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Every Man A King, Every Man A Fool

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Les Miles and LSU President F. King Alexander before last Saturday's game vs A&M
Les Miles and LSU President F. King Alexander before last Saturday's game vs A&M
Kyle Zedaker/LSUSports

Hey. There's going to be talk about politics in this one. Buckle up, and try not to cut each other's heads off in the comments.

The madness that seemed to have befallen members of the LSU Board of Supervisors and various members of the LSU Athletic Department over the final weeks of the regular season has brought a large amount of national shame and ridicule upon the parties involved in the apparent failed coup of Les Miles. The constant leaks and speculation by multiple parties to the media in an attempt to undermine Miles' ability to do his job and sway public opinion in favor of his ouster failed in a manner so spectacular that the farce will become an example of how not to do business in major college football for decades to come. Indeed, not even 24 hours after the announcement that Les Miles would be keeping his job, the University of Georgia, facing it's own tough decision about keeping a legendary (if less successful) head coach, showed exactly how moving in a swift and silent matter to dismiss a long tenured and highly regarded head coach can lead to a breakup that, while still questioned by some, at least leaves both parties with their dignity intact.

Silence is Golden, as the old phrase states, a lesson that you would hope all parties involved in this mess would learn from none other than Les Miles himself. His flat refusal to discuss matters of his own job security while rumors hung over him for weeks allowed him to retain his own dignity and may have in fact brought him so much public support that it possibly saved his job. Clearly then, using the local media to air the dirty laundry of the program out into public to accomplish whatever goal is a foolishly wrong move.

So it comes as no surprise then that in the hours and days after Les Miles was carried off the field, in a scene that is now utterly surreal given the context of what followed, many of those involved in the decision have still not learned to shut their damn mouths. ESPN's Joe Schad, ever the willing host of disgruntled sources across college football, reported a ludicrous scene in which the decision to keep Les Miles was decided upon in a meeting of boosters, AD Joe Alleva, and System President F. King Alexander during the 3rd quarter of the game, a decision which seems especially absurd given the fact that LSU was presumably still trailing A&M 6-7 at the time of the meeting.

This meeting seemed too silly to believe until yesterday when President Alexander, speaking to the Baton Rouge Business Report of all places, confirmed that it took place:

Alexander confirms reports that the final decision on Miles’ future did not come until after a halftime meeting during the Nov. 29 game against Texas A&M, though he says the decision had "pretty much been made" a few days earlier. Among those in the halftime meeting were Alexander, Athletic Director Joe Alleva, and several members of the LSU Board of Supervisors.

"It was a combination of factors and a decision that we made collectively," Alexander says. "We weighed all the factors in all this and it was a joint decision between many of our board members, our AD and many of us decided this was the wrong time and wrong place (to replace Miles.)"

Alexander acknowledges that concerns over the exorbitant cost of buying out Miles’ contract—$15 million plus an additional $2 million for his coaching staff—and hiring a new coach factored heavily into the decision, though he says money was not the only determinant.

"After the type of budget battle we went through this past spring we certainly do not need to be throwing tens of millions of dollars around under certain circumstances," he says. "We don’t need to go into the next legislative session with a black eye that we’re throwing tens of millions of dollars around on issues that aren’t associated with academic progress."

Alexander goes on to say that "we’re focused on the university as a whole, the students as a whole, and that was a very costly direction we were headed in and under the circumstances we felt it was not the prudent decision to make."

No university funds would have been used to buy out Miles’ contract. However, Alexander, who has been a tireless advocate of increased state support for higher education, says many in the general public—and even the Legislature—fail to understand that distinction.

"The public at large really doesn’t differentiate where the money comes from," he says. "No matter how you explain it, it’s still a $15 million to $25 million decision that needs to be factored into the overall equation."

Alexander's interview paints a picture of a decision made almost entirely on the basis that it would bad PR to fire Les Miles, whether from the fan base that rallied behind him, or from those concerned about the university spending nearly $30 million on a football staff change in a time where years of severe funding cuts by the state legislature had LSU drawing up plans for financial exigency less than 6 months ago. (Indeed, Louisiana's overall budget crisis is the cause for yet another upcoming special legislative session that is expected to cause more cuts to education funding as the state deals with a $500 million gap from this budget year alone.)

