LSU reloads in spring; Perrilloux's maturity key to Tigers' success
Responding to a customary "How are you doing?" inquiry at the start of our phone conversation last Friday, LSU coach Les Miles breezily remarked that he's "just enjoying life."
How could he not be?
Fresh off a celebratory visit to the White House and the recent recipient of a new contract reportedly worth $3.75 million annually, the coach of college football's reigning national champions has had plenty to smile about lately.
But will his troubled-but-talented quarterback maintain that harmony?
The Tigers' recent spring workouts showed the cupboard is hardly bare in Baton Rouge, despite the departure of such veteran standouts as quarterback Matt Flynn, running back Jacob Hester, receiver Early Doucet, defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey and safety Craig Steltz (most of whom could be seen standing next to President George W. Bush in those White House photos).
Tailback Richard Murphy ran for 145 yards and scored three touchdowns in LSU's spring game. Receiver Demetrius Byrd caught four passes for 132 yards. And defensive linemen Tyson Jackson and Ricky Jean-Francois picked up right where they left off in January's BCS championship win over Ohio State, repeatedly wreaking havoc in the backfield.
"There's an understanding here that our football team, year in and year out, can be pretty strong," said Miles. "The bar for next year is set very high."
The player who figures to be LSU's biggest determining factor, however, did not take a single snap during practice this spring. His absence hovered over the program right up until the day he rejoined the team in time for its White House visit last Monday. Throughout the past two months he's been the most talked about football player not only on LSU's campus but throughout the country for reasons having nothing to do with football.
One student writer even referred to Ryan Perrilloux as "LSU's Britney Spears."
Perrilloux, the Tigers' long-anticipated successor to Flynn and offensive MVP of last year's SEC title game, was suspended by Miles in February for academic reasons and was not reinstated until the day after the spring game. At one point he was expected to return for the final week of workouts but instead remained absent following reports he had been kicked out of a local restaurant the previous weekend.
For the record, Miles said the junior's initial suspension was solely for academic reasons -- not missed workouts, not any legal issues. "There is strong responsibility to do a great job in the classroom," said the coach. "If a guy has a slow start to a semester, then he's liable to be suspended. Ryan has worked hard in the classroom [since then]. He has done the things we've asked of him."
As for his recently reported run-in at Baton Rouge's Kona Grill (which elicited conflicting accounts from restaurant employees, one of whom claimed Perrilloux shouted racial slurs at a server, others of whom denied he caused any trouble), Miles has acknowledged the incident "didn't help to get him back reinstated with any urgency" but that the main reason he did not return to practice was that he hadn't achieved necessary strength and conditioning benchmarks.
"It wouldn't have been fair to him or to the other quarterbacks that were [already] out there competing for him to return to practice," said Miles.
The ongoing saga surrounding Perrilloux -- who has been suspended three times in the past 11 months for a series of transgressions, though never arrested -- has caused fans and media members across the country (including this one) to question why Miles has allowed him to remain on the team. Considering the leadership responsibilities inherent to the starting quarterback job, Perrilloux's seemingly endless string of "second chances" would appear to set the worst possible example to his teammates.
"We didn't turn our back on [Perrilloux], but you can't let him hold you back, either," Byrd told Gannett Louisiana Newspapers. "That won't happen here -- we'll find a way."
Miles defends his handling of Perrilloux, saying the critics calling for his dismissal "don't know what goes on in our program."
"That's all team business. It has little to do with people around the country," said Miles. "This is about a promise I made to a mom and brother in [Perrilloux's] home that I would do everything I could to help this young man fulfill his dreams of getting his degree and playing football for LSU. If he wants to pursue those dreams on the field and continues to work hard, we're not going to restrict him.
"The suspension itself was a tremendous punishment. It's certainly a way to get the message across that there's an accountability and it's more than just football."