The worst kind of rumor is the one that you feel in your bones to be true before anyone ever even verbalizes it. Well, Scott Rabalais just gave it voice:
LSU supporters have grown tired of what looks most of the time like a conservative offensive approach. Pair that with habitual problems with penalties, delay of game issues, and this year's special teams breakdowns, and it's a recipe for dissatisfaction, on the verge of changing over to apathy.
Off the field, one would be hard pressed to find major boosters, big financial supporters of the program, who are in Miles' corner. His cultivation of those relationships has been wanting, especially for someone who has won as much as Miles has. Word is the big-money folks will mass to help pay his buyout before rushing to Miles' defense, though talk traditionally is cheaper than actually writing a check.
If you are scoring at home, that is precisely zero quotes to back up the story. There's not even a reference to #SOURCES. There's not a single quote, anonymous or otherwise, to back up the story. But it just feels true, right?
You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, and there is gale blowing through the LSU football program. There has been a large and vocal contingent calling for Les Miles' head ever since 2005. No amount of winning is ever going to satisfy them. Heck, Miles won a national title and it barely even slowed his critics down.
But this time feels different. This isn't just coming from the same crowd that has had their knives drawn for so long that the blade has dulled. The complaints are coming from all corners, and they are louder than ever. And it's not like there isn't a case to fire Miles if he loses to Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
In that scenario, Miles will have completed his two worst seasons at LSU. After the voluminous success Miles has achieved here, he was certainly entitled to a bad season like last year, especially considering that a "bad season" around these parts now means going 4-4 in the SEC. It's a sign of success that this qualifies as a catastrophe.
However, consecutive 4-4 SEC seasons would be an undeniable sign of decline, and a manifestation of the malaise that has infected the program since the Game That Shall Not Be Mentioned. Reasonable fans don't demand a title every year, but they do demand this program play meaningful football late in the season. Consecutive .500 seasons in conference play does not cut it.
The disconnect between Miles' most virulent critics and his supporters is the definition of success and mediocrity. The term "mediocrity" gets thrown around a lot in these debates, so let's define the term:
1. of only moderate quality; not very good.
Losing to Alabama is not "mediocre." Going .500 in conference likely is, but let's put LSU's performance in context of the division. LSU has not had a losing season in conference play since 2008. The only other West program which can make that claim is Alabama, while the other five programs have all had at least one sub-.500 SEC season within the past three seasons.
Even if we assume LSU loses out, that puts LSU at 19-13 over the past four years in the SEC. That's the second best record in the division since the most recent SEC expansion. LSU also has the best record over the past three years. That simply does not fit the definition of "mediocre." Find another word.
Now, if the problem is "failing to be elite", then there is a case there. While LSU is currently 19-11 over the past four years, Bama is 27-4. That's what elite looks like, and LSU is no longer on that tier. There is no more toxic philosophy in sport than the championship-or-bust mantra that has taken hold in the past two decades. LSU being the clear second best program in the SEC West does nothing to assuage the "Second place is the first loser" crowd.
The problem for Miles' detractors is that this is what success looks like. LSU is a successful program, but the problem is that it was more successful just five years ago. And this current level of success doesn't look so great anymore. It's not an illegitimate criticism, but college football history is littered with the wreckage of programs that fired a guy for being very good but not great. Firing the very good guy is not a panacea that cures all ills.
However, two straight seasons right at 4-4 really is mediocre. Suddenly, the charge of mediocrity is not so absurd. LSU would be precisely average over the past two years, and LSU has way too many systemic advantages to be precisely average.
The biggest issue for Miles may be the loss of the program's identity. This has been the home of #ManBall and line up smack you in the mouth football. We still worship fullbacks for godsakes. And it is one thing for Alabama to be even better at the same style of play, but quite another for Arkansas to surpass you as well. LSU can beat up on the finesse teams or bully those who rely on speed, but it cannot go toe to toe with the other #ManBall style teams.
LSU can't seem to win those brick fights any more. Miles has taken one too many blows to the head, and he's now being left for dead. But still he fights on. Because there's an obvious fix for Miles here:
LSU is done playing the other physical teams in the division, and is now going back to playing the more finesse teams it has successfully intimidated and bullied over the years. Les Miles needs to go out and get his players to physically dominate Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
It's not some impossible task. Texas A&M boasts the worst run defense in the conference, and Ole Miss is near the middle of the pack. These are the kind of teams that LSU has been able to smash apart. Now, more than ever, Miles needs to show his teams can still do that.
Because if they cannot, then his time here has truly passed.