Different this time around

LSU's Les Miles has his team back in Atlanta with a shot at an SEC crown

ATLANTA – Here he was again Friday, back at the podium where Les Miles launched himself head-first and forever into LSU football lore.


And Miles – this time not nearly as tense – was just as he has been all season. More comfortable in his own skin than he’s been in seven years in charge of the Tigers.


Four years ago, it was all about “I am the head coach at LSU, I will be the head coach at LSU” and “I’m excited about the opportunity of my damn strong football team.”


That day was 44 seconds of pure unadulterated Miles, his dander all riled up by a TV report that had him headed back home to coach Michigan with his Tigers about to face Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game.


This time around, Miles was smiling, interactive (yes, he even took questions this time) and entertaining.


Again, kind of like he has been all season and in a lot of ways ever since that fateful Saturday morning when he torpedoed the rumors about his dance with the Wolverines.


And why shouldn’t he be?


Les Miles has grown more and more comfortable in his own skin this season.

After all, four years later, the college football world is at Miles’ and the Tigers’ fingertips.


Ranked No. 1 for the last 10 weeks and from all indications steamrolling toward a chance for a third national championship in nine seasons, LSU has every reason to be happy and sassy.


“These guys love to play football,” Miles said in a 22-minute media session as the final tuneup for Saturday’s game. “Man, you want to get them on the field. They’re happiest there. I don't know that there's going to be any celebration any greater than the play that's actually made.”


For the briefest of moments, Miles was asked a question that flashed him back to that day four years ago and it still seemed like a wound that wasn’t quite finished festering.


“Yeah, I remember that,” Miles said, his smile momentarily fading. “I felt like how inappropriate a coach could be to speak about him and an issue that he could well have created in advance of his team playing in a championship game.

“I would never have spoken to the press about an issue that involved me for any reason except that I needed the people to know that I had – that I was going to fulfill my obligation to my team, and that was a very difficult and very short address. Yeah, I remember that.”


Other than that less-than-savory memory, Miles did what he has become so adept at: Winning the room.


When one reporter asked for his opinion on whether a team that hasn’t won a division or conference championship should play for a national crown, Miles was quick and brief with his answer.


“I have a very strong opinion,” Miles said.


Then silence.


Finally, a grin emerging, Miles relented and said “It’ll be something that I’ll share with you some other time in my life.”


With questions ranging from massive Tigers’ fullback J.C. Copeland – now officially identified as the culprit who knocked Miles on the turf at Bryant-Denny Stadium as the team charged onto the field – to how focused his team will be with the rumblings that LSU can still get to the BCS Championship Game without beating Georgia to queries on both quarterbacks, his running backs and kickers and even counterpart Mark Richt, Miles fielded them effortlessly.


After all, it’s championship week and the Tigers are finally back at the table after a four-year absence. That sure seems to be the message Miles delivered to his team this week.


“If someone would have told you at the beginning of the season that you had one game to play for the conference championship, would you consider that you've achieved greatly to be there?” Miles said recounting what his sermon has been this week. “That certainly playing in this game has its own merit and its own want. We've played in some big games, but this is a championship game, and we're excited to play in it.”


In it again for the first time since Miles came out that day breathing fire and uttered words that are the stuff of legend now. Now everywhere the 18-wheeler that hauls LSU equipment around the country delivers his etched-in-memory salutation: “Have a great day.”


There’ve been a lot of great days for Miles and his team this season.


Not so good times: Miles had to ride out the storm stirred up by the late-game fiasco at Ole Miss in 2009

It hasn’t always been that way, of course. There have been some awfully rough spots when LSU fans wondered – not so quietly or discreetly – whether Miles was the right person to guide the Tigers. There’s really no need to go into detail other than to mention Ole Miss, circa 2009 or Tennessee last season.


But Miles has weathered those choppy waters and come through them a better coach and somebody who has become the face, and more importantly and entertainingly, the personality of the Tigers’ program.


That made his answer Friday about the criticism Richt face after the Bulldogs started off 0-2 this season very prophetic.


“I do understand criticism, but how much better are you going to get than Mark Richt? That's a great coach,” Miles said.


Sound familiar? It ought to by now.


ANALYSIS: LSU vs. Georgia


View from the other sideline: LSU vs. Georgia

Miles takes a turn at the SEC mike

Richt meets the press

Richt: Game-day decision on Crowell, RBs

VIDEO: LSU-Georgia preview (TSD)

VIDEO: LSU-Georgia preview (DawgPost.com)

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