Questions to Ponder
Les Miles and Dale Brown - Two Peas in a Pod?

Recently ESPN published its list of the Nation's top recruiting head coaches. Les Miles did not make the list of ten. Nor was he one of the three Honorable Mentions.

One of last summer's college football preseason magazines listed the Top Ten coaches in the nation. Les Miles did not make the cut, despite just leading his team to a 13-0 record, the SEC championship, and a berth in the BCS Championship Game.

Miles's record at LSU is 85-21 for 80.2%. For the last seven of those eight years, the SEC champion has won the BCS championship. No one seriously questions that the SEC, year in and year out, is the toughest conference in the land. Yet a man who has won 4/5 of his games playing in that conference is not considered either one of the top ten recruiters or best ten coaches.

Dale Brown coached Tiger basketball from 1972-1997. He compiled a 448-301 record (.598) and ranks as the second winningest coach in SEC history behind the immortal Adolph Rupp of Kentucky.

Yet even after guiding LSU to two Final Fours (1981 and 1986) and coming within seconds of another appearance in 1987, Brown was regarded in many circles as an excellent recruiter and motivator but not a good Xs and 0s coach. In other words, he won because he had better talent than most opponents. In fact, the critics said, he should have won even more games, especially in the early 90s when he had players like Chris Jackson and Shaquille O'Neal (although they played together only one year). [Another basketball coach who faces the same criticism is Jim Boeheim of Syracuse.]

A comment posted on in October 2010 expressed the viewpoint described above quite well.

I think Brown and Miles are alot alike. Dale Brown was a great person, great recruiter and master motivator.... he had superstar talent but wasn't a very good floor coach. I don't think Miles is a master motivator but other than that... they are pretty similar. Granted, football is bigger than basketball but I don't remember fans reacting as badly to Brown as they are towards Miles. Brown also wasn't making 4 mil a year either. I just find the two personalities to be the same.

I would ask the writer if I could communicate with him, "Do you really think that Les Miles could win 80% of his games playing in the SEC without being able to motivate his team week after week?"

Both coaches can never please those who have already stereotyped them.

  • If LSU wins, it's because they had superior talent. They win despite their coach.
  • If LSU loses, it's because the coach is a lame brain.

Forgetting or downplaying a person's strengths and accomplishments and remembering only the mistakes is a trait of a prejudiced person who has made up his mind and doesn't want to be bothered by facts.

I recall asking some Dale Brown detractors, "Do you really think a coach can lead a team to the Final Four simply by assembling talent and giving inspiring speeches?" Somewhere along the line, you'll run into a team with just as much talent that plays just as hard. You won't reach the Final Four if your game preparation and in-game strategy aren't solid. And if you eventually lose to a Bobby Knight (in '81) or Denny Crum (in '86), that doesn't make you a bad coach since both are Hall of Famers.

Unlike Miles, Brown didn't have a tough act to follow at LSU. Press Maravich went 76-82 the previous six season despite having his son Pete for three of those. Les will never be accepted by a segment of Tiger fans for one simple reason: He's not Nick Saban.

An excellent example of what I'm talking about is a letter published in Tiger Rag after the 2012 Alabama game.

First of all, I was extremely proud of the effort put forth by the LSU players during the Alabama game. It was as strong an effort as I have seen since I first began attending games in 1957. Equally impressive was the stadium and the fans. It was a perfect setting for an historic night and an historic victory which only the magic of Tiger Stadium can produce on Saturday nights. Unfortunately the players' superior effort could not overcome the idiocy of their head coach. ... It should be obvious now to everyone that the man is grossly under-qualified to be the head coach at LSU.

Apparently the writer thinks the players organized themselves to give the great effort he praises. Or maybe it was the assistant coaches. The head coach had nothing to do with the Tigers standing toe-to-toe with the #1 team in the land and having them on the ropes with a minute left to play.

And again, if Miles is "grossly under-qualified to be the head coach at LSU," then most of the coaches in the SEC during his tenure must be either lousy recruiters or poor game planners and managers - or both - to be regularly defeated by such an idiot. Apparently in the minds of some, LSU should never lose to teams like Florida and Alabama. If we do, it's not because they have excellent teams and hard-working coaching staffs too but rather because our coach is inadequate.

Anyone who has visited this site since it began in 2006 knows that I have often criticized Les Miles. There were some games, including Alabama in November 2012, that LSU likely would have won if he had made better choices at key points. But hindsight is 50-50 to quote Yogi Berra. Charles Hanigriff told a caller to the LSU postgame show near the end of the 2012 season who was bemoaning the fact that LSU had lost two games, "Yes, another coach might have won the two games we lost but he might have lost some of the nine we won."

