Miles inherits talented team, immediate expectations
Posted: Friday July 29, 2005 3:31PM; Updated: Friday July 29, 2005 6:05PM
The spotlight was already on LSU's Les Miles at SEC media days in Alabama.
Submit a question or an opinion to Stewart.
HOOVER, Ala. -- Welcome to the SEC, Les Miles. All we're expecting from you this first year is a conference championship. And a spot in the national title game wouldn't hurt.
In an offseason chock full of high-profile coaching hires, the arrival of ex-Oklahoma State head man Miles at LSU hasn't garnered nearly the amount of ink as Steve Spurrier's at South Carolina, Urban Meyer's at Florida or Charlie Weis' at Notre Dame. Yet none of the four faces more immediate pressure than Miles. While the others -- as is typical of most coaching changes -- were hired to resuscitate struggling programs, the 51-year-old Miles finds himself in Baton Rouge because his predecessor, Nick Saban, was too successful, winning the school's first national title since 1958 two years ago and landing himself a job with the Miami Dolphins.
Most new coaches inherit a mess. Miles was essentially handed the keys to a castle, one that went 22-4 (.846) under Saban the past two seasons while stockpiling more pure talent than any program this side of USC. The good news is Miles doesn't face the uphill climb he did in Stillwater, where the Cowboys had posted losing records in 11 of the 12 seasons prior to his 2001 arrival and continually played second fiddle to rival Oklahoma (though Miles managed to upset the Sooners twice).
The bad news is he won't be greeted with one iota of the patience he received in his previous gig, either. At Oklahoma State, Miles was considered a raging success despite losing at least four games each season. At LSU, even two defeats in his debut campaign may well be considered a disappointment.
"I like great expectations," a serene Miles insisted on Friday, the final day of the SEC's preseason media festivities. "There certainly needs to be a turn of realism with the expectations, but I would much rather shoot for the championship than not."
In a telling indicator of the riches at Miles' disposal, his biggest question mark entering the season is at quarterback, yet two of the three contenders for the job -- redshirt sophomore JaMarcus Russell and incoming freshman Ryan Perilloux -- were rated among the top three QBs nationally coming out of high school.
Saban's 2001-04 recruiting classes at LSU were ranked No. 2, No. 19, No. 4 and No. 2 in the country, respectively, by SuperPrep. Several stars from the '01 class (receiver Michael Clayton, defensive end Marcus Spears, defensive tackle Marquise Hill and cornerback Corey Webster) have already moved on to the NFL, but several cogs from the Tigers' '03 national title team -- receiver Skyler Green, tackle Andrew Whitworth, defensive tackle Kyle Williams and safeties LaRon Landry and Jessie Daniels -- are still in town, while several headliners from Saban's later classes -- quarterback Russell, running back Alley Broussard and receivers Craig Davis and Dwayne Bowe -- began to emerge last season.
"They've had an abundance of talent in the state of Louisiana, and Nick did a good job of keeping it in-state," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said of his divisional rival. "So I'm envious in some ways, in that [Miles] is walking in to all that talent. But I'm not envious in other ways -- everyone's going to be picking them to win the conference, and no one's picked that right in years."
Miles caught one break in that department Friday -- the media went with Tennessee. Still, it's not outrageous to suggest that Miles' career path is about to head in one of two directions. He could be the next Jimmy Johnson, a fellow former Oklahoma State coach who took over at Miami shortly after Howard Schnellenberger produced the school's first national title in 1983 and managed to strengthen what at the time was a still-in-its-infancy dynasty. Or, Miles might be the next Gerry DiNardo, Mike Archer or any of the other largely forgettable men who came and went at LSU in the 21 years between Charlie McClendon and Saban.
The legacy Saban established is such that anything less than regular conference championships will no longer be tolerated. "When you go 13-1, it becomes contagious," said defensive tackle Williams. "We went 9-3 last year -- that's technically a good year. We went to the Capital One Bowl, which is probably the fifth-best bowl. But I don't think anyone on the team was satisfied. When you win that much [like LSU did in '03], you want to win that much all the time."
Unlike defensive guru Saban, Miles, a former offensive lineman and assistant under Bo Schembechler at Michigan, is an offensive-minded guy who did a tremendous job of adjusting his scheme to the available personnel at Oklahoma State. After a 4-7 debut season in '01, Miles took the Cowboys to three straight bowl games -- including their first New Year's Day appearance in 55 years at the '04 Cotton Bowl -- by first producing a prolific passing attack with quarterback Josh Fields and star receiver Rashaun Woods, then converting to a power-running team behind workhorse tailbacks Tatum Bell and Vernand Morency.