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Miles, Richt, and the Cost of Victory

Is this who we want to be?

Honestly, what do you want?
Honestly, what do you want?
Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

Les Miles has won 111 games, 2 SEC titles, and 1 national title in 11 years at LSU. He has the highest winning percentage in school history, and holds the school record for most 10-win seasons and seasons with 2 losses or less. He's widely regarded as a decent person and beloved for his quirky style and bizarre phrasings.

Mark Richt won 145 games in 15 seasons at Georgia. He has the best winning percentage at the school since World War II (even better than Vince Dooley), and won two SEC titles, though a national title eluded him. He won at least 10 games nine times. He runs a clean program and his reputation for fair play and genuine decency is a virtual punchline.

Both LSU and Georgia went 5-3 in the SEC this season and did not lose a single out of conference game. Yet, at the end of the regular season, LSU nearly fired its head coach while Georgia actually did. Over 250 wins, 4 SEC titles, and a legacy of exemplary behavior off the field wasn't enough for two of the longest tenured coaches to weather a merely good season instead of an outstanding one.

Is this what we want the sport to be? Is this who we are?

We're not asking for guys to hang on to their jobs without any demonstrable success just because they are nice guys, but these are two of the coaches who represented everything good about the sport of college football, and the natives wanted to run them out of town for going 8-3.

I firmly believe that the single most toxic belief in sports fandom is that of "title or bust" or that "second place is just first loser." As if there is no value to a season unless the team brings home a title. First, that's the kind of belief that is going to set you up for misery. Winning titles is hard, which is why they are so rare. Michigan, for example, is the winningest program in college football history and their last national title was in 1997, and they had to share that. Their last outright title? 1948.

That's not to pick on Michigan, but that's to point out even one of the most storied programs in all of college football has rarely won a national title in the modern era. Ohio St, one of the single most successful teams of this era, went 11 years between national titles and before that, waited 31 years.

Yet LSU and Georgia are unsatisfied with their coaches who routinely churn out gaudy win totals while playing the game "the right way". What are we honestly looking for? Success. I hate to break it to you, but this is what success looks like. Yet we don't want these successful, good men running our programs. We don't want them representing us.

Who on earth would we rather have representing our schools? If college football is supposed to be different from the pros, it is supposed to stand for something. It's supposed to be about the school and the community. It's supposed to be about wins, sure, but it's also about teaching and sculpting young men. Who do we think could possible represent these values better and still win?

Maybe you care about winning at all costs, but I don't. I don't think you should either, particularly in college sports. We should care about winning, but how we win matters. Our values matter. Because if you betray your principles for a few more wins, what happens when those few more wins don't come? What happens when, as is extraordinarily likely, you don't win the title?

If the only thing that matters is the accumulation of as many wins and titles as possible, then what separates college football from the pros? What is the point? Why bother with college sports at all?

Mark Richt and Les Miles both had their professional lives placed in jeopardy for not winning enough despite both of them winning more than almost anyone ever has at their respective jobs. Oh, while also representing their universities in the best possible way off the field. If that's not enough, perhaps our standards are a tad too high. Or worse yet, too low.

Pogo was right. We've met the enemy.