Fresh from his latest wave of appearances on ESPN, LSU coach Les Miles was back in town Wednesday for one of his final speaking engagements before the Tigers open practice for the 2011 season.
Speaking to the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge with an overflow crowd of around 400 people crammed into a local restaurant, Miles took a few friendly barbs from the Rotary President Ken Best and even self-inflicted a few good-natured wounds.
When Miles spoke about his pride in being the LSU coach, he said "I honor that position with great effort and maybe sometimes with not-so-wise clock management."
As he was rolling through a scouting report on his team, Miles added another layer of intrigue to the quarterback position.
True to his pre-season form, Miles left no doubt that senior Jordan Jefferson is the starter and credited new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe for Jefferson's improvement since a tough junior season.
"Next fall, I think our quarterback will have his best year," Miles said. "Steve Kragthorpe has had a tremendous impact on Jefferson at this point.
"He wants to lead. It's more important to him. He feels like this is his team. He's more capable."
Then Miles threw out a different wrinkle.
He praised senior Jarrett Lee, noting that in three games the former starter played a key role in Tigers' victories. And he said Lee is the immediate backup, but…
"I think Zach Mettenberger is a more talented passer than we have on our team but right now Jarrett Lee is keeping him at bay. But who knows how that will finish."
Most of the lunch-time get-together was light-hearted, but Miles also touched on the lingering cloud hanging over the Tigers – the investigation into the program's relationship with alleged street agent Will Lyles.
NCAA investigators were on LSU's campus earlier this month to look into the relationship.
LSU voluntarily released all materials purchased from Lyles last year, including a collection of video materials. LSU also issued a statement following the release and school officials have declined specific comment about Lyles and the investigation since then.
"I just want you to know, that recruiting services are for getting film and that's what we've done," Miles said. "I'm for compliance. It's a piece of my business that I take very seriously. It's something that we must do. We must do right things and I think we're doing that."
After he finished speaking to the Rotarians, Miles spent a few minutes with a handful of media members and touched on several hot-button issues.
-- When a reporter asked about whether the buyout in his contract would be voided because of the recent decision handed down by the NCAA which included probation and deemed LSU's dealings with former defensive end Akiem Hicks as major violations, Miles at first said tersely "That's over."
Pressed for more of a response, Miles said "All those things are subject to opinion."
Miles then seemed to get slightly agitated when he defended himself and his role in the violations allegedly committed by former Tigers assistant coach D.J. McCarthy, saying "There's not really much more I could've done in that instance. Obviously mistakes were made, not by the direction of me and at a time that was really hidden by my view."
Asked if he thought the NCAA punishment and his contract were open to interpretation, Miles said "I can't imagine … I don't know how it all my affects my contract."
-- Nothing has changed with the status of junior receiver Russell Shepard, who was held back from SEC Media Days due to a compliance problem related to off-campus housing.
Shepard has not been suspended. LSU issued a statement saying he was dealing with a personal matter.
"I don't know exactly what's going on there," Miles said. "There hasn't been real strong communication. It would appear that it isn't really serious. I don't know the procedure at this time.
"I don't think there's anything I can do. It's out of my hands."
Miles remained adamant, though, that Shepard will be available for practice when fall camp begins next week.
"He'll come to practice and we wouldn't expect there to be any issues there," Miles said, adding he thinks Shepard should be available for the season opener against Oregon on Sept. 3 in Arlington, Texas.
-- Miles said he hadn't heard anything about LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva's interview for the same job at Tennessee until Tuesday night when he was wrapping up a busy day of work at ESPN's studios.
LSU issued a statement late Tuesday that Alleva had met with a search firm about the Tennessee job but had decided to stay at LSU.
-- Freshman receiver Jarvis Landry suffered a broken foot this week and will be out for about a month, Miles confirmed.
"I don't think it will set him back much," Miles said of the former Lutcher star who is regarded as one of the center pieces of the Tigers' 2011 recruiting class. "About three weeks into camp he should be ready to roll which is really wonderful news."
-- Part of Miles' day at ESPN included a stint on the set with Alabama coach Nick Saban. From all appearances the two men got along well.
"I enjoyed that; it was hilarious," Miles said. "I enjoyed that time."
Miles making the rounds
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