This article was copied from the Times-Picayune Sports Desk Log.
Kyle Williams says team got complacent
Thursday, September 29, 2005
By Jim Kleinpeter

No sooner had Tennessee running back Gerald Riggs bulled into the end zone with the winning points Monday night in Tiger Stadium, there was a new Website on the internet:

Welcome to the Wonderful World of Les Miles.

In the wee hours of Tuesday, fans were busy flooding the LSU message boards.

12:51 a.m.: “I never thought I’d be afraid of Vandy.’’

1:13 a.m.: “What’s the date of the Independence Bowl?’’

2:17 a.m.: “There are some positive things about Miles. He can coach his baby to sing the fight song.’’

7:51 a.m.: “I think I just saw one of our DBs running around my neighborhood. He said he was in a soft zone, playing 15 yards off the ball.’’

On and on it went.

Was this the shortest honeymoon in NCAA history, shorter than the one Ron Zook enjoyed in Gainesville, Fla.?

I guess it happens when this happens: In your first home game, you become the first LSU coach to blow a three-touchdown lead in Tiger Stadium.

If you went to Washington D.C. and hired one of those spinmasters’ to help the Les Miles cause, what would you be hearing?


Didn’t Nick Saban start out 2-2 in his first season?

Didn’t he lose to Alabama-Birmingham, not to be confused with Alabama-Tuscaloosa?

Didn’t Saban, in his third season, get drilled by Auburn, 31-7, on the road, and by Alabama, 31-0, in Tiger Stadium?

That same year didn’t his defense allow Arkansas to drive the length of the field in the final seconds to win, 21-20, and knock the Tigers out of the SEC title game?

Didn’t Saban, in his final season, get drummed by Georgia, 45-16?

And, in his last game, didn’t a defensive breakdown on the final play hand Iowa a 30-25 victory?

Sure, sure, sure.

But here’s the rest of the story.

The team Nick Saban inherited from Gerry DiNardo in 2000 was not nearly as talent-wealthy as the one Les Miles inherited from Saban.

Yes, Saban did not have his team ready to play UAB in 2000 (when Josh Booty threw an interception that wasn’t in the playbook).

Yes, Saban had poor preparation, and inspiration, for Auburn and for Bama in ’02. Yes, he was roundly out-coached in the ’04 loss to Georgia. And, yes, in the area Saban personally coached, the secondary, Corey Webster blew coverage big time in the loss to Arkansas, and Ronnie Prude did the same against Iowa.

Stuff happens.

But let’s get something crystal clear.

When it came to winning BIG games, Nick Saban was the best hire LSU has made since the championship seasons of Paul Dietzel, going back to the late 50s into the early sixties.

For comparison’s sake, Saban was a more effective package than Bill Arnsparger because Saban, unlike Arnsparger, not only loved recruiting but enjoyed enormous success. Saban rebuilt the LSU program like no one had since Dietzel.

So what about Les Miles?

Say this: Les has miles and miles to go to approach what Saban achieved in the most highly competitive conference going.

You were reminded, once Monday night’s 21-0 lead turned into a 30-27 defeat, it was not a first, that last year Miles’ Oklahoma State Cowboys turned a 35-0 lead against Texas into a 56-35 loss.

There was a difference in the two turnarounds, however. Texas had far superior personnel and, when the ’Horns got rolling, they rolled. Personnel-wise, LSU and Tennessee are even. What happened in the second half on Monday is simple: Miles was out-coached.

After limiting the Vols to 17 rushing yards in the first half, after pressuring the quarterback, his defense had no answer to get the Vols off the field. Meanwhile, LSU’s offense was 1-for-7 in converting third downs.

“We lost our poise,’’ explained Miles. You could translate that this way: “We did a lousy job adjusting to what they were doing.’’

Coaching is more than Xs-and-Os. It’s also knowing your personnel. With only one game to work on, Monday night proved Miles is still learning.

Obviously, other than the head coach, no one is under the gun more than defensive coordinator Bo Pelini. Unlike Saban, Miles’ expertise is offense, making Pelini the key hire in a revamped staff. It came as no surprise, after Tennessee receivers ran free because of broken coverage, Pelini was being compared to Lou Tepper, the defensive coordinator whose schemes helped pave the way to Gerry DiNardo’s departure.

Saban was ruthless in hiring assistants. And cutting them loose. He knew the buck stopped at his desk. He knew, even though he called a timeout in the ’02 Arkansas game and told Corey Webster, “Stay back, keep the receiver in front of you,’’ when Webster failed to do this, it was Saban’s fault, not the player’s.

Which takes you to the final seconds of halftime on Monday when the Tigers were knocking on the door, but without timeouts. Did the head coach tell his quarterback, JaMarcus Russell, “If you can’t throw, or run, for a cinch touchdown, throw an incompletion so we can kick a field goal?’’

Whatever happened, what Russell did – he was stopped on the five trying to run it in – put the burden on the head coach, not the quarterback. In this case, a heavy burden, a precious three points.

If, as they say, adversity builds character, we’ll soon learn how Les Miles handles a short honeymoon, how he handles his staff, mostly how he handles players who’ll be hearing, over and over how Nick Saban would never have blown a 21-point lead, especially in Tiger Stadium.

“First Katrina, then Rita, now this,’’ moaned one message. “Does somebody up there hate us?’’

We’ll see.