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The 12 LSU Sports Events of the Decade: #3 Les Miles feuds with Joe Alleva

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The fight that defined LSU football in the 2010s

Mississippi State v LSU Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

When one clock hit zero 1/9/12, another was just beginning its countdown. Although Les Miles had just led his team within one game of a championship, that night in New Orleans laid the groundwork for the feud between Miles and athletic director Joe Alleva that would eventually see Miles fired and LSU football taken in a sharp change of direction.

Between the title game loss to Alabama to the end of the 2014 season LSU would go a combined 28-11 and 15-9 in conference play, but the wins continually masked a program that was going into chaos, with Miles and Alleva each pouring fuel to the fire and each game moving the needle on if LSU would or wouldn’t fire Miles.

One of the focal points between Alleva and Miles was defensive coordinator John Chavis. Chavis had been one of Miles’ top coaches and had earned his due but it seemed that every year some issue arose with Chavis, Miles, and Alleva. Ultimately, Chavis left to take the Texas A&M job following the 2014 season in part because much of his contract had various financial tie ins with Miles’ status at LSU. Although Chavis was happy working for Miles, the contract and constant Miles job speculation were too much to handle. But the story doesn’t end here. Shortly after Chavis left for Texas A&M, he sued the school claiming he was owed money. Roughly two years after the initial lawsuit, the two sides settled for an unspecified amount.

Throughout this time, Miles continually was baffled on the offensive side of the ball. Things appeared to be clicking when Miles brought his Michigan buddy Cam Cameron in as offensive coordinator in 2013. His first year, Cameron had the offense humming. How much of that centered around having OBJ, Jarvis Landry, Jeremy Hill, and Zach Mettenberger as upperclassmen is unclear, but once that group left, the offense reverted back to struggle mode.

On the recruiting trail, the Tigers still were pulling in stronger classes, but the instability had led to some decommitments from some of the most sought after players, most notably Felipe Franks and Dylan Moses.

The peak of the feud between Miles and Alleva came during the 2015 season. By this time Cameron’s brilliance had begun to wear out and new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele had not generated the lockdown units that Chavis had.

Things in 2015 got off to a pretty good start thanks to a god like start from Leonard Fournette that made him the Heisman favorite and had LSU at 7-0 by the end of October. Then came Alabama who crushed LSU, which was followed by a bad loss to Arkansas, and then another disaster game against Ole Miss. After starting the season averaging 38 points through the first seven games, the Tigers scored a combined 37 points over that three game stretch. Each game led to more and more rumored reports and leaks that LSU was on the verge of firing the head coach.

With the regular season finale against Texas A&M things were at DEFCON 2 with Miles’ status at LSU and prior to gametime with every indication, notably from Miles himself, that this would be his last game. Then something happened unexpectedly by the absurd list of high level LSU officials who were dropping news about Miles’ future, public opinion swayed heavily in favor of Miles. So much so that by gametime the emotion was somewhere between a protest and a funeral.

In what was the game Leonard Fournette set the single season rushing record and the final game for announcer Jim Hawthorne in Tiger Stadium, the biggest play happened in the stands where Alleva and LSU leadership met during halftime, at which point the Tigers were trailing 7-6. In spite of Alleva having the backing to remove Miles, a decision was made, with influence from other top power players, to keep Miles as the head coach. The Tigers would win the game with the players carrying Miles on their shoulders and an awkward post game press conference where Alleva would confirm Miles would be the head coach moving forward.

It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing after the A&M game. Sure enough the contract card came up again when Steele departed after just one season for Auburn, in part due to Miles’ job insecurity. Then after a 2-2 start the following season LSU fired Miles, named Ed Orgeron interim coach and the rest is history.

Although this feud seemed to last an eternity it ultimately had more winners than losers. Miles is still beloved on campus, and received thunderous cheers when he returned a year later to celebrate the ten year anniversary of the 2007 championship team. Chavis got his money and hasn’t fielded a defense remotely close to what he had at LSU since his departure. Steele is now one of the highest paid coordinators in the country at Auburn and has led a defense which has allowed LSU comeback victories twice over the last four seasons. Alleva can take credit for officially hiring Orgeron, but he “resigned” in the Spring of 2019 and remains persona non grata on campus.

The Miles-Aleva feud was the journey from 1/9/12 to 1/13/20. It was a trek from the lowest points to the highest. You always hope something good can come out of something bad, and for LSU it most certainly did.