The bottom line is that coaches who win 80% of their games over an eight-year period in the SEC don't grow on trees. Yes, Les is infuriating at times. But don't lose sight of the big picture. His most enduring negative trait is his stubborness on offense, but he may be addressing that issue by hiring his old buddy Cam Cameron.

Saints Question to Ponder
Note: This article was written when the 2012 Saints were 5-5.

The last few weeks, the 2012 Saints have looked like their 2009-10-11 counterparts.

  • As Jimmy Johnson commented at halftime last Sunday, the Saints are playing like a team having fun again.
  • After a slow start, the offense is back to the level at which it performed during 2011's record-setting season.
  • The defense is still giving up over 400y per game but has started to create turnovers and make key stops.
  • And they're doing this despite Sean Payton's absence. The turnaround began the last several weeks of Aaron Krommer's tenure as head man and has continued under Joe Vitt.

All of which leads to this question:

What was more responsible for the Saints' 0-4 start - the suspensions of Payton and Vitt or Drew Brees' holdout?

At the risk of bringing the wrath of Saints' nation down on me for criticizing New Orleans's #1 citizen, I'm going to argue that Brees' holdout caused more harm to the team than the coaching suspensions.

Remember that we're not pinpointing the cause of the bad start since there were obviously many factors. We're just trying to compare two factors to decide which had a more deleterious effect on the Saints' chances of winning.

Let's look at Brees' statistics for the first six games.

  • Week One - Washington L 32-40
    24-for-52 (46.2%), 339y, 3 TDs, 2 INTs, 2 Sacks
  • Week Two - Carolina L 27-35
    31-for-49 (63.3%), 325y, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 1 Sack, 1 Fumble
  • Week Three - Kansas City L 24-27
    20-for-36 (55.6%), 240y, 3 TD, 1 INT, 4 Sacks
  • Week Four - Green Bay L 27-28
    35-for-54 (64.8%), 446y, 3 TD, 0 INT, 2 Sacks
  • Week Five - San Diego W 31-24
    29-for-45 (64.4%), 370y, 4 TDs, 1 INT, 3 Sacks, 1 Fumble
  • Week Six - Tampa Bay W 35-28
    27-for-37 (73.0%), 377y, 4 TDs, 1 INT, 0 Sacks

Notice that Drew threw 5 INTs the first three games but only 2 the next three (and only 2 more the next four).

If you recall those first games, Drew was not sharp, hesitating many times before throwing, and his accuracy was not near his record 71.2% completion % for 2011. Notice that he didn't hit the 70% mark in any game this year until Week Six. (He has reached it twice more, against Philadelphia and Oakland.)

Now why would Drew start so slowly?

  • Was it the absence of Payton on the sidelines during games? If that were the cause, he would still be having problems because Sean still ain't there.
  • Was it because he lost many of his weapons from last year? He lost just two starters from last year, OG Nicks and WR Meacham. And the offense has percolated the last two weeks despite the loss of Darren Sproles with a broken hand.
  • No, it was the fact that he didn't spend the spring and summer months working with his receivers and his offensive line in his famous off-season workouts. Remember last year when he drew national attention for organizing workouts for the team at Tulane during the Owners Lockout? As a result, he had a record-breaking year despite the team conducting no minicamps and other off-season practices.

Judging from this year's stats, it took Drew at least four games to get back to the level of confidence and comfort with his receivers that he has enjoyed in past years.

To focus my argument, let's look at just the first three games since beating the Packers up there would have been difficult under any circumstances. (And the Saints didn't have to win all the first four games in order to be in better contention now.) Consider the defensive stats of those three teams (none of whom have a winning record) at this point in the season.

  • Washington
    Opponents have completed 247-of-400 for 61.75% and have averaged 289.2y per game through the air. Total offense for the Redskins' foes is 383.8ypg. The Saints gained only 358. So, based on the Skins' performance thus far, Brees & Company had a below average day Jim Haslett's D.
  • Carolina
    Opponents are 237-for-360 for 65.8% passing and 232.3 ypg. Total offense of the Panther foes is 350.7ypg. The Saints gained 486 on them. So they had an above average performance. But Brees threw 2 INTs, one from his goal line that resulted in an easy 9y return for a TD. The other came on the Saints' last offensive play with 0:48 left with the N.O. 29.
  • Kansas City
    This is the one that hurts the most. After ten games, KC still has not beaten anyone else. Furthermore, the Saints blew an 18-point lead in the last 20 minutes of the game to lose in OT. With the score 24-13, Drew threw a poor deep pass to Devery Henderson that was intercepted at the goal line. The Chiefs' opponents are 165-for-271 for 60.9% and 214.6ypg. The total offense against KC's D is 343.8. The Saints managed only 205y passing and 288y total in Week Three, a subpar performance based on what KC has allowed to other teams.

