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Assessing Les Miles: Les The Staff Builder

For this installment, we review the coaching hires during the Miles tenure.


Putting together a coaching staff at the collegiate level is a tricky balancing act. Putting together any football coaching staff is tricky, but in college especially so. Pro coaches can typically focus on balancing experience with up and coming youth, but ALWAYS focusing on coaches who can deliver the most improvement from players. As a point of reference, I'll use what Chip Kelly did in Philadelphia, only because it's the staff I'm most familiar with. Many assumed Kelly would come to the NFL and be insistent on running a spread-option attack, thus filling his coaching ranks with guys that support those ideals. Those suggesting that were clearly not familiar enough with who Chip Kelly truly is. Kelly went out and hired Pat Shurmur, a guy rich with NFL experience... as West Coast Offense, pass heavy descendant. Shurmur failed as a head coach in Cleveland, but he knows passing offense and Chip Kelly could readily recognize it was one area he needed help with in transitioning to the NFL. Kelly didn't want a staff full of yes men. For him, coaches with different ideals would only bring out the best in the team.

For an NFL coach, that's the only type of balance one really needs to consider. In the NFL, coaches coach. While there's no doubt some degree of mentoring going on at the professional level, NFL athletes are largely expected to be accountable for themselves. In college, the dynamics are different. Typically, on a college staff, you'll see a blend of guys that excel at pure coaching. They are masters of craft and mining out of players every ounce of talent they can muster. Others are recruiting aces. You stomach their general lack of coaching prowess, sticking them on a position that doesn't require as much attention (like Running Backs) and let them hit the trail and win hearts and minds. It's all too rare you get the brilliant combination of both.

As a head coach, you are forced to balance these two dichotomies. Hire a staff full of recruiters that can't really coach, and you'll get something resembling what we saw from Lane Kiffin at USC. Hire a staff full of coach's coaches that can't really recruit, and you'll probably handle yourself pretty well until you come up against those top teams with the nice blend. And that's just part of the equation.

Personalities must be taken into the equation. In any work place you want a "good fit." Coaches spend hours upon hours together in high stress situations. They don't need to be best friends, but they've got to be comfortable working in close quarters together for long periods of time. Dissension in the staff can be a team killer. Then you get back to having coaches that share your ideals and coaches that will challenge them. You must also consider the value of hiring experience. If your defensive backs coach was formerly a defensive coordinator, he brings a little extra to the table.

How to Assess?

Clearly, I cannot comment on how the personalities interact. I can't even really comment on what coaches contribute overall. Does Brick Haley offer major contributions to the defensive game plan from week to week? Hell if I know. What I can do is look at overall trends. I can look at how a coach performed on the recruiting trail. With coordinators, it's a little easier. Either their respective units performed or did not.

So, that then is the only way to assess. Either you performed or you did not. Either you recruited or you did not. It's not fool proof. Sure, I can't know ALL of the details.

I think it only makes sense to discuss the coaches who have worked under Miles during his tenure at LSU. But I'd be remiss to not discuss the outstanding staff he pieced together at OSU, many of which followed him along to Baton Rouge. Karl Dunbar, Doug Mallory, Bradley Dale Peveto, Josh Henson, Todd Monken and Larry Porter were all coaches that worked under Miles at Oklahoma State and followed him along to LSU. Each of these coaches is currently a coordinator, head coach or in the NFL. So we have some objective evidence that Miles knows how to put together a staff.

But how's he done since arriving in Baton Rouge?

The Coaches


Jimbo: Foisted upon Les by the LSU brass, Jimbo conducted a couple of good LSU offenses before leaving for FSU for the coach-in-waiting post, that he's since assumed to good success. I can't give Les credit for a guy Saban hired, though.

Pelini: Les brought Pelini in from Oklahoma, where his defensive preferences didn't jive with the system Bob Stoops ran. Pelini liked bigger players, in general. He liked a bullying, punishing defense. He wanted corners that could press and a front seven that could bottle up the rushing attack naturally. In Oklahoma, they lived on smaller athletes and zone-blitzing schemes, much like what we've seen Chavis do for LSU. The marriage proved perfect, as most of LSU's defensive recruits from the Saban era were of the bigger variety. Pelini captained a couple of tremendous LSU defenses that improved under his watch and stuck around for three good seasons. He wasn't much of a recruiter, but he did a good job coaching 'em up. Great hire.

Karl Dunbar: Dunbar is an LSU alum that Les coerced back to college from the Chicago Bears. He previously worked under Miles at Oklahoma State and he's proven to be a fine coach, putting together eight straight years as an NFL DL coach since leaving LSU. Dunbar only lasted one season in Baton Rouge, but under him his tutelage were Kyle Williams, Claude Wroten, Tyson Jackson, Glenn Dorsey and RJF. Exceptional hire.

