Perusing social media and some of the local TV and newspaper sites (and listening to some Baton Rouge sports radio as well), it doesn’t look like the fallout from Saturday’s Debacle At Lambeau is going to dissipate any time soon.
There is a reason for that. As we discussed here at the Hayride on Sunday, it wasn’t that LSU suffered the biggest upset in all of college football during the first weekend of the season. It’s that the loss came courtesy of the same poor scheme and execution on offense and special teams that ruined a talented 2015 club’s chances at winning a championship and Saturday’s performance showed nothing whatsoever has changed despite copious promises it would.
There is a definitive “fool me twice” vibe going around. As an example, this from a column written by our friend Sam Hanna up in the northeast part of the state…
Enough about Miles’ failures, though. Let’s get back to last November and talk about my own. As most of you know, I’ve helped my friend Scott Long with his daily LSU site — DandyDon.com — for a few years now, and last November we faced a dilemma: back Les Miles or turn up the heat?
I pleaded with Scott to back him. My reasoning was you’re not going to get a better coach (I’ll still argue Jimbo Fisher is a lateral move) and I thought Miles deserved a chance to win it all in 2016. It will be his most talented roster with experience yet, I said.
Miles proved that even with such a roster, he’s incapable of winning it all without the luckiest of bounces. The Stone Age passing offense was once again displayed in the 16-14 loss, and as good as LSU’s defense will be this season, the offense will prevent the Tigers from doing extraordinary things. Has that not been reiterated enough over the years?
Finally, enough is enough. Despite all the great things Miles has done for this team, I can no longer support the man as head football coach of LSU.
Tiger fans deserve a coach that can get more out of its talent. Not a coach that will underachieve with future NFL greats.
Saturday LSU takes on Jacksonville State, a team nobody is going to give much respect to but who nearly knocked off Auburn last year and currently ranks second in the FCS. Don’t be surprised if the struggles continue, though should Les Miles actually lose to that team you’re going to hear calls for him to be sent packing then and there rather than the end of the season. That could also be true in the event of a loss to Mississippi State the following week, or in a number of other games coming up which all of a sudden seem losable – at Auburn on Sept. 24, at Florida on Oct. 8, at home against Southern Miss on Oct. 15 (Southern Miss had a relatively comfortable 44-35 win over fellow SEC member Kentucky on Saturday). Beating Ole Miss or Alabama at this point would require Miles’ team to make major improvements on offense and special teams during the season after making none in the offseason.
You can be an optimist and say Wisconsin was just one game and things will get better. Realistically, Miles survived the TAF firing squad of last fall on the strength of a promise to make things better over the summer and it hasn’t happened.
Realistically, it’s time to make a list of candidates for a change in the program’s direction after this year. We came up with seven.
Jimbo Fisher, Florida State – Fisher was The Guy LSU was likely to hire to coach this year’s team had LSU president F. King Alexander not lost his nerve and decide his “poor LSU” narrative was more important than arresting the decline of his most effective marketing tool. Reports had Fisher highly interested as well, though it was likely going to take somewhere between $6 million and $7.5 million per year to land him. That might seem like an absurd amount of money, but you’ve got to recognize something – between Miles’ $4.3 million per year and the astronomical $5.4 million per year LSU pays to its assistant coaches, perhaps the richest figure in college football, LSU’s budget for football coaches is $9.7 million. Paying a coach $7.5 million isn’t impossible here, particularly if you consider the effect no-shows in the seats and the lack of concession revenue they carry with them has on the budget.
Can Fisher be had? Well, reportedly some of the things in Tallahassee he was unsatisfied with will be taken care of, so it’s possible the clock might have run out on hiring him. But if the job came open his agent Jimmy Sexton ought to get another call. If he wants the job, the opening position ought to be that it’s his and maybe it should have been all the way back in January of 2005 when Nick Saban left.
Tom Herman, Houston – Herman, of course, beat Fisher in the Chik-Fil-A Peach Bowl last season, and he’s now followed that up by beating Bob Stoop’s No. 3-ranked Oklahoma team this season. The year before that he was Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator who managed to win a national title with Ohio State’s third-string quarterback playing. It’s pretty clear this guy is a miracle worker on a football field, and he has Houston as one of the top 10 – maybe even top 5 – teams in the country in his second year after having them awfully close in his first year. Houston’s record in 2014? 8-5, and then-head coach Tony Levine was fired before a bowl game.
The question this year might be whether Herman’s been too successful too soon. He had a full house at NRG Stadium for that Oklahoma game, an indication that there could be a major-college fan base latent in that city, and beating Oklahoma shows that Houston belongs in the Big 12 from a competitive standpoint. If that leads to Houston getting into the Big 12, which is about to expand to 12 teams, Herman supposedly has a gigantic bonus coming. And if he rides that win over Oklahoma, plus a possible win over Louisville later this season, into the playoffs, he might decide he’s fine where he is no matter who comes calling. But if none of those things happen (what if beating Oklahoma actually scares the Big 12 into not taking Houston?), Herman would seem gettable by LSU. What Tiger fans wanting him to be the next coach ought to hope for is that Charlie Strong and Kevin Sumlin, both of whom had exciting wins over big-name opponents at Texas and Texas A&M, respectively, over the weekend, continue to have success. LSU needs Texas and A&M not to be hiring coaches this winter so that the job in Baton Rouge is THE marquee open position around the country.
After Fisher and Herman comes “the pack,” though within it there are some intriguing coaches to consider.