This analysis shows that, defensive challenges and all, the Saints could have won at least two of these three games if Brees had functioned at the level he's played at the last month. 7-3 right now would sure give us a better chance to make the playoffs than 5-5.

  • Has the absence of Payton made a difference? Of course, although it's hard to quantify that.
  • Did the absence of Joe Vitt for the first six games have a negative impact? Undoubtedly as the Saints' performance in the last four games since his return shows. But they actually started to perk up for Krommer's last three games.
  • Has adjusting to a new defensive scheme under Spagnuolo affected the results? Yes, but the Saints have won five of the last six despite the D continuing its ignominious streak of 400y games. You might claim that the Saints have won more lately because the D is creating more turnovers. But actually the Saints have gotten 7 turnovers in the 5 wins and 7 turnovers in the 5 losses. In particular, KC committed three turnovers and beat the Saints while Tampa Bay had none and lost.
  • So it comes back to lack of execution by the offense in those first four games - the first three in particular. And it stands to reason that the offense's slow start was directly attributable in large measure to Brees' rustiness after his holdout.
Applying the Football Final Four Retroactively

I went through the final BCS standings from 1998-2011 and recorded who would have played whom if the proposed #1 vs #4 and #2 vs #3 semifinals had been in effect.

Read year-by-year list

In some years, two teams from the same conference finished in the top four. In those cases, I applied the proposed rule that only conference champions participate in the semifinals to come up with an alternate Final Four setup. I also applied what appears to be the preferred method of choosing the sites for the semifinal games; namely, the tie-in bowls for the #1 and #2 teams.

Here's the summary of the results for teams and bowls.

# Appearances by Teams of Each Conference in Final Four 1998-2011
Conference Top 4
Only champs
ACC 4 5
Big 10 8 7
Big 12 14 11
Big East 5 6
Mountain West 2 4
PAC 10 9 11
SEC 14 12

Semifinals Host Bowls
Conference Top 4
Only champs
Fiesta Bowl 9 8
Sugar Bowl 8 8
Rose Bowl 6 7
Orange Bowl 5 5

Here's what I discovered about the frequency of teams that were not conference champions finishing in the top four.

  • That situation occurred seven times in the 14 years.
  • In two seasons, the top four teams came from only two conferences.
    • In 2006, the BCS top four were Ohio State, Florida, Michigan, and LSU. So two teams would have been replaced if only conference champions could participate with the #5 and #6 teams taking the two spots.
    • The same situation occurred in 2008 with the SEC and Big 12 hogging all the semifinal spots: Oklahoma, Florida, Texas, and Alabama. Again, the #5 and #6 squads would substitute.
  • 2011 produced the biggest mess of all.
    • The top four were LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma State, and Stanford. But neither Alabama nor Stanford were conference champions, Stanford having lost head-to-head against #5 Oregon.
    • So the Ducks would have replaced Stanford. As for the Alabama spot, you couldn't take #6 Arkansas. So #7 Boise State, champion of the Mountain West, would have filled the fourth spot. That was the only time a team below #6 made the playoff with the conference champs only restriction.
  • Some of the situations that put non-conference champions in the top four early in the BCS era were corrected by revising the ranking process.
    • The most blatant situation occurred in 2003 when Oklahoma stayed #1 in the final poll despite being blasted 35-7 by Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game.
    • That was the only time in the 14 seasons where the #1 team did not win its conference.
    • The embarrassment was corrected before the next season by counting the two human polls separately rather than combining them, thereby reducing the computer component from 1/2 to 1/3.

After doing this analysis, I am more sympathetic to those who argue that the semifinals should include the top four regardless of their conference. But what happened to my beloved Tigers still sticks in my craw from last season. It will be interesting to see how that decision plays out. The TV networks apparently want the "best four" to lend more credibility to the event. But the result, about half the time, as my analysis shows, will be to negate the outcomes of some crucial regular season games.

As you can see in the second table above, the bowl hosts spread out with the Fiesta staging one more game than the Sugar. The most interesting point about the bowls is that the Orange Bowl would have hosted the first five years of the BCS but no more after that. That's due to the fact that either Florida State or Miami (or both in 2000) finished in the Top Four every year from 1998-2002. However, neither has crashed the top four since. The ACC champ finished in the top four just once from 2003-present (#3 Virginia Tech in 2007).