Josh Henson: Henson followed Miles from Oklahoma State and came to LSU as the TE coach and Recruiting Coordinator. He did a bang up job through 2008 before taking a promotion to OL coach for Missouri, a decision which put him on the path to become their OC this season. Henson wasn't the staff's recruiting ace, but he landed his fair share of big-time targets including Richard Dickson, Jai Eugene, Will Blackwell, Stevan Ridley, Ryan Baker and Brandon Taylor. Excellent hire.

Doug Mallory: Mallory didn't bring a ton to the table as a recruiter, but there was a lot to like about him as a DB coach. During his time at LSU, the defensive back play was mostly excellent... until Miles promoted him to DC. Guys like Chevis Jackson, LaRon Landry, Craig Steltz, Chad Jones, all played well under Mallory. So the outlook here is a mixed bag. As strictly a DB coach, very good hire. As a DC, a disaster.

Todd Monken: Monken was another hold over from Oklahoma State and he got the privilege to coach Dwayne Bowe, Buster Davis, and Early Doucet. The receivers were predictably strong. He took off for the NFL after the 2006 season, and our entire offense really sank after the departure of he and Jimbo. We never really got to see him "develop" talents, but those three did play their best football under him, and that's hard to ignore. Very good hire.

Bradley Dale Peveto: Peveto was the ST coordinator and LB coach from 2005-2007. In 2008, he was named Co-DC. His ST units were quality. We were consistently good in the kicking game and at least solid in returns. In that role he was solid, if unspectacular. As a recruiter, he did pull Sheppard and Riley. He was basically Georiga, specialists or bust, so not a ton of credentials there. The LB wasn't particularly great under his watch. All in all, not a great hire.

Larry Porter: Say what you want, the man could recruit. He won Rivals Recruiter of the Decade for his work at LSU from 2005 through 2009. If there was a big-time target in the class, we stuck Porter on him. And he did a good job of luring those kids to Baton Rouge, especially those from Texas. As a coach, he didn't offer much. Most of the time we wrung our hands at his RB rotations, and other than Jacob Hester, no back really stood out under his tutelage. I'll give him props for being our recruiting ace, and his significant work there makes him a good hire.

Earl Lane: Lane was brought to Baton Rouge after Dunbar left for the NFL in 2006. His rich Florida ties proved to be his main calling card. Guys like RJF and Dorsey played their best football under Lane, but the DL really regressed following their departure. He gets points for being the lead-dog on Patrick Peterson, as well as pulling Joseph Barksdale out of Detroit, though his overall body of work isn't tremendous. This is a case of highs and lows, but Lane is ultimately probably a C+/B- hire.

Crowton: Boy oh boy. EVERYONE loved Gary Crowton after 2007. Not only did we win the National Title, he brought an excitement and style to the LSU offense that didn't previously exist under Jimbo Fisher. We gave opponents an array of looks and exotic play calls, which would ultimately wind up being exactly what doomed him at LSU. He tried to do too much. After 2007, LSU's offense sank into the recesses of despair. He also didn't recruit well at all. Poor player development, lack of recruiting, poor coaching... the trifecta of failure. Bad hire, regardless of what he did for the 2007 team.

Studrawa: Searles left after 2006, much like Jimbo, and Studrawa was the man hired as his replacement. We plucked Stud from Bowling Green where he served as the OC for the four previous years. He's never been a fan favorite. His coaching track record is up and down. We've seen some good OL play and some bad OL play. We've seen some surprising developments (Alex Hurst, Josh Williford, P.J. Lonergan, Ciron Black) and some duds (T-Bob Hebert, notably). He did good work with Herman Johnson, Chris Faulk, Barksdale and La'El Collins. We've yet to see any very highly rated draft picks come out from his coaching. As a recruiter, until recently, he's been a Northern Louisiana and Midwest U.S. guy, notably pulling Rueben Randle, Barkevious Mingo, Spencer Ware and Ethan Pocic. He was bumped up to OC after Kragthorpe was hired and then subsequently diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. He seemed out of his element there. His return to OL coach hasn't yielded great results this year. All-in-all, an okay at worst hire.

D.J. McCarthy: Well, he could recruit, though his means were proven illegal. The receiver play was dreadful. McCarthy landed some top targets, but his illegal recruitment of Akiem Hicks ultimately landed him on the chopping block. Right intentions, wrong coach. Bad hire.

Joe Robinson: Brought in to man the STs after Peveto's promotion, Robinson really got the STs playing at a high level. He didn't recruit a ton, though he did land J.C. Copeland, Brad Wing and Travis Dickson, Robinson was a damn fine ST coach that also oversaw our DTs during his time in Baton Rouge. Robinson ran the STs well, and for that alone, he's a good hire.


