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Les Miles' LSU Legacy Already Set

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Les Miles' quirky style and mannerisms are a perfect fit in Baton Rouge. Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images.
Les Miles' quirky style and mannerisms are a perfect fit in Baton Rouge. Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images.

During the last 13 years, LSU fans have taken for granted that the Tigers are one of the most talented and successful teams in college football.

LSU struggled with consistently winning and recruiting until the year 2000. The Tigers had only won seven SEC championships until 2000 and had never played in the SEC championship game. In other words, LSU won seven conference championships in almost 70 years. They won just a single national championship in the same time frame. Contrarily, they have won four conference crowns and two national championships in the last 13 seasons.

One of the reasons LSU struggled over much of the 20th century: inconsistent coaching. The legendary Charlie McClendon still is LSU’s leader with 137 all-time wins; it took him 203 games from 1962 through 1979 to achieve those victories. Since Charles McClendon left the program in 1979, LSU couldn’t keep a coach for more than a few seasons. Unfortunately, the man tabbed to replace McClendon, Bo Rein, died in a plane crash in early 1980 before ever coaching a game. LSU rolled through five coaches during the next 20 seasons, starting with Jerry Stovall and ending with Gerry DiNardo. Most of the coaches only stayed three or four seasons. DiNardo had the longest tenure at five seasons, 1995-1999. Actually, DiNardo was fired before the end of the 1999 season, so Hal Hunter coached the final game that year.

It’s difficult to build in-roads within the state for recruiting purposes when there’s a lack of consistency at the top. It’s challenging for a coach to build or rebuild a program if that coach is only around for three seasons. In other words, they don’t even get to see their first recruiting class fully develop. Any competent coach or athletic director will tell you the best way to harvest in-state talent is to figuratively build a fence around the state to keep other schools out and retain the state’s best talent. This requires coaches to be involved with the high schools and communities throughout the state. LSU did not enjoy much success prior to McClendon’s tenure or after his coaching career until Nick Saban was brought on board in 2000.

Nick Saban kept the state’s best talent at home. No longer were the top prospects looking elsewhere to play football. They genuinely wanted to play for Saban and their home state school. Saban broke down whatever barriers may have existed prior to his arrival and signed players such as wide receiver Michael Clayton and defensive end Marcus Spears, cornerstones of his first BCS National Championship team. 

Les Miles has done an incredible job of maintaining the momentum and relationships that Saban and his coaches built in the state of Louisiana. Miles, by his own right, is an outstanding recruiter and understands the importance of keeping talent at home.

Miles led LSU to back-to-back 11-2 seasons his first two years. What’s even more impressive is that he accomplished that during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He would follow those 11-win seasons with a 12-2 record in his third year and capture the BCS National Championship. Miles is second on the all-time LSU wins list with 85 and it took him just 106 games to get there. It’s easy to envision Les Miles as LSU’s most successful head coach and one of the greatest SEC head coaches of all-time when he decides to retire. Tigers fans are hoping that’s many years from now.

Extra Points: Miles is the only coach in the history of the SEC to win at least 11 games five times during his first seven years in the league. The Mad Hatter leads all LSU football coaches in winning percentage with a whopping 80.2 percent, and he also leads in conference winning percentage (.734). Miles has compiled a 5-3 bowl game record while at the helm for the Tigers, good for second on the all-time postseason wins list at LSU behind McClendon’s 7-6 record. Miles became the only coach to lead his squad to the SEC title game in his first year as a head coach in the conference. He also became the first coach in LSU history to beat Alabama, Auburn and Florida in the same season.