ENGSTER: Has Miles learned from past coaches

LSU's pulverizing 45-0 victory over Mississippi State combined with Appalachian State's stunning 34-32 nod over Michigan has some pundits pondering the wooing of Les Miles by his alma mater.

With a 23-4 record at TigerTown, Miles would seem to be a candidate for any college coaching job that opens in North America. But there are few schools capable of matching the situation he has in Baton Rouge.


One of the contenders for Miles would logically be the monolithic program at Ann Arbor where a young Les spent his campus days as a standout offensive lineman for the Wolverines of Bo Schembechler. What is expected is not always what happens in the coaching ranks. Therefore, LSU partisans can rest assured that Miles will not be toiling in the Big Ten no matter what happens to Michigan's current boss, Lloyd Carr.


LSU has been down this road before with Paul Dietzel, who returned to West Point to become head coach at Army where he had served under Red Blaik as an assistant. Dietzel left what quite possibly would have been a lifetime job at LSU to take charge of a sagging program at the military academy just as Vietnam was becoming a national scourge. Dietzel's timing could not have been more disastrous, and his career never recovered from his mistake in departing Death Valley at the age of 37 with a national title and a pair of SEC crowns to his credit.


In 1971, Charles McClendon rejected a lucrative overture from Texas A&M to stay at LSU. Eight years later, Mac was forced out, but he reached legendary status in his final years in Baton Rouge and is the coach most revered by LSU alumni and fans.


Mike Archer was 35 and the toast of the college football world in 1988. In two years at LSU, the youngest coach in America had directed the Tigers to an 18-5-1 record, including an SEC title and the third 10-win season in the history of the program. When Jimmy Johnson bolted for the Dallas Cowboys and the head coaching post opened at Miami of Florida, Archer's alma mater, it was assumed by many insiders that LSU was on the brink of losing its leader.


Archer expressed tepid interest in the position, and Miami settled on Dennis Erickson. In this case, it would have been better for Mike the Tiger to return to his roots. Miami flourished under Erickson, posting records of 11-1, 10-2, 12-0, 11-1, 9-3 and 10-2.


Erickson's six-year record with the Hurricanes was 63-9, while Archer staggered to a 9-13 mark in his final two seasons at LSU and his head coaching days were over at 37.

Fourteen years later, LSU's Nick Saban sought increased fame and fortune as the boss of the Miami Dolphins. Saban produced a two-year mark of 15-17 with the Dolphins while his successor at LSU was enjoying consecutive 11-2 campaigns.


Nick is entrenched in Tuscaloosa until the next suitor arrives with a suitcase full of cash and an opportunity for Saban to capture the headlines he craves. The reason he left Michigan State for LSU eight years ago was his realization that in East Lansing he would always be relegated to second-class status in his own state and his own conference.


Saban was hired at MSU the same year that Lloyd Carr took control at Michigan. Saban did reasonably well against Carr, producing a 2-3 record against the Wolverines. But while his Spartans went 34-24-1 from 1995-99, Carr's teams posted a 49-13 record and won the national championship in 1997.


It could be argued that Saban's eight-year odyssey from East Lansing to Baton Rouge to Miami to Tuscaloosa stems from his envy and respect for the program in Ann Arbor. If Carr falters, Saban is always ready to reinvent himself. Don't be shocked if Nick's next stop on the coaching landscape is at Michigan. In a few months or a few years, Saban is destined to tire of the ghost of the Bear, and he will be primed to turn in his red ties and white shirts for a nice maize-and-blue combination.


Michigan has prospered with steady, unassuming coaches. Schembechler, Gary Moeller and Carr have guided the program for 39 years. The brass at UM would be attracted to a wildcard like Saban, who would once again fill a massive stadium for his first spring game.


Les Miles is too much like Schembechler to get the call at his alma mater. Bo went 194-48-5 in 21 years at Michigan but never captured a national championship. Saban's college coaching record is 89-42-1, but he is coveted across the country because of conquering the BCS in 2003 with LSU.


Soon, the Wolverines will shelve their conservative tradition and hire a flamboyant guy like Saban. Bet on Nick's agent Jimmy Sexton soon burning up the phone lines between Memphis and Michigan. Saban is a restless soul and he loves to be courted. He's the coaching equivalent of a well-known narcissist who once attended the University of Michigan. She's a girl from Bay City named Louise Veronica Ciccone – better known as Madonna.




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

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