ENGSTER: MIles has to beat the big boys

Les Miles is the most maligned coach with an 80 percent record of success in the history of his profession.

Miles is 16-4 at LSU and continues to get harsh criticism based on the fact that he is not Nick Saban. The departed Nick had a 75 percent record of achievement at LSU with a 48-16 ledger, so apparently the anti-Miles group either doesn't want LSU to win more than three of every four games or is expecting Miles to far surpass the record of his predecessor.


Miles may be too good for the Saban lovers, who are intimidated by the fact that Miles is outdoing his predecessor – and for less money. The dollars saved on Miles' contract could purchase several LSU baseball camps, if necessary.


If only Les could win on the road, then he could really show Nick's groupies how to win and win big. After seven games this season, LSU is 5-0 at home and has outscored its Tiger Stadium opponents by a count of 236-30.  The Bengals are also 0-2 on the road and have been outpointed by Auburn and Florida by a 30-13 tally.


Kentucky's Rich Brooks caught Miles and LSU on the rebound last week as LSU drilled the Wildcats 49-0 at Death Valley. Brooks, who directed Oregon to a 56-17 defeat against LSU in Baton Rouge in 1977, has now seen his teams get outscored 105-17 in two games at TigerTown.


Brooks has survived for 22 years as a major college coach at Oregon and Kentucky and has an overall college record of 103-138-4. Ironically, Brooks is probably less criticized than is Miles, who is 44-25 at Oklahoma State and LSU.


Les Miles certainly has learned how tenuous the job market is for an LSU football boss. As Miles' Tigers pounded Kentucky last Saturday, Wildcats defensive coordinator Mike Archer must have also peered over his boulevard of broken dreams.


Archer succeeded Bill Arnsparger as LSU's leader 20 years ago. In his first two seasons as the country's youngest coach, he went 17-5-1 and guided his crew to an SEC title in 1988. Two years later, Archer was dismissed as he absorbed two losing seasons. Sixteen years removed from his firing, the 53-year-old Archer has yet to return to the head coaching ranks.


Archer required two losing seasons to get the axe. So did Gerry DiNardo and Jerry Stovall. And Curley Hallman managed to weather four losing campaigns before he was dumped in 1994.


Miles is poised to lead LSU to another winning season and is still pelted with verbal taunts by disgruntled Saban sycophants. The much beloved Nick went 18-7 in his first two years at LSU and 10-11 in his first 21 games as boss man of the Miami Dolphins.

Athletic Director Skip Bertman is twisting in the wind over a secret camp agreement he ironed out with his baseball coaching successor, Smoke Laval. The reality is that Bertman is being judged more for the hiring of Miles than for any alleged ethical lapses involving financial agreements.


Just as Jerry Stovall's woes on the football field ushered the removal of Paul Dietzel as athletic director after a 3-7-1 season in 1981, Bertman will be scored by how well the Tigers finish their season. Should Miles pilot LSU to wins at Tennessee and Arkansas, Bertman will reap a harvest of renewed goodwill. If the Tigers falter at Knoxville or Fayetteville, the bloom will be officially off the rose for Bertman as A.D.


LSU Chancellor Sean O'Keefe is handling athletic controversies with grace thus far. In the past, the Ole War Skule has endured sensational headlines and cover stories such as the Sports Illustrated, "Crazy Days at LSU," exposé in 1986.


Bertman knows how political his adopted state can become. He was hired as baseball coach in 1983 after his predecessor, Jack Lamabe, learned of his firing by reading the classified section and seeing his job advertised in the Baton Rouge Advocate.


The odds are strong that the 68-year-old Bertman will depart LSU before he is a septuagenarian. Miles will likely stay longer, if he can withstand a vociferous minority of rabid critics.


In the event that Miles is shown the gate in the coming years, LSU will almost certainly hire a coach with a lesser record. When Stovall was fired after a four-year percentage of 51 percent success, Bob Brodhead recruited a coach with the worst head coaching record in the history of the NFL.


Bill Arnsparger arrived in TigerTown in 1984 with a record of failure in 80 percent of his head coaching assignments. LSU board member Charles Cusimano remarked at the time, "We're firing a coach who won 50 percent of his games in favor of a guy who has won 20 percent. We're getting lower and lower."


LSU has employed 10 head football coaches in the past 28 seasons. It is a school that breaks the hearts of men who dare lead the Tigers on the gridiron. Even the gifted Saban seems to have made a stupid decision by leaving his perch for the uncertain waters in Miami.


Miles is facing the most unwarranted attack on a coach at LSU since Brodhead placed Stovall on a game-by-game evaluation in 1983 four games after he was honored as national coach of the year.


Former Gov. John McKeithen warned Brodhead he would pay dearly for mistreating an LSU hero. Stovall had amassed volumes of goodwill from his days as one of LSU's greatest players. Miles has no such good fortune. It is likely that most of the detractors have never heard of the mentor of LSU's coach, Michigan legend Bo Schembechler.




Jim Engster is the general manager of Louisiana Network and Tiger Rag magazine. Reach him at jim@la-net.net.

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