Miles rolls with storms' punches, LSU coach enduring season like no other
Saturday, September 24, 2005
By William Kalec
BATON ROUGE - It’s Saturday night in Death Valley and here comes …another quiet evening at the Miles' household, secluded from the fabled lights often left on to burn aimlessly through the darkness as if to tease the new guy from high above.
Wait, fans said in New Orleans, Lake Charles, Shreveport, Lafayette, Covington, Texas and Mississippi, until you run past the goal posts beneath a gigantic blinding flash and a collective yell escorts the Tigers toward the sideline. It’s heaven with a hellish nickname, Miles was told repeatedly.
So he waited, excitedly, saying all the right things, never downplaying the significance of leading those 85 or so white jerseys out of that cramped tunnel. Looking forward to it, Miles always said. And as September slowly fades, he still does envision it, helplessly.
With twice as many hurricanes than wins on his abbreviated LSU resume, Miles again directed his anxious Tigers through what seems like suspended preparation Friday for a Tiger Stadium debut nearly nine months in the making, three weeks behind schedule. After this unscheduled shortened workout, LSU will practice Saturday and have a walk-through Sunday, and will be lodging in the on-campus Lod Cook Alumni Center on Sunday night.
Tennessee, which was supposed to fly to Baton Rouge on Saturday, still intends to arrive on game day since the local hotel situation hasn’t improved drastically.
"It's interesting," Miles said. "Those teams that have to handle adversity and have to handle bumps in the road, they learn, hopefully, some great lessons not only in football but the rest of your life."
Preferring to keep kickoff on Saturday or Sunday, LSU officials were overruled Thursday evening by SEC commissioner Mike Slive, who decided to move the game to Monday for the welfare of those involved. According to The Associated Press, Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton was prepared to forfeit the victory to LSU to insure the well being of the Volunteers' players and staff scheduled to arrive approximately when Hurricane Rita was predicted to make landfall.
"(A forfeit) is a little better than kissing your sister," Miles said. "I think it would've been a real shallow victory. We certainly wouldn't have taken any credit for it."
“Naturally our strong preference would have been to play during the weekend,” LSU athletic director Skip Bertman said, “but safety for student-athletes, fans and everyone else involved in a football game was the overriding factor for the commissioner.”
The unforeseeable herky-jerky beginning of the Miles tenure has only escalated the pressure placed on Bertman’s hire to replace Nick Saban. This skeptical fandom has picked at LSU’s lone game - a thrilling 35-31 escape from No. 15 Arizona State - more than a Thanksgiving carcass.
For two weeks and two more days, Miles has calmly addressed worn issues such as the Tigers' defensive woes, receivers dropping the ball, even his sideline fashion preferences. Funny, no one seems to call in and compliment the running game or JaMarcus Russell’s arrival as a legitimate starter but they’ll gladly hold to bust on Miles’ headset or morph Bo Pelini’s name with Lou Tepper’s - Tepperlini or Pelpper.
Throughout the criticism and dire circumstances, Miles has been the cowboy in the browning white hat with plenty of real estate between the top of his head and the dome of his cap. Unexpectedly piled on top of the burden to replace a here-today-gone tomorrow legend in Saban, Miles had to help players maintain focus while they uncomfortably housed relatives and passed armed guards as they drove away from practice - responsibilities surely not mentioned in his contract.
"The schedule throws you some curves now and then," Miles said. "Life does as well. It's not a big deal. People respond. This is a real mature team. I think they are handling it real well looking forward to Monday Night Football."
Certainly, no coach in LSU history has dealt with a September comparable to this, and some serious library research is needed to find a first-year coach forced to scale this many hurdles so soon.
Just check out the list of obstacles circa August:
--- Top offensive threat, Alley Broussard, suffered a season-ending knee injury
--- Amp Hill transferred weeks before Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis get hurt.
--- Original home opener was pushed to October.
--- Relocated “home” opener took place in a stadium built into the side of a mountain against a top 15 team coming off a cupcake warmup.
--- His makeshift home opener will compete for Neilson Ratings with the Chiefs-Broncos on Monday Night.
--- Tiger Stadium might not be completely full considering the weekday kickoff.
--- The midseason bye week is now filled with a game.
--- LSU has a short week before its first conference road game.
And somehow, the guy still smiles on occasion. Earlier in the week, he even half-seriously, half-jokingly suggested the government dump dry ice into the Gulf of Mexico to quell the power source of these hurricanes.
"The decision of how you respond to things is personal choice, period," Miles said. "I've never found a way to respond negatively that made it better. If it made it better, I would. No, I can tell you, the time benefits us in certain regards - two more days to prepare certain aspects of our football (team) will be welcomed."