(Photo Courtesy: USA Today)
So by now, most of you probably know that I’m no longer a full-time sports writer (I instead write for a sports TV show). However, as they say “A leopard can’t change its spots” and quite often, I dip back into my past, and stay in touch with several people that I came to be friends with in the business. Mostly it’s because I genuinely like the people I got to know through the years, but also it’s because like the rest of you, sometimes I just need some good sports gossip.
Anyway, there is a particularly good friend of mine that I’ve known for a while now, who I’d been meaning to catch up with for weeks. He covers an SEC program, so right after the madness of the regular season ended, I decided it was time to give him a call to see what was new. We did eventually speak about 10 days ago, where we caught up on everything from our jobs, to football in general, and of course our dogs. Obviously.
Since he does cover the SEC however, when we did speak, well crap, I had to ask him about Nick Saban, right? Frankly, I never believed one second that Saban was going to leave Alabama for Texas (I put the percentage at “zero” every time I was asked over the past several months), but at the same time, man, how could I not at least pick his brain to see what he was hearing?
After opening the conversation by asking him if he’d talked to any of his Austin-area real estate or interior decorating sources of late, he laughed, and we eventually went through the full list of candidates everyone was discussing as a possible replacement if Mack Brown was out.
But then, just as we were getting ready to get off the phone, my buddy dropped this nugget:
“I don’t think it’ll happen, but I’ll tell ya, if I was Texas, the first phone call I’d make is to Les Miles. It makes too much sense not to.”
The more I continued to think about it, the more I couldn’t help but realize that it did make sense. I thought about it and thought about it, to the point that I even had to call my buddy back to flesh through all the details some more. Unfortunately he had real work to attend to, and much just like so many ladies from my past, forwarded me straight to voicemail. Still, we exchanged a few more texts, and I couldn’t get the idea out of my head.
Les Miles to Texas.
Wow. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but crap, it sure does make sense.
Of course before I get into the details, I do need to take a moment and throw out the disclaimer that everyone has to in these situations: This is all just speculation. I am in no way “reporting” that I believe Miles will end up in Texas, that the two sides have talked, intend to talk, or even have interest in each other. There are no “sources” involved. This is my own opinion that also (obviously) in no way reflects in any way on my employer. This is an idea that came about from a single, fascinating conversation with a well-connected friend of mine.
At the same time, again, it does make sense.
That’s because in a world where Texas has pie in the sky dreams for their next head coach, the school is reportedly hoping to sign a guy who has either won a Super Bowl or a BCS title. So if that’s true, it means that immediately puts Miles into the mix, and frankly might be the only candidate with the credentials who actually makes some form of sense for the job. Jim Harbaugh ain’t leaving San Francisco for Austin. Nor is Mike Tomlin skipping out on Pittsburgh or Urban Meyer bailing at Ohio State.
But Les to Austin? It seems to be at least be a possibility.
For starters, beyond all the obvious reasons (which we’ll get to in a second), there is also one big bright spot on Miles’ resume that virtually none of the other candidates have: That’s you know, actual ties to Texas.
Saban, Meyer, Tomlin, Harbaugh, Vince Lombardi and Walter Camp have little affiliation with the state, yet Miles actually cut his teeth there. Prior to LSU, Miles was the head coach at Oklahoma State, competing in the same conference as Texas and recruiting the same high schools as the Longhorns. Prior to that, he was an assistant with the Dallas Cowboys. Because of it, Miles knows the landscape and knows how to recruit Texas; the Tigers have three commitments from the state for 2014, and nine players on their roster overall. That includes star defensive backs Craig Loston and Jalen Mills.
That also means that while jumping to Texas would be “starting over” for Meyer, Jimbo Fisher, Nick Saban or whoever, it’d really just be “coming home” for Miles.
It also might be an opportunity to get a fresh start, at a time when I’m beginning to wonder if Miles needs it.
That’s because while LSU absolutely remains one of the elite programs in the sport, in some ways, they do seem to have kind of “peaked.” Now granted, there are about 115 college football programs which would like to be “peaking” in the same way right now. At the same time, to quote Bill Parcells, isn’t LSU kinda “what they are” right now? You know, the kind of program that over a four-year period, will compete for one title, have one relative down year (eight or nine wins) and have a few seasons in between, where they finish 10-2, but aren’t necessarily in the mix for a championship?
