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Mad Hatter

Walker Carey | Wednesday, November 30, 2011

There are generally two opinions regarding Louisiana State head football coach Les Miles. The first is that he is a complete fool whose teams are either too talented to lose or they win despite him. The second opinion is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum — that Miles is a great, if not elite, football coach. I personally believe you are a complete fool if you do not hold the second opinion.

Miles, aptly nicknamed “The Mad Hatter,” had big shoes to fill when he arrived in Baton Rouge. He was tabbed to replace Nick Saban who left LSU for the Miami Dolphins after leading the Tigers to the 2003 national championship, the school’s first since 1958. Miles arrived after a successful four years as the head coach at Oklahoma State. The LSU faithful saw results immediately when Miles’ first Tiger squad finished 11-2 and won the Chick-fil-A Bowl. His second team finished with an identical 11-2 mark, but this time earned a bid to the Sugar Bowl, where the Tigers demoralized Notre Dame 41-14.

In 2007, the Tigers finally won the SEC title and defeated Ohio State in the BCS national championship, giving Miles his first title. While that season is undoubtedly memorable, my favorite memory of Miles — and of all of college football — from that season came on the day of the SEC championship game.

That morning, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit wrongly reported that Miles had accepted an offer to succeed Lloyd Carr as Michigan’s head coach. Stunned by this report, Miles called a last-minute press conference to clear up any confusion. The entire conference was quite humorous, but my favorite part was that he finished by saying, “Thank you very much. Have a great day.”

After that press conference, the entire college football world began to focus more closely on all the intricacies of Miles. From his unusual, mind-boggling quotes, to his affinity for fake field goals and punts, and finally to his habit of eating the field’s grass on game days. While it seemed like everyone was focusing on everything but his coaching, “The Mad Hatter” just kept winning. From 2008-2010, his teams won 28 games including two bowl games. Miles also continued to excel on the recruiting trail, continually compiling nationally ranked classes, yet everyone focused on what zany thing he was going to say that week.

This season, before LSU took on Alabama, the always-quotable Miles said, “I want my players focused. I don’t want the distraction of not being focused to be a distraction.” While America attempted to wrap its head around that, Miles led his team to an overtime victory. The Tigers remain undefeated at 12-0 going into the SEC championship game this Saturday. If they win, they will certainly earn another BCS championship game.

I do not believe that Miles is bothered by the extra attention at all. I actually think he enjoys it. Who wouldn’t? He’s proven to be a fun-loving, interesting, likeable guy who also wins a lot of football games. I think it would be absolutely egregious to call Miles a fool. The man obviously knows what he is doing when it comes to coaching football, and I believe he will be remembered as one of the more under-appreciated coaches in college football history.

Contact Walker Carey at wcarey@nd.edu

The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.