The “dramatic” occurred at some point a couple of weeks ago and the decision makers at LSU decided not to fire head football coach Les Miles following the last game of the season, a 19-7 drubbing of Texas A&M in front of a spirited crowd in Tiger Stadium on a late November Saturday night.
What the “dramatic” event was that prompted LSU to abandon its plans to fire Miles will never be known for sure. We’re left to speculate, and the speculation has run rampant ever since LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva spoke to the press following the game, declaring Miles would keep his job. Obviously Alleva spoke up, ending weeks of silence about Miles’ future, at the direction of LSU President F. King Alexander.
One theory about why Miles kept his job following another season of disappointments centers on Alexander, who supposedly was uneasy with the prospect of LSU buying out Miles’ contract to the tune of $15 million while also paying another university millions of dollars to buy out another coach’s contract so he could take the LSU job. That other coach was Jimbo Fisher, the head man at Florida State, who served as Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator during the Saban era at LSU and for the first two years of the Miles era. It would have cost $5 million to buy out Fisher’s deal with the Seminoles. Throw in another $30 million over five years for Fisher’s contract at LSU, and all of sudden we’re talking about a tidy sum of money. That’s irrelevant as far as Alexander should have been concerned since no taxpayer dollars would have been involved in these transactions. The Tiger Athletic Foundation, fueled by private donations entirely, would have foot the bill for everything.
Apparently Alexander didn’t see it that way. He supposedly was concerned about the perception of spending $50 million on football while all of higher education in Louisiana has endured major-league cuts in state funding during Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. That’s irrelevant as well for many reasons, but time and space won’t allow for a proper vetting of that scam at the present time.
Instead, we should contemplate how the potential firing of a football coach at LSU evolved into a public relations nightmare for the ages. It all started with a leak to a reporter at The (Baton Rouge) Advocate and within hours the press in Louisiana as well as across the nation was consumed with when Miles would actually get the ax.
I’m guilty of it, too, though I noted in this space last week that a “dramatic” event, or chain of events, could derail the Fire Miles freight train.
It will take years for LSU to overcome the damage that was done with hanging its football coach out to dry for a spell. When Miles does leave, isn’t it possible a prospective coach might be a bit reluctant to follow in his footsteps in light of the inept leadership we’ve witnessed at LSU in recent weeks? Never mind that the fans will want the coach’s hide nailed to the nearest fence post if he records three losses in a row.
And let’s not forget about recruiting, the lifeblood of every major college football program, especially in the Southeastern Conference where everyone compares themselves to Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide. Perhaps that’s why we shouldn’t have been surprised when three recruits who were committed to LSU withdrew their commitments while the Fire Miles movement percolated. One of those commitments was one of the best high school quarterbacks in the country, Feleipe Franks of Crawfordville, Fla. Franks is now committed to the Florida Gators. When he decommitted from LSU, Franks cited the instability in the football program as the reason.
Imagine that? Or does it really matter a top-shelf quarterback commitment flew the coup since the Tigers have enjoyed such stellar play at the position since Matt Flynn guided LSU to a national title in 2007? I’m being facetious, of course. There’s nothing facetious, though, about how Alexander and Alleva handled the Miles firing, or lack thereof. It was as if it was amateur hour in Red Stick. Some professional oversight would have been nice.
Yet, it’s entirely possible Miles wouldn’t be the head coach at LSU today if the actors who wanted him gone had played it cool, so to speak. After all, loose lips sink ships, and the leaks about a possible Miles firing did nothing but awaken a fan base to the notion that some wealthy donors were trying to micromanage the football program, including the firing of a coach who’s rather popular with the average Joe.
The average Joe doesn’t sit in the suites with the wealthy donors. Instead, he sits in the seats in the bowels of the stadium or in the upper decks. But on that late November Saturday night a few weeks ago in Baton Rouge, the folks in the seats overruled the ass**** in the suites.
Sam Hanna is a state political writer.