LSU President F. King Alexander says several factors played into the university’s decision to keep football coach Les Miles—a process that dragged out for more than two weeks last month, generating endless speculation in sportscasts and blogs and criticism from the national sports media.
Alexander confirms reports that the final decision on Miles’ future did not come until after a halftime meeting during the Nov. 29 game against Texas A&M, though he says the decision had “pretty much been made” a few days earlier. Among those in the halftime meeting were Alexander, Athletic Director Joe Alleva, and several members of the LSU Board of Supervisors.
“It was a combination of factors and a decision that we made collectively,” Alexander says. “We weighed all the factors in all this and it was a joint decision between many of our board members, our AD and many of us decided this was the wrong time and wrong place (to replace Miles.)”
Alexander acknowledges that concerns over the exorbitant cost of buying out Miles’ contract—$15 million plus an additional $2 million for his coaching staff—and hiring a new coach factored heavily into the decision, though he says money was not the only determinant.
“After the type of budget battle we went through this past spring we certainly do not need to be throwing tens of millions of dollars around under certain circumstances,” he says. “We don’t need to go into the next legislative session with a black eye that we’re throwing tens of millions of dollars around on issues that aren’t associated with academic progress.”
Alexander goes on to say that “we’re focused on the university as a whole, the students as a whole, and that was a very costly direction we were headed in and under the circumstances we felt it was not the prudent decision to make.”
So in other words, it’s like we said over the weekend – his narrative about funding from the state legislature trumps all.
And a punch line…
No university funds would have been used to buy out Miles’ contract. However, Alexander, who has been a tireless advocate of increased state support for higher education, says many in the general public—and even the Legislature—fail to understand that distinction.
“The public at large really doesn’t differentiate where the money comes from,” he says. “No matter how you explain it, it’s still a $15 million to $25 million decision that needs to be factored into the overall equation.”
So it’s public perception – also known as politics – which drove the decision. And here’s proof…
But there were others factors also at play in the deliberations, he says. One was the outpouring of popular support for Miles in the final days leading up to the Texas A&M game, a groundswell that occurred as reports suggested the coach’s fate was sealed. Miles’ historical record in 11 seasons of coaching at LSU—the best in Tiger history—also had to be taken into consideration.
“Decisions like that are complex and complicated and based on performance history, the direction of the program and oftentimes they don’t have easy answers,” he says. “You have to weigh everything. A lot of people out there said we had to do something. Half the people said we don’t have to do anything and emotions were all over the place. Somehow you have to not overreact to the emotions and weigh all the factors.”
No word on whether the big sendoff the folks were trying to give Miles was recognized as such – the fans all thought Miles was gone and lots of them wanted to make a nice moment for him on the way out the door. Apparently Alexander and his crowd were swayed by public opinion.
Or, our sources tell us, he was heavily swayed by the Governor-Elect. He didn’t offer any indications about that in the Business Report piece.
Keeping Les Miles is a defensible decision. Keeping him after two weeks of a media circus about his being fired at the end of the season isn’t defensible, it’s a goat rodeo.
And as much as Joe Alleva deserves criticism for the mess and other things he’s done as LSU’s athletic director, this is not primarily Alleva’s goat rodeo. It’s F. King Alexander’s. Alleva may have made a mistake leaking his intentions to the media and starting the circus, but there was a method to his madness – he thought, and apparently not mistakenly, that he would be able to deliver Jimbo Fisher as Miles’ replacement which was, most of the Miles detractors believe, worth the trouble. For Alexander, what payoff for undercutting his athletic director and alienating the university’s financial supporters?
Alexander could have shot down the rumors about Miles’ ouster by saying from the outset that he wasn’t going to allow the boosters to pay Miles’ buyout. He would have engendered a great deal of blowback from those boosters in doing so, but it won’t be anywhere near as bad as what’s coming if Miles’ program continues to stagnate. If the football team loses its bowl game – there are reports LSU might end up playing Michigan in one of the Florida bowls, and were Miles to lose to Jim Harbaugh and his alma mater it would be a big national story – a very long offseason replete with a lot of suddenly-disinterested boosters will result.
Alexander has now allowed his precious narrative about state funding to color three clumsy decisions he’s made in the past seven months. He blew up a bond issue by running his mouth about “academic bankruptcy,” he embarrassed the university by halting construction of a new dining hall on campus paid for completely with dedicated private money, and now he’s delegitimized his AD and alienated a large number of LSU’s supporters.
Not to mention he’s insulted a good many of the state’s people, who do understand that the $15 million that would have been spent buying Miles out would have been someone else’s money, and not F. King Alexander’s to spend. Those people, who would have seen that buyout money as an investment – $15 million over eight years that would have been offset at least in part if not completely by money Miles would have made coaching elsewhere – in an improved football program capable of winning championships and earning more profit that could be shared with the school’s academic side, will now be far less interested in tax increases to support more funding for LSU.
It’s an entirely shortsighted and, frankly, avaricious approach. It shows that Alexander was a terrible, terrible fit for the job of LSU president. And it puts into question whether he ought to hold that job much longer.
The LSU Board of Supervisors meets on Dec. 11. That will be the last meeting before Edwards’ inauguration. Four of those board members will have their terms expire in June and none of them are likely to be reappointed. That meeting in a week could be very interesting.