It also means that at a time where Alabama only continues to raise the bar on itself, and the rest of the SEC is getting better across the board I’m not sure LSU really has another “level” to climb. They are firmly entrenched as the SEC’s second-best program overall…yet the gap between them and Alabama only seems to widen, while the gap between the rest of the league and LSU seems to be shrinking.
It also leads me to wonder if, no matter what Miles does, he’ll ever be able to get out of the shadow of Saban as long as he’s in Baton Rouge. Les actually has a strikingly good record against the ‘Bama coach (3-4 overall), but has lost three straight to Saban. And even when he was beating him, Miles has never been held in the same regard in terms of a pure X’s and O’s coach as Saban is.
As a matter of fact, let’s do an old-school “tale of the tape” on how the two coaches are perceived.
Miles teams are always believed to be more “athletically gifted,” while Saban’s are described as more “fundamentally sound.”
Miles coaching style could best be described as “Well, Les just lets his kids play.” Saban is considered the “tactical genius.”
And even when things go right in Baton Rouge, more of the credit seems to go to Miles’ assistants; the offense had a renaissance this year under Cam Cameron, while John Chavis has been getting all the credit for years on the defensive side of the ball. In Tuscaloosa, even though Saban has had plenty of good assistants himself through the years, nobody ever thinks Kirby Smart is the ultimate difference between wins and losses. Not more so than Saban anyway.
To quote Rodney Dangerfield, “Can a coach get a little respect here!”
Not lately. And it doesn’t help that Saban has not only won three straight over LSU, but also that he’s beating him on the recruiting trail as well. That’s because two years after Alabama went into Louisiana and stole Landon Collins out from under LSU’s nose, Alabama is once again cleaning up in the state….in a year where Louisiana high schools are producing a historic crop of talent.
I’m no expert on high school football, but the folks at Rivals are, and here’s what I’ve learned by perusing their website of late: Alabama already has commitments from two of the top five players in the state (who are also two of the Top 40 players nationally), each of whom picked the Crimson Tide directly over the Bayou Bengals. That includes the No. 1 offensive tackle prospect in the country, Cameron Robinson.
You know who that doesn’t include? Two more top Louisiana high school players (the No. 1 running back in the country, Leonard Fournette and wide receiver Malachi Dupri) who haven’t committed yet, but who are both strongly considering Alabama. Can you imagine a world where Alabama got four of the top five players from Louisiana, all of whom LSU wanted? Can you imagine how upset LSU fans would be?
Finally, there are a ton of other ancillary reasons Miles seems like he’d make sense in Austin, with the biggest one probably being this: Remember that little old TV station called the Longhorn Network? Remember how everyone said that one of the biggest reasons why Saban wouldn’t be interested in the Texas job is because of the “media responsibilities” that come with it?
Remember that whole conversation?
Now I ask you: Who loves “media obligations” more than Les Miles? Crap, who loves being in front of the camera (short of a Kardashian or two) more than Miles? And who amongst us wouldn’t call our cable operators and DEMAND that we get the Longhorn Network the second Miles signed on the dotted line. Shoot, I’d picket outside my cable company’s headquarters if I missed the guy’s opening press conference!
Add it up all, and in my eyes this marriage makes too much sense to not at least be considered. As a matter of fact, I’m surprised at how few writers, writers who I have an insane amount of respect for, who don’t even seem to contemplate the notion that Miles is a candidate. If, as many suggest, just about EVERYONE in football is in play (except now Saban), then why is Miles any less of a candidate than Urban, Jimbo, Tomlin or Harbaugh?
He isn’t, and although I don’t think he’ll get the job (I might as well just go on the record right now and say I think it ends up being Vanderbilt’s James Franklin), I do think that he’d consider making the jump more seriously than most others on Texas’ list.
In a world where we spent the last four months talking “Saban to Austin” doesn’t “Les to Austin” make a whole lot more sense?
Follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.