Fans should avoid hasty judgements with coaches

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 4, 2005


Contributing Writer

LAPLACE – College football has long been considered one of America’s more pastoral games. Ra-Ra, fight on for old state U, stuff like that.

The reality is that like all sports it has become big business. Big money, big pressure, high expectations and as new LSU head coach Les Miles has learned this week, high volume – on the screams for those who would like you to lose your job.

The cat calls on sports talk radio shows and internet message boards came quickly for LSU’s new head man after the Tigers blew a 21-0 halftime lead in a Monday night loss to Tennessee.

Criticism of Miles was inevitable this year. It was a given that anything less than a national championship would not meet the bar of expectations that former head coach Nick Saban raised in Baton Rouge. It is also a given that anything and everything Miles does will be compared to Saban, fairly or not.

That being said, Miles earned some of his lashing this week, as would any coach whose team blew a three-touchdown lead. He’s also fielded a defense that has given up 880 yards in two games after being one of the ten best in the nation last year. But those making value judgments on his coaching acumen are acting just a little rash.

Monday’s game wasn’t the first big lead a Les Miles-coached team has blown. Last season his Oklahoma State team lost 56-35 to Texas, who trailed 35-7 at halftime. But blowing a big lead is something many a coach has to live with on his resume.

In 1984 another former Oklahoma State head coach started his first year 8-5 with a team that had won the national championship just the year before. That ignominious record featured a blown 31-point lead and a last-second hail mary. That team was the Miami Hurricanes and that coach was Jimmy Johnson. A year later he led the Hurricanes to one of the most dominant regular seasons in college football history. The 1986 Miami team featured Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde and a host of other future NFL stars like Michael Irvin, Jerome Brown and Bennie Blades but still managed to lose out on the championship after choking away a close Fiesta Bowl to Penn State.

There were some who questioned Johnson, but a year later he led the ‘Canes to another championship, and shortly thereafter departed for an even more successful career with the Dallas Cowboys.

The purpose of the analogy was not to compare Miles to Johnson, though Tiger fans can dream. The point is that in the end the line between great success for a coach and great failure can be very thin. The trip from the outhouse to the penthouse is a short one.

Even Miles’ predecessor felt his share of heat after losing to Alabama-Birmingham in 2000, and then later for a disastrous loss to Ole Miss in 2001. Though the Ole Miss loss preceded an offensive explosion behind Rohan Davey that led LSU to the Southeastern Conference title and Sugar Bowl.

People form perceptions. A coach CAN’T do something. Until he does.

Florida State’s Bobby Bowden simply could not beat the Miami Hurricanes…until he did.

Tennessee’s Phillip Fulmer couldn’t beat the Florida Gators…until he did.

It all can change quickly.

Tiger fans might want to remember that.