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Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Is Miles more or less?

By Pat Forde
ESPN.com

The only thing hotter than the weather in Louisiana this summer is the debate over Les Miles' job security at LSU. The following is a completely fabricated but theoretically plausible debate between the opposing camps:

Les is more: There is no rational reason for Les Miles to be on the hot seat at LSU. He has won 77 percent of his games there, the best winning percentage in school history among those who coached more than 20 games. That's right, better than Paul Dietzel (65 percent). Better than Charlie McClendon (69 percent). And better than Saint Nick Saban (75 percent).

Settling for Les: There are plenty of reasons Les Miles is on the hot seat at LSU. Examine that record a little more closely and you'll see that he was 34-6 in his first three years, while swimming in Saint Nick's vast talent pool, and has gone 17-9 since. The past two years fall in line with his record at Oklahoma State, where he was 24-14 in his final three seasons. Four or five losses a year will sell a lot better in Stillwater than in Baton Rouge -- especially after you've already won a national title.

Les Miles
Miles lost three of his last five games each of the past two seasons.

Les is more: Speaking of that title: How can fans want to get rid of a coach only three years removed from hoisting the crystal football? It's not like LSU has Notre Dame's trophy case; the Tigers have won three national championships. Ever. Winning it all should buy a coach 10 more years.

Settling for Les: Ten years? This is the Southeastern Conference. Clocks tick louder down here. Maybe a title gets you five years. Or, given the way Miles has bumbled through the past two years, maybe three. The time-management debacle at the end of the Mississippi game last year cost him two years by itself. That hasn't been forgiven or forgotten by any LSU fans.

Les is more: Well, don't go expecting an apology for winning that title. That was, in The Hat's own words, a damn strong football team. LSU did beat seven ranked teams that year, including Virginia Tech, Florida, Alabama and Ohio State.

Settling for Les: And LSU also lost to Kentucky and unranked Arkansas. Do you remember how lucky the Tigers were to win that title? They were gifted with a backdoor bid to the BCS Championship Game, which just happened to be played in New Orleans. Among the 12 victories that season was the accidental win over Auburn, when Miles mismanaged the final seconds and got away with it. If ever a champion has been more lucky than good, it was the 2007 LSU Tigers.

Les is more: Let's get back to the present. How can you fire a guy who has recruited like Les? He signed ESPN Recruiting's No. 1-rated class in 2009, including 10 players ranked in the top 150 prospects. He had a top-10 class in 2010. And so far, ESPN Recruiting ranks his 2011 commitments fifth. You talk about the talent Saban left Miles, but Miles has done just fine procuring his own talent.

Settling for Les: Miles has never had a hard time signing players. It's utilizing them at which he seems to malfunction. LSU had three top-10 players in last year's freshman class, including multipurpose threat Russell Shepard and receiver Rueben Randle, but they barely made an impact on an offense that was dying for some spark. Shepard ran for 277 yards and two touchdowns. Randle caught 11 passes. Not the first time touted skill-position players have underwhelmed under Miles in Baton Rouge. And not the first time Miles has failed to trust freshmen, even when he's needed them.

Les is more: I take it you're alluding to Jordan Jefferson's freshman year in 2008, when he mostly held a clipboard despite LSU's struggles at quarterback? Les thinks of the big picture, which means not forcing freshmen into difficult situations just because they were highly recruited. You'll see that pay off in the next couple of years.

Miles
Les Miles has been at the top of the mountain, winning the BCS title in 2007.

Settling for Les: It needs to pay off immediately with Jefferson, who wasn't so great last year as a sophomore after Miles finally turned the offense over to him. Passing yards were down (182 per game, ranking 97th nationally) and sacks were up (37, tied for 105th) last season, both to alarming levels. LSU's offense has a long way to go just to be mediocre in 2010. That starts with improving a leaky line, but it extends directly to Jefferson and offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, who may take Miles down with him if the offense stinks again.

Les is more: What about the cost of a buyout? It would be huge. Miles has three years left on his deal at well in excess of $3 million a year. How could you justify that?

Settling for Les: It can be justified because LSU football is a cash-making machine. Earlier this year, Forbes magazine estimated that the football program is worth $89 million and earns an annual profit of $39 million. So don't talk to me about Les Miles' buyout as some kind of prohibitive amount. LSU is picked to finish fourth in the SEC West. Fourth! If that prediction comes to fruition, the school can't afford not to buy him out.

Les is more: What if Les is tired of your ridiculous expectations and walks on his own? What if Michigan tanks again and it fires Rich Rodriguez and this time around gets the deal done to bring a Michigan Man home? And if that happens, are you going to get a replacement who wins 77 percent of his games, up to and including a national championship game?

Settling for Les: If the Wolverines get rid of RichRod and have any brains, they'll go get the Michigan Man at Stanford, Jim Harbaugh. But hey, if they want Miles, we'll trade him to Ann Arbor for a blocking sled, three pairs of cleats and a graduate assistant to be named later. No big loss. And then we'll go get Saban back. He's got to be burning out on that Clan of the Bear craziness in Alabama.

Les is more: Right. Like it's all sanity and perspective in Baton Rouge.

Settling for Les: Sanity and the SEC don't go together, friend. Here is reality: If Les Miles loses four or five games and once again manages the clock like a narcoleptic, he'll be as popular down here as BP. But it'll take LSU a lot less time to make it right.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.