John Chavis: After the disaster of 2008, Les hired the freshly fired John Chavis to captain the defense. Chavis spent two decades churning out mostly outstanding units at Tennessee. He was brought in to commandeer a unit that was badly misguided under Malleveto, as they not-so-affectionately came to be called. Chavis doesn't bring much by the way of recruiting, but is there any argument that he hasn't been a smashing success as a coordinator? The defense steadily improved from 2009 to the dominant unit in 2011. He's found ways to turn lesser recruited guys into superstars. We're pumping defensive talent into the NFL and luring more and more talent to campus. While the unit slid backward slightly in 2012 and a little more this season, there's little reason to be honestly concerned. Outstanding hire.

Ron Cooper: Cooper doesn't make his hay as a recruiter, but he gained a reputation for being an outstanding coach and talent evaluator. Little known players would show up to LSU camps and leave with offers all on Cooper's trusted advice. Under him we saw the best of Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Morris Claiborne. Cooper was a fabulous DB coach who then went on to the NFL before returning to South Florida this season. The players he left behind, however, haven't been spectacular. Jalen Collins, Ronald Martin, Ronnie Vinson and Sam Gibson have all either washed out or been benched. So there's some mixed bag here, though I think he's mostly an outstanding coach. Good hire.

Brick Haley: After Earl Lane's departure, Miles really entrusted Chavis with his defensive hires. Chavis called upon a long-time friend, Brick Haley to fill the DL vacancy. Haley bounced around in college and then spent two seasons with the Chicago Bears before coming to LSU. He's been handed quite a bit of big-time talent, like Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo, Anthony Johnson, Ego Ferguson, Michael Brockers, Bennie Logan, Jemauria Rasco and on down the line. At first blush, he seemed to be a brilliant combination of superb coaching and recruiting. The DL play, particularly the rise of Montgomery/Mingo/Brockers/Logan under his tutelage, are a feather in his cap. But the play has dropped off this season. Highly recruited players like Anthony Johnson, Ego Ferguson and Rasco don't seem to be as great as we anticipated. Nevertheless, he's hardly a black mark to coaching. His recruiting is superb. Ego, Montgomery, Bower were all out of state guys that Brick lured to Baton Rouge. In this case, I think the good outweighs the bad. Good hire.

Don Yanowsky: Brought on as TE coach and Recruiting Coordinator after Henson left, it's hardly to really tell what Yano did. The TE play wasn't good. But he was the recruiting coordinator for the 2009 class, so I guess he gets points for that? Yano was gone after a year, and it was never really clear how he came to be hired in the first place, with no objective connections to anyone on staff.

Steve Ensminger: Once Yano left, Les called upon Ensminger, an LSU alum who's high profile coaching dates back to the 80s. Miles hired him from the HS ranks. It's been a bit of a puzzling hire. The TE play hasn't improved. Ensminger isn't a particularly effective recruiter, despite having a deep history within the state. I'm guessing he may contribute more than fans get to see, because he's lasted four seasons and there haven't been any objective signs of his influence on the program, recruiting or coaching.

Billy Gonzales: Woo boy. When Les "plucked" him from UF, which includes the now infamous post-it note story, we really thought we had a keeper. Gonzales looked to be on a fast track to offensive coordinator, a young, charismatic recruiting dynamo that "developed" Percy Harvin into a superstar. None of that happened at LSU. He pulled only Kadron Boone and Jerard Randall from the state of Florida, which was a main argument for his hire. The WRs languished under him. Right idea, wrong coach again. Poor hire.

Frank Wilson: Wilson was a bit of a rising star in the coaching world, moving from Ole Miss to Tennessee, securing the verbal commitment of Anthony Johnson. Once Wilson took the job at LSU, Johnson's recruitment was sewn up. But his recruiting efforts hardly stopped there. Wilson turned New Orleans back in LSU stomping grounds. He organized "Boys from the Boot," an effort to pull all the top recruits from the state together early, which proved monumental to inking the 2011 signing class. Go take a peak at the guys Frank Wilson served as lead recruiter on since his hiring in 2010. Mathieu, Porter, Blue, Beckham, Johnson, Collins, Landry, Mettenberger, Hilliard, Hawkins, Thomas, Debo, Beckwith, Brazil, R. Jefferson. Umm A+++++ hire.

Thomas McGaughey: One of the rare hires that was outside the Miles or Louisiana circle. McGaughey came to LSU with a litany of NFL experience and one stop of as ST Coordinator in Houston in 2003 and 2004. Under McGaughey, we've seen stellar work from the coverage units, excellent returns, a superstar punter and the ability to quietly turn little-known kickers into dependable guys. But McGaughey isn't just a ST coach, he's had impact on the trail as well. He's made in-roads in SE Texas, pulling Danielle Hunter and Corey Thompson in 2012. He kept LSU right near the top with Ricky Seals-Jones. He may not be an ace, but he's got some chops. All and all an excellent hire that I imagine may be looking to move up in the world in the near future.