Gary Patterson, TCU – Patterson is the most successful coach the Horned Frogs have ever had, and he’s been able to progress from recruiting to a system and finding talented players he can “coach up” to play with the big boys to directly competing with the LSU’s, Texases and Oklahomas for players. And over the past couple of years TCU has become a no-joke top-flight college football program with a 23-3 record in 2014 and 2015. There have been some off-the-field negatives during that time which aren’t great, and Patterson’s defense has been absent more often than one would like to see – particularly given his background as a defensive coach – but his success can’t be questioned. One of the toughest things to do as a coach is take your team through the jump from a second-tier conference to the Power 5, and Patterson managed it. He was 47-5 from 2008-11 when TCU was cleaning up in the Mountain West Conference, with three conference championships in those four years, and then he struggled to 7-6 and 4-8 seasons in 2012 and 2013 after TCU joined the Big 12. He’s gone 23-3 since.
Patterson gets the most out of his talent, his offense is wide-open and explosive and he makes adjustments during a game (go and watch the amazing comeback TCU made in last year’s Alamo Bowl against Oregon if you need evidence). He’d be a great hire even if it would cost a fortune to pull him away from his current $4.75 million-per-year job.
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State – Mullen’s stock is likely going to be down a bit this year, as he’s without star quarterback Dak Prescott who’ll be the opening-day starter for the Dallas Cowboys, and as such it’s going to be a bit harder for him to land a marquee job like an LSU. It’s not unreasonable to say last year would have been the time or him to get out of Starkville; Mullen is coming off a great run there where he won 19 games over the past two seasons and has an overall 55-36 record with six straight bowl appearances. They’re paying him $4.8 million a year at this point, which is almost a curse. For that amount of money the fans will want him to do the impossible there.
To win 55 games in seven years at Mississippi State is not a small achievement. The only modern coach to have anything close to that level of success is Jackie Sherrill, and Sherrill’s good years at State came long before the SEC West became the juggernaut it is now. To survive in this division as Mullen has is evidence he’s a hell of a good coach, and one can be excused for thinking he could be a championship coach if he wasn’t restricted to mostly living off players the LSU’s, Alabamas and Auburns don’t want.
But Mullen’s sans-Prescott club dropped an ugly loss to South Alabama thanks to his kicker banking a field goal off the upright on Saturday, and he’s in the fight of his life to get bowl-eligible this year as a result. If he can squeak out seven wins before the end of the season he will have pulled off a miracle, and if that number includes a win over Miles you won’t hear many LSU fans complaining about him being on this list.
Larry Fedora, North Carolina – Fedora’s stock had been somewhat questionable before he broke out last season with an 11-3 campaign that included an 8-0 mark in the ACC and a division title; previous to that season he’d been a pretty humdrum 8-4, 7-6 and 6-7 in his first three years in Chapel Hill. Before that he’d taken Southern Miss to 7-6, 7-6, 8-5 and 12-2 records; the way that program completely collapsed after he left (it’s back now) is either an indication of how much he squeezed out of nothing or what kind of shape he left it in for those who came after him. One thing to note about Fedora’s teams – they run a balanced offense, and they move the ball up and down the field even when the quarterback isn’t all that good.
Fedora ran into the Nick Chubb Buzzsaw on Saturday and lost to what could be a very good Georgia team. But a look at his schedule the rest of the year indicates he’s got basically two tough games the rest of the season, road games at Florida State Oct. 1 and Miami Oct. 15. If he splits those and doesn’t drop any of the games he’ll be favored in, he wins his division again and posts his second straight 10-win season. And a Power 5 coach with two straight 10-win seasons is a marketable replacement for Miles.
Todd Monken, Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator – Monken’s name might be familiar to LSU fans from his time as the Tigers’ wide receivers coach in the first two years of Miles’ tenure. That was in 2005 and 2006; the second of those years saw one of the best offenses the Tigers ever had. Remember Dwayne Bowe, Buster Davis and Early Doucet running wild through opposing secondaries after catching passes from Jamarcus Russell? Well, that was Monken’s handiwork. Following his time at LSU Monken went to the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he was the wide receiver coach working under offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. Then in 2013, Monken got the head coaching job at Southern Miss, which had gone 0-12 the year before he got there. He rebuilt that program on a fast track, winning one game, then three, then nine last season, and his players just knocked off Kentucky on Saturday.
Monken is the offensive coordinator for Koetter, who is Tampa’s new head coach. His job is to mentor Jameis Winston, who had a pretty good rookie year last year. If the Bucs turn out to have a big offense and make the playoffs this year, don’t be shocked if Monken turns out to be the “pro” coach in the mix for the LSU job.
Kyle Whittingham, Utah – Whittingham would be a somewhat out-of-the-blue hire, seeing as though he has no connection to LSU, but he’s worth a look anyway. Whittingham’s current contract pays him about $3.3 million per year, which means he’s gettable without breaking the bank, and like Patterson he’s done a good job upping his game to meet an increased challenge. Utah and TCU were the big dogs in the Mountain West and like TCU Utah departed that league for a Power 5 conference, joining the Pac-12 in 2011. Prior to the move, Whittingham had taken the Utes to six straight bowl games as head coach, with records of 13-0, 10-3 and 10-3 from 2008-10. When Utah joined the Pac-12, though, things got tougher just like they did for Patterson; after an initial 8-5 mark in 2011 the Utes struggled to 5-7 records in 2012 and 2013. But in his fourth year coaching in the new conference Whittingham bounced back with a 9-4 record and he was 10-3 last year.
That’s a pretty solid record of achievement and Whittingham manages to do it with a style not dissimilar to what LSU currently plays. They’re good on defense, though without the athletes LSU puts on the field, and they like a little smash-mouth on offense as well – though Utah’s offensive execution has always been a lot better relative to their talent than LSU’s. The question is whether he can be lured to LSU even with a big chunk of change. A BYU graduate, Whittingham is a Mormon who seems very much at home in Salt Lake City. He turned down the Tennessee job in 2010.