Maybe It Is Time to Give Les Miles Credit

I had to make sure that I did not consume too many beers.  I counted…one…two…three.  This was four (and the last).  So I certainly was not hallucinating.  Louisiana State head coach Les Miles did in fact just pick up grass from the Tiger Stadium turf and put it into his mouth.

That is not genius.  That is rather disgusting.  And it is almost as disturbing as watching the way he claps his hands.

Mmmmm…celebration Bermuda. My favorite!

But beyond that, maybe it is time to give Les Miles credit.  Credit for being a good coach.  And credit for being assertive.

Les Miles is criticized for his poor clock management, which is certainly something worth questioning.  And his BCS title is often “credited” to Nick Saban because most of the players that helped Miles win that title (with two losses, by the way) were recruited by Saban.  But why ignore what Miles has done.

No one credits Urban Meyer’s first BCS title to Ron Zook, even though most of the players (especially the starters) on that Florida team were recruited by Zook.  No one gave a shout out to Mike Shula, who recruited some of the players on Alabama’s BCS title team from last season.  So, why do that to Miles?  Is it because Miles is unorthodox?  Is it because of a hatred among the major powers (i.e. Alabama and Florida)?

Someone has to coach those players.  Maybe Saban (at LSU) or Zook or Shula could have led those respective teams to a BCS title.  But in each case Miles, Meyer and Saban (at Alabama) took the players they had and molded them into a championship team — “national” champs!  It is not like you or I wondered onto the sidelines and coached a team created by the awesome recruiting efforts of Saban.  Miles led the team to the title.

They won because of Miles; not in spite of him.

Keep this in mind — going into this weekend’s game with out-of-conference foe Louisiana-Monroe, LSU under Les Miles is 59-16 (0.787 win percentage) and is 14-9 against their rivals — Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn and Florida.  That includes an 8-4 record versus the state of Alabama (he was 4-1 versus Auburn prior to this year’s loss).

Additionally, while he was 28-21 at Oklahoma State, he inherited a team that was in the dumps.  His first season in Stillwater he was 4-7.  After that, he accumulated a 24-14 record (0.632 winning percentage).  He was also 2-2 versus rival Oklahoma.  That may not seem like much (a 0.500 record versus the Sooners), but keep two things in mind.  First, he beat OU in his first two seasons, when he did not have the best teams and when Oklahoma was ranked in the top five.  Ok-State has not beaten the Sooners since then.  Second, Oklahoma holds a decisive lead in the all-time series (80-15-7), so any win by the Cowboys over the Sooners is impressive.

You want some of this!?

So, he is a winner.  And he has the Bengal Tigers in a position to at least go to a BCS bowl game and possible win the SEC title (if Auburn slips).

But what about his play-calling?  Ah, there is where he is genius.

People bitch that he is unconventional and a “gambler” and that it is not “football” — in other words, it is all tricks.  But just because it does not fall into the “norm” does not mean it is a trick.  It is a game plan.  It is not like he picks up a blade of grass, chews on it, gets inspired and starts drawing up plays in the dirt.  He is not The Zombie [Brett Favre].

I’ve never understood the “gimmick” offense label for play-calling and styles that are against the norm.  DEFINITION!

gim mick – 2 (b) an ingenious and usually new scheme or angle (Merriam-Webster)

Now yes, there is a version of the definition that refers to “trick” but that is in reference to drawing attention.  “Gimmick” in football usually becomes associated with “trick.”  However, the definition provided seems more appropriate — an ingenious scheme.

What was the 3-4 defense?  It was an ingenious “scheme.”  No one calls that a “trick.”  It is an effective defense.

What is the spread offense?  It is an ingenious “scheme.”  It helps spread out defenses and defensive coverages and allows for more effective attacks.

What is the pistol formation?  Yet another ingenious “scheme.”  It allows the quarterback a better view of the field, providing him with a better opportunity to “read” the defense.

Football is about innovation and new “gimmicks” or schemes are a natural part of football’s innovative progression.

Now, look at the spread and in particular Mike Leach’s philosophy.  There was a good New York Times article published in 2005 on the then-Texas Tech head coach that highlighted his disdain for tight ends and fullbacks.

You’ve got two positions that basically aren’t doing anything.

With that in mind, Leach preferred to utilized as many positions as possible — hence the four and five wide receiver sets as his base offense.  Some called it a gimmick; I call it being logical.

What does this have to do with Les Miles?  Taking the Leach philosophy into account, Miles is utilizing every resource available to him and his team.  He has not shunned the fullback and tight end but he incorporates them into the offense.  His reverse call on fourth-and-one against Alabama was genius if not for the fact that it was tight end Deangelo Peterson that was entrusted with the duty of carrying the football.

Who uses a tight end to run a reverse?  ON FOURTH-AND-ONE!! Les Miles; that’s who.

Additionally, he is not afraid to run a fake punt or kick where his “slow” kicker is the one running the ball.  The fake punt call against Alabama did not call for the up-back to take a direct snap and run to the outside — it called for kicker/punter Josh Jasper to take off.  It was also an audible that allowed for the play given the Alabama special teams setup.  It worked, although it did not lead to points.

And while he has run fake field goals before, the one ran against South Carolina in 2007 is noteworthy because it call for kicker Colt David to take a pitch (a Steve Nash-esque no-look pitch, by the way) from holder Matt Flynn.  David took the pitch and ran 15 yards for the score.