It's important to point out that Alexander is worried about the PR hit of spending that money, but not about actually spending that money. He himself acknowledges that no university funds would have been needed to make this change, as he and most of the LSU fan base is well aware that LSU sports are funded completely by the Tiger Athletic Foundation, seemingly the only organization in the state that can turn a profit these days, whose coffers are so well filled that it now gifts the general funds of the university millions of dollars a year.

Alexander's comments must have spurred others in the BoS or the ADs office to attempt to yet again steer this PR disaster into more icebergs, as a report released late yesterday from The Advocate had multiple anonymous sources in both the Athletic Department and the state government attempt to make fact multiple assumptions and message board rumors about the days and hours leading up to Miles retaining his job.

The potential deal to fire Les Miles as LSU’s football coach began to fall through early last week as the school’s president started to intervene even as negotiations between LSU and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher were ongoing, multiple sources have told The Advocate.

The university began leaning toward keeping Miles as early as the Wednesday before LSU’s win over Texas A&M last Saturday, and a final decision was announced to some LSU Board of Supervisors members during a meeting at halftime of the game.

Intermediaries from LSU and intermediaries for Fisher were in discussions as late as last week about the former Tigers assistant coach replacing Miles, but those talks curtailed late in the week.

Ultimately, the overwhelming monetary figure to secure both deals concerned the school’s president and others at a time when the state and school are experiencing budget struggles.

...

Representatives for Fisher and those from LSU were in negotiations for him to replace Miles, four sources knowledgeable of the talks told The Advocate.

Fisher has declined comment multiple times when asked about the LSU job, most recently Thursday afternoon during an interview on ESPN Radio.

Fisher makes $5 million per year and has a buyout of $5 million. He likely would have been given a multiyear contract paying him more than $5 million per season. A new coaching staff likely would have cost the school another $5 million.

The final price tag to part ways with Miles and hire Fisher was more than $30 million. The figure "shocked" Alexander and other officials. Some fought for the coach because of their relationship with him.

The piece goes on to describe the Board of Supervisors as "split on the decision" to fire Miles, with some members of the board "kept in the dark last week, acquiring much of their information on the situation from media reports, one board member said, adding that members expected Alleva and Alexander to conduct an evaluation of Miles after the season." The piece also describes intervention by Governor Jindal himself on Miles' behalf.

***

Of course, this being a story involving Louisiana politicians, some or all of the above may actually be total bullshit. Nearly all the parties involved in last week's fiasco (except for Les Miles himself, of course), have an axe to grind or a political motivation to save their own skin and distance themselves from this grand incompetence.

  • The members of the LSU Board of Supervisors appear now to be splintered into factions, each one tripping over themselves to talk to the media, both anonymously and out in public as Ronald Anderson and Charles Weems did.
  • Disgruntled officials in the LSU Athletic Dept want the world to know that Joe Alleva failed to negotiate a deal to bring Jimbo Fisher back to LSU
  • Jindal, possibly the lamest lame-duck official in the history of Louisiana, is trying to salvage whatever minuscule good will he can gather after a disastrous term as Governor and an even more disastrous presidential campaign.
The motivations of President Alexander deserve some special scrutiny. While he's generally liked and has the unenviable task of trying to manage a university system now running on a fraction of the state funding it was receiving less than a decade ago, Alexander's political aspirations are not exactly a secret in Baton Rouge. Alexander decided to share his side of events not with The Advocate, the paper of record of Baton Rouge who had been trying to contact him and had been told he would be unavailable for comment until next Monday, but with the Baton Rouge Business Report, a local business news publication with no sports department that is owned by LSU BoS member Rolfe McCollister.

Alexander clearly wants to avoid someone asking him why the university he was running spent ~$30 million to fire and hire a football coach, even though he himself admits that the university would be spending $0 to accomplish that task. He claims in the Biz Report interview that explaining this fact to the public, and even to members of the state legislature, is an impossible task. A task that I accomplished a couple paragraphs ago. Alexander wants to look the part of the administrator who didn't let football control his school budget, while in the same breath admitting that firing Les Miles would have had no impact on the budget of LSU at all. It boggles the mind that he can make the argument for and against his own actions within the same sentence.

****

Whatever the true motivations of all the various parties involved, it has become quite clear over the last few days that apparently none of the people in charge of running the LSU football program are actually motivated by the cause of successfully running the LSU football program. Everyone from the Board of Supervisors on down have spent the last month making fools of themselves while attempting to lay blame for their failures at the feet of another.

Everyone except Les Miles, who just wants to coach a football team he loves and tour the country, dabbing in the living rooms of the nation's #1 recruiting class