It started with a hurricane.
Not even a month before Les Miles’ first game in purple and gold, Hurricane Katrina destroyed Louisiana. It moved the 2005 season opener against Arizona State from Baton Rouge to Tempe. LSU won that game on a last minute touchdown and with the ability to look back with hindsight, it was a game that set the tone for Les’ LSU teams that followed. LSU won off a 28 point fourth quarter surge that featured a potent run game, ace special teams, and pure talent alone.
Then LSU returned to the chaos that was engulfing Louisiana and played Tennessee on a Monday night. This time it was Tennessee who made a late charge putting 17 in the final frame to force overtime. The Volunteers won that one. Homecoming was ruined and to LSU fans our newly minted successor to Nick Saban, the man who had brought LSU to the promised land again before leaving in the dead of night, had won a game off the back of a furious fourth quarter comeback and lost a game the same way.
And then, something magical happened. LSU rattled off nine straight with memorable wins over Auburn, Alabama, and Arkansas. The road ended in Atlanta, where Georgia ran riot over LSU for the SEC Championship. But a month later LSU was back in the Georgia Dome, issuing the death blow to The U with a victory on the field and in the tunnel after the game.
During the most memorable game of that run, Auburn’s kicker famously missed five field goals to gift LSU the victory.
For 12 years, no single person represented what we as a collective whole love about college football quite like Les Miles. Quirky, unpredictable, and always a quote goldmine, there will never be another Les Miles in the same way there will never be another [insert your dog here]. There will be completely off the wall characters (#ROWTHEBOAT) but nobody will ever have the same bounce Les did.
Les possess an understanding of the English language nobody else possess. SB Nation’s very own Spencer Hall has spent years on his Les-speak interpretation and does it better than anybody else I have ever heard, and he still doesn’t do it perfectly. Nobody does. Part of me wished that he steps away from football and takes up teaching the English language to our children.
Another part of me wishes that he gets his own Travel Channel show, preferably with Joe Biden, but that’s besides the point.
The only thing that exceeded Miles’ reputation at the mic was his propensity for calls that went beyond convention. Christened as The Mad Hatter (The Hat for short) for his iconic white hat, Les became a folk legend as somebody who would shun the expected and welcome with open arms pure chaos.
Ask five LSU fans your favorite Les Miles call and you’ll likely get five different answers. Hester on fourth down against Florida. The fake spike against Auburn. The reverse against Alabama. Either fake field goals against Florida, both strikingly similar to the same call that came against Spurrier’s South Carolina in 2006. Or the jump pass against Florida in 2011 to rub it in and the kneeldown at Ole Miss in 2011 for the same reason.
Looking back, Les loved to show off against Florida.
Les had so many of these calls for a simple reason: he trusted his players. Les was the ultimate player’s coach. He’s nearly universally loved by players, current and former. They would fight for him because he would fight for them. Over the years as the losses accrued, Les Miles never once threw a player under the bus. When the media began to talk about Russell Shepard’s collegiate career as a bust, Les gave an emphatic speech saying that there is no such thing as a flop for LSU. He went from chewing out the media to imitating a bowler in less than 30 seconds. Les always absorbed responsibility for every loss and dished praise after every win.
I remember it like it was yesterday. After having my heart ripped out against Arkansas, everything coming into the SEC Championship looked bleak. I never thought that I would be that depressed coming into a SEC Championship, but there I was. And then it got worse when Herbstreit dropped the bomb live on College Gameday.
I wish and I don’t wish Twitter was around for those few hours. It’s was like there wasn’t even a game to be played. It was easily the most distressed I had ever been about football when there wasn’t an actual football game being played.
And then Les Miles did the ultimate Les Miles thing.
You know the story after this. LSU scraped by Tennessee, and then the most chaotic night in college football happened, allowing LSU to slip into the national championship game where they handily defeated Ohio State.
Les loves Michigan. I’m sure beating Ohio State was one of the most enjoyable parts of his football careers, the ring he got for it was just the cherry on top. Listening to Les speak about Bo Schembechler is magical because you wouldn’t think it’s possible that you can speak so glowingly about somebody you’re not related to. Wear red to a Les Miles presser and see if he’ll notice. Momma came calling and Les said something I know I couldn’t say: no.
Les was a perfect fit for LSU and Louisiana in more ways than one. Unconventional, loyal, and armed with his own understanding of verbal communication, Les arrived to Louisiana and just bonded. Les Miles is unique in the same way that Louisiana is: instead of counties, we have parishes. Instead of kicking a field goal, Les Miles is going to have his holder blindly flip it over his head and let his kicker run 15 yards into the face of five star athletes and hope he can pick up a first down. LSU fans operate differently than fans of other schools and so did Les. The man ate grass for Christ’s sake. The two were really a perfect marriage.
The thing that endeared him and made him successful were the same things that cost him his job. His never ending trust in his players turned on him when players didn’t develop properly, primarily at the quarterback position. For the last three years of his time at LSU, he failed to field a quarterback who was consistently good. Despite the turnover, Les tried his hardest to keep the failed quarterbacks out of the negative spotlight. Even when the writing was on the walls that the time was up, Les remained steadfast in the way he treated his players.
It ended with a flood.
After Les Miles avoided firing in 2015, he hired the best defensive coordinator in college football. He reeled in one of the best recruiting classes in LSU history, which is no small feat. LSU was stacked with returning talent at every position. LSU went from lame duck to projected national title contender. You could cut the anticipation in Baton Rouge with a knife.
And then a historic, statistically improbable amount of rain water fell over the Baton Rouge metro area. Just like in 2005, Louisianians looked to LSU for an escape when they took the field in a far away city.
This time, they let Louisiana down in heartbreaking fashion.
There was still a lot to play for. A quarterback change against Jacksonville State looked to make things better, and LSU put away Mississippi State. And then they traveled to Auburn, to play a coach that himself was desperate to prove his worth. LSU’s quarterback fumbled the ball away on LSU’s most promising drive, setting up a mad dash against the clock, Les’ arch nemesis. Under an extreme circumstance, LSU had a to get a play off in less than a second and throw for the endzone or it’s game. They did that. There was a dogpile in the endzone and Les was down there, celebrating with his team.
And then it was reviewed. LSU did not get the snap off in time. The game was over, LSU had lost and Auburn had won.
Auburn did not score a single touchdown. Auburn’s kicker made six field goals.
When Les took over at LSU, I had just figured out that girls aren’t really all the disgusting. He’s leaving in the same year that I graduate from LSU, and I took the scenic route. To me, Les Miles is LSU, for better or worse. He may not be the head coach of the football team, but he is the embodiment of everything that I have grown to love about LSU. There could have never been a better representative of the football program.
Les Miles was a damn strong football coach.