He’d repeat a similar play this season against Florida on fourth down…in the fourth quarter…with 35 seconds left…and down by three points!!!

That’s trust!  Trusting a kicker and a tight end to make plays…that is Miles trusting his teams to execute.

And it is not as though he is pulling these plays out of a hat (so to speak).  These are plays that the team practices on a weekly basis.  As Miles stated after the game:

We practice these things.  It’s not a grab bag.  . . . This play looked to be there and it was prepared extremely well by our team and it would have been a mistake not to call it.

The thing about it is knowing when to call it.  It is not like he called a tight end reverse on 2nd and 27 on their own four-yard line.  It is all about timing.  That is the thing with any play call; timing…the situation.  That is the whole point of draws and play-action passes; throwing off tendencies (or attacking them).  In Thursday night’s NFL game between the Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Falcons, the commentators had just noted the Ravens’ tendency to run left when they suddenly called an end-around to wideout Donte’ Stallworth.  It was perfectly timed as it had the Falcons going one way (based on tendency) and caught them out of position.

It’s all about timing and with Miles, he looks for those opportunities.  Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.  But is it any different than a slant pass that fails or an isolation that gets stuffed?  Plays works; plays fail.  That is the nature of football.

Again, just because he does not follow the norm does not mean it is “wrong.”

Finally, what of his fourth down calls.  With regards to going for it on fourth down, the long-held theory is that it is “gambling”; it is often too risky.  But why not?  Like Mike Leach using all that is given to him, fourth down is another opportunity.  Why not use it?

But, it is not like Miles goes for on every fourth down.  Just like play-calling, going for it on fourth is a timing thing.  He does not go for it all the time.  So far in 2010, LSU has gone for it on fourth down only nine times — tied for 88th (out of 120 FBS teams)!  Georgia Tech leads the country, going for it 29 times.  But the conversion percentage is what is important.  LSU has converted seven of those nine attempts — 77.8 percent success rate.  That is second behind East Carolina, who is led my Ruffin McNeil (a former coordinator for Mike Leach at Texas Tech…go figure).

In the words of Kenny Rogers, “I told you to get those cameras out of my face.”  Wait, wrong Kenny Rogers: “You got to know when to hold ’em.”  And you got to know when to let it roll!  And Miles picks and chooses when to go for it with relatively great success.

Does it fail?  Of course.  Who has a 100 percent success rate in college football?  But consider the following:

  • 2005: 6 for 11 (54.5% – tied for 26th)
  • 2006: 12 for 17 (70.6% – second)
  • 2007: 11 for 16 (68.8% – fifth)
  • 2008: 6 for 18 (33.3% – tied for 93rd)
  • 2009: 3 for 12 (25% – tied for 106th)
  • 2010: 7 for 9 (77.8% – second)
He’s a kicker, for crying out loud!!!

In 2008 and 2009, LSU was a combined 17-9 (0.654 winning percentage) and those were arguably his worst seasons.  In those seasons, it seems like his fourth down “gambles” failed.  However, in the other seasons, he is a combined 41-7 (0.854 winning percentage)!!!  In those seasons, his fourth down success rate is 67.9 percent!!  That includes the 2007 Florida game where LSU went for it on fourth down FIVE TIMES!!!

Thus, when it pays off, it pays off big time!  And given the number of times he goes for it, which is usually near the bottom, it is difficult to call it reckless or gambling; it is calculated.  I’d call it playing to win rather than playing not to lose.  Remember, his fourth-and-one, tight end reverse call came within field goal range.  It was not like LSU does not have an accurate kicker whom Miles does not trust.  It’s all about timing and all about coaching.

These fourth down calls and fake kicks do not include other play calls.  For example, leading by three in the fourth against Alabama, LSU faced a third down and 13 yards to go.  Instead of playing conservative and just running up the middle — the type of play calling that drives fans crazy — Miles calls for a pass…with Jarrett Lee filling in for injured Jordan Jefferson!!  And it hits for 47-yards!  That is playing to win the game and that call, more than any other in the game against the Crimson Tide, won it for the Tigers.

Maybe it is time to start giving Les Miles credit.  He is a good coach.  He has been to two BCS bowl games and is in line for a possible third BCS bowl game (without Saban players, by the way).  He utilizes all of his players to maximize his team’s chance to win and he uses all four downs at his disposal…but does so when the time calls for it.  He has an SEC title, a BCS title, two SEC West division “titles,” and has finished either one or two in the SEC West in four of his five seasons…like five out of six after this season ends.  Oh, and he is 4-1 in bowl games as the LSU head coach (although, he was 1-2 at Oklahoma State and did lose last season against Penn State).

So, it is time to stand up and applaud Les Miles as a good coach.  It is not gambling or gimmicky…it is a coach who believes in his players to execute the plays calls and a coach who is not afraid to leave it all on the field.  Give him his just props!

And remember, this is coming from an Alabama fan who really does not like LSU and is still bitter about last week’s loss.  But give credit where credit is due.  And for Les Miles, it is due.

Now…if only something could be done about his clock management “skills.”

One thought on “Maybe It Is Time to Give Les Miles Credit

  1. Pingback: One Yard, One Thousand Questions: How the Play that Changed the Super Bowl is Misunderstood | UNCLE POPOV's Drunken Sports Rant

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