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Farewell, Mad Hatter

Les Miles’s LSU ouster was inevitable, but that doesn’t lessen the blow of it actually, finally happening

Getty Images
Getty Images

Well, damn. They really did it.

After seasons of hot-seat speculation, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva finally brought the hammer down on Les Miles after a disappointing 2–2 start to the Mad Hatter’s 12th season as head coach. The Advocate’s Ross Dellenger reported that offensive coordinator Cam Cameron also got the boot, while Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman revealed that defensive line coach Ed Orgeron will take the helm as interim head coach.

The news brought the Miles era to an abrupt and rather unceremonious conclusion. Miles, who went 114–34 during his time in Baton Rouge, has been synonymous with “LSU” since he took over for Nick Saban in 2005. He brought the Tigers three SEC West crowns, two conference championships, and a national title, the program’s third. What’s more, he was endeared for his idiosyncrasies, like eating grass, flying off the handle in profanity-laced rants about hammers and nails, and being a generally lovable weirdo.

All that said, toward the end it was unclear if his playbook was any thicker than, like, six pages, or whether he knew anything other than the I-formation. At times, it was fair to wonder if he knew anything at all about clock management (not that you couldn’t wonder that about every head football coach, ever). Whether the offensive coordinator was Cameron, or Gary Crowton, or whoever else didn’t seem to matter; through several rotations at the OC position, the common themes were Miles and an underperforming offense. Moreover, it seems the last decent quarterback on the Bayou was JaMarcus Russell. The Tigers have more or less been college football’s Cleveland Browns at the quarterback position, which is insane considering their continuous stream of elite recruits. Speaking of elite recruits, Miles somehow squandered a once-in-a-generation talent like Leonard Fournette, which is perhaps the most unforgivable sin of all.

So in some ways, this ouster felt inevitable. In others, it was completely shocking, particularly four weeks into the 2016 campaign. But sudden as it is, it can’t be all that surprising, considering it almost happened once before. Last October, LSU Looked The Shit: The Tigers seemed primed for their third SEC title in Miles’s tenure, boasted a no. 2 ranking, and looked like a shoo-in for the College Football Playoff. They were perfect through their first seven games, including thrilling wins over Mississippi State, Auburn, and Florida. And then, in November, the wheels came flying off. LSU gave up a combined 99 points in back-to-back-to-back losses to the Alabama Death Star (let’s be honest, understandable), unranked Arkansas (unforgivable), and Ole Miss (ehhh, I mean, I see it?), torpedoing the Tigers out of the AP Top 25 completely.

Though Miles had the second-winningest record of anyone to don the purple and gold, neither Alleva nor the school’s boosters are known for their patience, nor their appreciation of the invisible, careless hand that blithely tips college football results into or sometimes out of a team’s favor. There were rumbles then. Scott Rabalais, also of The Advocate, indicated that Miles was hanging on by a thread. There were leaks about the school courting Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, a former LSU assistant, as a potential replacement. The discussion swirling around Miles’s job, which was in serious jeopardy after only three losses last season, was so nearsighted that it made failed presidential candidate Bobby Jindal, who came out in support of Miles and whose head may come to a literal point, seem like an open-minded person. It was a weird time — SB Nation’s Rodger Sherman had as good of a rundown as you’ll find anywhere — but a win over Texas A&M and a 56–27 shellacking of Texas Tech in the AdvoCare Texas V100 Bowl — which I personally did not know was a thing — rescued Miles from the hot seat.

Kind of.

Though LSU was ranked no. 5 in preseason polls, the general feeling entering the 2016 season was that, short of a national championship or actual divine intervention, Miles’s time in Baton Rouge was coming to a close. A 16–14 loss to unranked Wisconsin at Lambeau Field to open the season and a cosmically unlucky loss to Auburn this week meant that four games in, LSU was out of the AP rankings again, which is obviously not where the TAF would’ve liked the Tigers to be. Hence their willingness to trigger Miles’s hefty $12.9 million buyout clause, before he could pull any more Mad Hatter magic out of his ass. The latest loss was bad enough, but the manner of losing was an insult. The fact that he didn’t give more than 20 touches to his best player, Fournette, might’ve been the final nail. Still, a Week 4 firing feels uncongenial, especially for someone who has meant so much to his city for so long.

But, that’s why endings broadly suck: It’s, you know, the end. Even when you know it’s about to be over, nothing can quite prepare you for the utter finality of it. Miles may be difficult to replace in a nostalgic sense; he will certainly be missed. LSU is a really good team, a power program in a power conference, and therefore a supremely attractive destination; it’s hard to imagine the position staying vacant for long. So it’s not the end of the world. For Tigers fans who spent the past decade-plus watching Miles experience the entire spectrum of human emotion in each postgame interview, it just sort of feels like it.