PARTSCH: The tea party is over in Baton Rouge
Gazette Managing Editor Raymond Partsch III
The Hatter’s madcap tea party has finally come to an end.
For more than a decade, LSU head football coach Les Miles entertained and infuriated the Tiger faithful, far-too-powerful boosters and journalists alike as he served a never-ending cup of maddening time management late in games, nonsensical rambling press conferences, an insatiable appetite for eating field turf on game days, with a few fake field goals and punts along the way.
The kooky approach, refreshing after the stand offishness of his predecessor, and his penchant for wearing his trademark too small white cap, earned Miles the moniker of “The Hatter.” Miles approach also helped him guide LSU to two SEC championships, one BCS national championship, another title game appearance, the second-most wins in program history and currently the most NFL players of any other college in the United States.
It is also what finally caused LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva to finally pull the trigger and say “off with his head.”
Less than 24 hours after another inexplicable last-second loss, this one to lowly Auburn, Miles was terminated four games into his 12th season. Miles’ friend, his March Hare if you allow me, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, had his head later removed as well, by interim coach Ed Oregon.
Miles’ particular brand of lovable insanity was on display in his very first season back in 2005 with a memorable 30-27 overtime loss to Tennessee, in which LSU blew a 21-0 halftime lead in a second half riddled with poor clock management.
The poor clock management would become unfortunately a hallmark of Miles’ coaching.
There were also the press conferences where Miles answered straight-forward questions, like those Alice asked at the tea party in Lewis Carroll’s famed work, with incoherent, sometimes nonsensical responses.
“I just want to remind everybody that it’s Columbus Day, that all those of you that know Italians and like Italians are the people that might venture onto a ship and travel to explore and find new lands: This is your day. So it’s not St. Patty’s Day. That’s a different day entirely,” said the now former LSU coach.
I always felt that the too-small for his head white hat caused him to have brain tremors which would explain all of his insanity. Akin to those 19th century folks who fancied fine hats, which were crafted with a mercury-based compound that unknowingly caused madness, thus inspiring the name “Mad Hatter.”
Those moments of mental lapse were shrugged off because “The Hatter” kept finding ways to serve up wins in the first three seasons. In that stretch, LSU won three bowl games, including a beatdown of Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl, a pair of SEC West titles, one SEC championship, and of course a BCS National Championship victory over Ohio State in the Superdome.
After a few good but not great seasons, LSU and Miles went undefeated in the 2011 regular season, including beating now-hated rival Alabama in overtime on the road, won the SEC Championship and essentially hosted the Crimson Tide in the BCS Championship in New Orleans, in which the Tigers were favored to win.
What happened next was one of the more shocking and humiliating losses in program history, a 21-0 loss in which LSU didn’t even cross the 50-yard line until the fourth quarter. Everyone in the Superdome was beside themselves with anger and disbelief, perfectly summed up with a memorable 45-second rant by former New Orleans Saints star Bobby Hebert during the post-game interview.
That game summed up the worst of having tea with Miles.
He was too stubborn to alter his offensive philosophy during the game, and too loyal to bench starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson for backup Jarrett Lee. Miles’ decision during the season to make Jefferson the starter once again after being suspended for drop-kicking someone in a bar parking lot was later proven to cause a schism in the locker room.
The defeat to Alabama proved to be a turning point. In the seasons since then, despite producing more NFL players than anyone else, including 18 in the 2013 and 2014 drafts, LSU never really threatened to stake claim as one of the conference or country’s best teams. And worse of all, Miles entered this season having lost five straight to former LSU and current Alabama coach Nick Saban, who has ascended to the pantheon of revered coaches having won four national titles since arriving in Tuscaloosa.
This season with Heisman hopeful, and arguably the nation’s best player, in running back Leonard Fournette, was supposed to be different. Miles nearly lost his head last season with a dreadful three-game losing streak, but had his job saved thanks to a public relations nightmare created by Alleva when it was leaked that the school had unsuccessfully tried to lure former LSU assistant and current Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher.
With a stay of execution, Miles and Cameron were supposed to improve the offense this season, particularly the passing game. Entering the season, LSU’s passing attack ranked 94th or worse nationally in six of the past seven seasons. The only teams that had a consistently worse passing offense were Georgia Tech, who runs the triple option, New Mexico and all three service academies.
First came the season-opening defeat to unranked Wisconsin at Lambeau Field, but there was still a sliver of hope. LSU could do what Ohio State had done two years earlier when the Buckeyes were upset by unranked Virginia Tech in week two before going to winning the Big 10 and then the national championship, including embarrassing Alabama in the national semifinal.
But then came the Auburn game, in particular the bad clock management that resulted in not having enough time to snap a final play and an overall lackluster performance by the offense, this time ran by Danny Etling who took over for the benched and much-maligned Brandon Harris a few weeks prior.
That improved passing attack produced a mere 118 yards in the defeat on the Plains, which was only 13 yards less than in the opener against Wisconsin.
Of course LSU fans, and former players like Marcus Spears and Anthony McFarland, have rejoiced the change and are confident that LSU will bring in a new “offensive-minded” coach that will take the program back to the mountaintop. Everyone from University of Houston’s Tom Herman to Fisher to former Baylor coach Art Briles has been mentioned as being on the school’s wish list.
But be warned LSU fans, before heading down that rabbit hole, be careful what you wish for. Former kings of college football Nebraska, Tennessee and Michigan also followed the same path. None of the three have won a conference championship or been nationally relevant until this season since all three fired coaches that had either won national titles (UT’s Phillip Fulmer, Michigan’s Lloyd Carr) or had his team play for another (Nebraska’s Frank Solich). All three programs suffered through terrible “offensive genius” hires like Rich Rodriguez, Lane Kiffin and Bill Callahan.
Yes, LSU needed to make a change because Miles refused to change himself, but as many have said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.” Well, the same can be said about LSU and the Tiger faithful. Miles is the same quirky, stubborn and loyal guy he was when he was hired 12 years ago to succeed Saban.
So who is really the crazy one here?
Regardless of who really belongs in a padded room, the Hatter’s tea party is over.
But the madness may not be. You see, Orgeron, the man nicknamed “BeBe,” whose voice sounds like if Cookie Monster grew up on the bayou, is in charge now. Orgeron is a highly regarded position coach and recruiter who has been a part of multiple national championships.
He was also once charged with second-degree battery for a bar fight and a restraining order from a female bartender during his younger coaching days, which prompted a leave from the profession.
Not to mention, he was known during his stint as head coach of Ole Miss for taking off his shirt and challenging his team in a expletive-filled rant, calling reporters mother expletives and filming a pretty funny Hummer dealership commercial with a guy named JoJo.
So maybe the madness isn’t over just yet.