For seven years now, LSU coach Les Miles has compiled an impressive record.
Line ’em up and he somehow almost always finds a way to knock ’em down.
Opponents? Nah, that’s just the normal part of every coach’s gig at the highest level.
Where Miles excels at most is managing – maybe kicking in the ass is a better description – any controversies or off-the-field hurdles that rise up in front of him and his team.
That’s where the Tigers’ quirky, high-hat wearin’, grass-eatin’ coach has become as good and probably better than any college coach in the country.
Not to say Miles isn’t right there on par with his peers coaching-wise because contrary to what some national pundits, and I suppose a portion of LSU fans, might choose to still believe, the man is as good an on-field coach as there is.
It still amazes me when there’s even a hint of surprise in a national talking head’s voice when the Tigers and Miles beat a team coached by a smoother, more serious – less human and down-to-earth – coach.
It doesn’t amaze me and shouldn’t astound anybody else when Miles and LSU stare across the line at an unexpected turn of events and grinds away like Spencer Ware wearing a defensive line to a nub.
Another victory in that department came this week, or maybe more accurately, the second half of a triumh that began on Aug. 26.
He welcomed both players back quickly with open arms, told Jefferson privately his role would be as the backup quarterback and publicly fortified the confidence he and his team have developed in fifth-year senior Jarrett Lee.
No reason not to.
Lee has thrown for 624 yards with six touchdowns and only one interception in 87 pass attempts. The most important stats: The Tigers are averaging 38.8 points a game and they’re 4-0 and ranked No. 1 in the AP poll.
As much as anything Lee is doing physically, he is filling the bill as a perfect Miles’ QB in other ways. He’s leading the offense quietly by following a manageable game plan and not straying from the script. What mistakes Lee has made have been minimal and he’s not preventing the offense from chipping away, gobbling up clock and giving an ultra-talented defense to be the alpha male.
Now that Jefferson is back, the prospect of him adding a wrinkle to the Tigers’ offense as a dual-threat, change-of-pace quarterback in specific situations is enticing. Jefferson has a chance to overhaul his image and carve a niche as a key component of a team with realistic designs on winning a national championship.
With Jefferson, it’s a matter of how he handles this second lease in his football life from the shoulders up. For two seasons and two games in 2008, the athletic 6-foot-5 St. Rose native has provided tantalizing snippets of what he can do to be an effective quarterback at the highest level of college football.
There have also been at least as many occasions when Jefferson left fans scratching their heads wondering why the Tigers haven’t found a more reliable quarterback since Matt Flynn in 2007.
Now, out of dire neccesity and surprising good fortune, LSU has that QB in Lee, who has reeled his career back from the brink of disaster.
In a strange episode of role reversal, Lee has become the role model for Jefferson – a blueprint of how perserverance and dogged hard work and a dedication to being a good teammate can pay off.
Now, Miles isn’t solely respnsible for Lee’s metamorphisis. The low-key Texan gets more credit than anybody else, with his parents playing a major supporting role and the impact of quarterbacks coach Steve Kragthorpe also a major ingredient.
But Miles’ personality and what one of his former bosses, Bill McCartney, calls his pastoral soul are two elements that contributed greatly to Lee’s stick-to-it-iveness.
Lee had chances to leave after 2008, 2009 and last season. His dad, Stephen Lee, took a job as the quarterbacks coach this offseason at Division II West Texas A&M, which is a high-octane passing offense. Imagine what a kid like Lee might’ve done in a one-and-done situation like that.
But Lee toughed it out, endured, grew up and now he’s the perfect fit for a Tigers’ offense that doesn’t have to be spectacular. Just efficient and productive.
Can Jefferson duplicate what Lee did – sit and watch and wait his turn? That’s the position he finds himself in after his arrest and unwanted flirtation with his LSU career ending as a result.
Jefferson has a second chance and it’s up to him now what he does with it. If he embraces this opportunity and fits into the mosaic of a talented team that seems to have tremendous chemisry, Jefferson will have some openings to make a huge contribution.
If Jefferson doesn’t latch onto this new role, well, that’s on Jefferson and his career could quietly fizzle out this season as a third-string QB on a team with potential to climb to college football’s mountain top.
However this new potential stumbling block plays out, it’s a safe bet Miles will handle it like he has most of the other non-football matters in his seven years.
And that couldn’t be better news for LSU fans in a season when the Tigers have already churned through plenty of controversy and left it in the dust on the way to a September to remember.
PREVIEW: Reputation (and a ranking) to uphold