inches to the left or right.  However, luck balances out.  It does for everyone.  If you constantly have opportunities, eventually you'll get "lucky".  That's just the ways things work out.

LSU was undeniably lucky last weekend.  Miles absolutely bungled the end of the game.  However, so did Dooley.  Why isn't Dooley considered lucky that Miles had problems getting in the final play?  No, only Miles was lucky which of course spawned the incessant chatter about how lucky Les Miles is.  I'll point you to Pat Forde as a representative sample

I don't really want to go through the list.  We've been going over that Auburn game for three years.  I'm not sure how the UNC game, in which Ridley fumbled the ball after gaining the game-icing first down, can be classified as a "lucky" game.   But, let's just grant the premise, that Miles got "lucky" in all of those games.

Wasn't he unlucky in the Ole Miss game, not getting the same review of the clock Texas got against Nebraska?  What about the flag in the Penn State game when the PSU player refused to get up, delaying the game?  That easily could have gone the other way?  Pretty unlucky.  Last year's Alabama game was a parade of unlucky breaks.  As much as people talk about UNC losing so many players, LSU was down four starters to injury before the season even started, not exactly good fortune.  Sam Montgomery's season ending injury is pretty rotten luck as well.  As was Craig Loston dropping an easy interception against Tennessee last weekend.  People remember LSU's "lucky" goal line stand against MSU last season, completely forgetting that MSU also had a goal line stand which resulted in a fumbled snap on a 19-yard field goal attempt. 

This isn't to say LSU got screwed in those games.  We didn't.  Sometimes you get the breaks, sometimes you don't.  But to list all of the times LSU got a break and then pretend LSU has never had a bad break is plainly dishonest.*  Les Miles has had no more good fortune compared to bad fortune than any other coach in America, we just remember the good breaks for some reason. 

*ED NOTE - To be fair to Pat Forde, he's writing essentially a humor column about football.  He's supposed to make lists like that to make fun of people, so I don't have a problem with his column.  Actually, his is one of the more reasonable takes on Miles, I'm just using it as a sample list of lucky plays.  Besides, I like Pat Forde's writing a lot.  So this is not about him at all.  It's about the Lucky Miles meme which can be blamed on... no one, really. Memes just sort of happen, it seems.    

Les Miles has a 56-15 record at LSU, the best winning percentage all-time for an LSU coach.  He's the only LSU coach to have beaten every other SEC team.  He's won a national title.  He has three 10-win seasons.  LSU only has ten 10-win season in its entire history.  He has a winning record against every SEC team save Florida (who he is 2-3 against). 

One does not accumulate such a record based solely on blind luck.  It's delusional to think so.  Les Miles clearly has serious issues with clock management.  No one is saying he is perfect or the best coach ever.  But he clearly knows what he's doing.  One does not go 56-15 by accident.   Maybe he is lucky, but that is nothing but the residue of design.