Publisher’s Note: This is the second in a three-part series examining the growing trend of hiring professional coaches to the staffs of LSU’s big three sports – football, baseball and men’s basketball. CLICK HERE for Part One with baseball head coach Paul Mainieri and check back Thursday for basketball head coach Johnny Jones’ take on the subject.
“We’ve always done that. Since I’ve been here, I’ve tried to hire guys with backgrounds in the NFL.”
That’s how Les Miles led off our interview, stressing – before a question was even asked – that pulling coaches from the highest level of football is nothing new at LSU during his 10-year reign.
The facts back him up.
From Brick Haley to Thomas McGaughey to Adam Henry to Cam Cameron, LSU has made a killing off the concept. And those are just the ones who were hired directly from the NFL. It doesn’t include former Tiger coordinators Steve Kragthorpe, Gary Crowton and Bo Pelini, all of whom spent time as assistants in the League prior to stints in Baton Rouge.
As Miles sees it, his own experiences at that level best prepared him for the job he has now, so it stands to reason that it’s benefited others in a similar fashion.
“I got my first true experience in matchup football and special teams in my time with the Dallas Cowboys. I felt like I saw special teams emphasized in a proper way, and I felt like matchups were (more important),” said Miles. “Before then it was just you had your guys and you did the stuff you did.
“Well there, it’s your guy versus the guy that you want him to go against. He’s going to do the things that he always does well, but he’s going to do it against a place where they have a lesser candidate. So I think the NFL gave me that experience, and it also lets you know what they’re playing with at that level, what really is capable.”
Of course not to be forgotten or trivialized is the cachet NFL coaching experience holds with high school prospects, a recurring theme from Miles, whose players have made leaving after three years standard operating procedure of late, within the scope of this conversation.
“Frankly I think that’s something that today’s prospective student-athlete wants,” Miles argued. “They want to be coached by somebody that’s got an NFL background.”
But just how much of a recruiting tool is it?
“Most importantly you have to have a relationship with the prospective student-athlete, and you have to be able to relate,” explained Miles. “And then, as an area of ‘this is how you perform at your position in the NFL,’ my goodness. That is really the key piece. So many of our players who see themselves going to the NFL want to be coached by guys who’ve got that background. Whether it’s Brick Haley, Corey Raymond (who played in the NFL from 1992-97), Cam Cameron, back when with Steve Kragthorpe, there are a number of guys they can turn to, including myself.”
The biggest splash made by Miles on his quest to load the staff with NFL experience was the hiring of Cameron in February 2013. A former offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers and Baltimore Ravens, and a head coach for one season with the Miami Dolphins, Cameron hadn’t been in the collegiate game since 2001, when he was leading the Indiana Hoosiers program.
Cameron’s first campaign at LSU yielded historic results as the Tigers became the first SEC team ever with a 3,000-yard passer (Zach Mettenberger), two 1,000-yard receivers (Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry) and one 1,000-yard rusher (Jeremy Hill) in the same season.
Ask Miles and he’ll tell you he expected nothing less from Cameron, whose clout amongst quarterback developers has also positioned LSU favorably to recruit top-notch dual-threat signal callers.
“I knew that he would bring real expertise in moving the football,” Miles proclaimed. “He’s just a consummate professional coach, and the thing that I enjoy about him is he’s a wonderful family man. I knew he’d be a great representative of LSU.”
So in that case familiarity won out more than Cameron’s pro pedigree. According to Miles that’s par for the course, and while NFL experience is something he seeks, it’s never as clear-cut as going with the guy who’s got it against another applicant who may be a career collegiate coach.
“It’s never that way,” Miles said when asked of an all-things-equal scenario. “It’s always the fit, what the personality is, what his various experiences are and then there could be a positive depending on his (NFL) background.
“His background has to be very capable in college, and if it’s not, certainly there needs to be an NFL résumé. I think all things being considered there are a lot of things that come in front of the NFL in terms of consideration, but once you check the boxes and they’re all there, it’s a very, very strong positive if he has an NFL background.”
Finally, much like his baseball counterpart Paul Mainieri, Miles indicated he doesn’t really speak to the other head coaches on LSU’s campus about their hiring practices. So if it’s a trend anywhere other than in Tiger Stadium, The Hat hasn’t noticed.
“I enjoy those men so much, and I root for them so regularly. But I would hate to bother them with a conversation as less entertaining as that,” concluded Miles. “I would much rather just say ‘great game’ and how much I love watching their teams play. They do a great job running their own programs. They certainly don’t need those kinds of thoughts from me. I don’t think so at least.”
Classic Les. Virtually unaware of the goings on outside of his football bubble, he still managed to start a fad that the baseball and basketball programs have adopted since.