Kragthorpe: It was a hired I think most of us liked at the time, but Krags' subsequent diagnosis and "demotion" will always leave us wondering "What could have been?" He wasn't a tremendous asset on the recruiting trail, but he did get out there and pull two QBs in 2013 as well as Christian LaCouture. So not completely ineffective there. Krags oversaw the final year of [QBs redacted] as well as the first year of Mettenberger, neither of which proved terribly productive. Ultimately, he seems like a nice man, and whether it's his disease or not, he simply wasn't a great coach. Because he pulled Rettig, Jennings and LaCouture, I'll give him a solid C hire.

Adam Henry: Here's a hire I liked both at the time and still now. Henry is from Texas and played in college at McNeese, so the regional ties were obvious. Most of his coaching experience came at McNeese, but he did serve five seasons with the Raiders, three as a tight ends coach. Since showing up to Baton Rouge, he's made an impact as a coach and recruiter. LSU's WRs are playing better than at any point since Monken left. Beckham and Landry are certified national stars. On the trail he's pulled Diarse, Leslie, M. Jones, and DeSean Smith last year and notably Trey Quinn and Jacory Washington this year. He's also the lead recruiter for D'haquille Williams, for whatever that is worth. Henry's been a terrific hire, but the real work will be seeing who he develops at WR after Beckham and Landry depart. Thus far, no youngsters have emerged, but a strong crop should be coming in 2014.

Corey Raymond: Raymond isn't a hire I was exceptionally thrilled about. He served under Miles from 2006-2008 as an intern and assistant strength coach, yet another LSU Alum to return. Raymond spent two seasons at Utah State before jumping to Nebraska, where he re-united with Bo Pelini. Miles brought him home in 2012 and we haven't seen the stellar DB play we saw under Ron Cooper. How much of that is on Raymond? How much is on the talent he was given and the general decline of the defense? It's probably too early to say. He's a popular "FIRE [INSERT COACH HERE]!" opinion right now, but he's more valuable on the trail than Cooper ever was. He's made in-roads to Florida, even pulling a superstar DB for 2015, Kevin Toliver II. He also plucked Maquedius Bain and Rashard Robinson from the Sunshine State, with 2014 commit John Battle waiting in the wings. Let's see what happens with all these young DBs before we throw Raymond to the wolves, because right now the hiring looks average at worst.

Cam Cameron: We've had but one year, but the improvements to Mettenberger are noted and obvious. His mechanics look tighter, his efficiency is way up and he's simply just improved. The first offense captained by Cam Cameron is the best we've had since Crowton's miracle year in 2007. While he's not contributed much as a recruiter, there's good reason to believe in what he's teaching. I admit, I didn't study the games as thoroughly until about 2009, but I don't remember anyone talking about the drastic improvement of Matt Flynn that season. Most of the talk centered on Crowton's "innovative" playcalling. Cameron, in turn, is captaining an offense not built on trickery or deceit, but the perfection of fundamentals. Let's hope he sticks around, because right now this looks like another A+ hire.


So what does that leave us with.

The Good: Chavis, Cameron, Henry, McGaughey, Wilson, Haley, Cooper, Porter, Monken, Dunbar, Henson, Pelini, Robinson

The Bad: Yanowsky, Ensminger, Gonzales, McCarthy, Crowton, Peveto

The Average: Mallory, Kragthorpe, Lane, Studrawa

The Unknown: Raymond

All-in-all, we're talking more good hires than bad. His gravest mistakes have been promoting people above their capabilities, which is the case with Mallory/Peveto and again with Studrawa. He's shown that he's not afraid to go outside of his coaching circles (McGaughey, McCarthy, Henry), which I think is a plus. The long-standing gap between productive OCs is worrisome, but he seems to have righted that ship with Cameron. Miles himself admits that his one major "fault" may be his loyalty. He's been exceptionally patient with coaches. But staff continuity is pretty essential to success, as well. I know it's a concept that Chip Kelly really believed in. So fault Miles for being loyal if you'd like, there's upside to that process too.

I give him a solid 6/10 in coaching hires, deducting points for the OC troubles and the lack of offensive talent we've placed into the NFL overall under his watch. To me, this is a grade that can make pretty strong improvement over the next couple of seasons.

What do you think? What hires do you like and not like? Do you drastically disagree with any of my assessments above?

Evaluation: 7/10

Preparation and Game Planning: 7/10

Recruiting: 8/10