This process also made me realize why the conference commissioners want to award the semifinal games to the bowls with contracts with the conferences of the #1 and #2 teams. A bidding war will ensue among bowls to maintain their tie-ins or get in on the action. You know Jerry Jones and the Cotton Bowl folks would like nothing better than to be the automatic destination for the Big 12 kings. And the Sugar Bowl may have to outbid the Orange Bowl and upstarts such as the Chick-fil-A Bowl and even the Cotton if the latter doesn't lock up the Big 12. It's also possible the Big East will improve its standing with the Orange Bowl or the Fiesta Bowl, especially since Boise State will now play football in that conference starting in 2013.

Were the 2011 Tigers the Best LSU Team Ever?
Part I

As with the question raised about the 2011 Saints (below), you could give a knee jerk answer: "Of course not. The 1958, 2003, and 2007 Tigers won the national championship. This year's team did not."

But winning it all requires a combination of factors, only one of which is the excellence of your team. The 2011 Tigers fell victim to something that had never happened in the BCS era - a rematch for the championship against an Alabama team that is arguably the best in that school's proud history. So it is not at all a no-brainer to reject this year's team as greatest of all time. (As another example, I believe Les Miles' 2006 team, with JaMarcus Russell at QB and Dwayne Bowe as top WR, was better than the '07 team but had to play their two toughest games, Auburn and Florida, on the road.)

So let's embark on an examination of the question posed above.

First, let's limit our comparison to the 2003 and 2007 teams. The '58 Tigers were great for their time, but clearly football has changed in the last 53 years, not the least difference being the percentage of black players competing.

So let's start by looking at Nick Saban's 2003 BCS champs, which finished 13-1, same as the '11 Tigers.

2003 LSU Tigers
LA Monroe (1-11) 49-7
@Arizona(2-10) 59-13
Western Illinois (9-4) FCS 35-7
Georgia #11 (11-3) 17-10
@Mississippi State (2-10) 41-6
Florida #17 (8-5) 7-19
@South Carolina (5-7) 33-7
Auburn (8-5) 31-7
Louisiana Tech (5-7) 49-10
@Alabama (2-9) 27-3
Ole Miss #18 (10-3) 17-14
Arkansas (9-4) 55-24
Georgia #11 (SEC Champ.) (11-3) 34-13
Oklahoma #1 (Sugar Bowl) (12-2) 21-14
# victories by vanquished opponents: 97
# losses by victorious opponents: 5
# ranked teams defeated: 4
Points per game: 33.9
Points allowed per game: 11.0
Average margin of victory: 22.9

2011 LSU Tigers
Oregon#3 (12-2) @Dallas 40-27
Northwestern State (5-6) FCS 49-3
@Mississippi State#25 (7-6) 19-6
@West Virginia #16 (10-3) 47-21
Kentucky (5-7) 35-7
Florida #17 (7-6) 41-11
@Tennessee (5-7) 38-7
Auburn (8-5) 45-10
@Alabama #2 (12-1) 9-6
Western Kentucky (7-5) 42-9
@Ole Miss (2-10) 52-3
Arkansas #3 (11-2) 41-17
Georgia #14 (SEC Champ.) (10-4) 42-10
Alabama #2 (BCS) (12-1) 0-21
# victories by vanquished opponents: 100
# losses by victorious opponents: 1 (to LSU)
# ranked teams defeated: 7
Points per game: 29.7
Points allowed per game: 18.2
Average margin of victory: 11.5

The most telling stat in favor of the 2011 team is the 7 victories over ranked opponents as opposed to only 4 over ranked teams in 2003 (with two of the victories over Georgia).

It's useful to pair up the games of the two seasons since many were against the same SEC opponent. We can also match the non-conference games to give us a better comparison of the two records. I'm throwing out each team's game against an FCS opponent.

2003 Score Opponent(s) 2011 Score
41-6 Mississippi State 19-6
7-19 Florida 41-11
31-7 Auburn 45-10
27-3 Alabama 9-6
17-14 Ole Miss 52-3
55-24 Arkansas 41-17
34-13 Georgia (SEC Champ.) 42-10
33-7 South Carolina/Kentucky 35-7
17-10 Georgia/Tennessee 38-7
59-13 Arizona/Oregon 40-27
49-7 LA Monroe/Western Kentucky 42-9
49-10 Louisiana Tech/West Virginia 47-21
21-14 Oklahoma/Alabama 0-21
Score in bold on each row indicates the better victory either because of margin of victory or tougher opponent.

When you pair up the games, the 2011 Tigers win eight of the matchups while the '03 Bengals get the nod for only five. It's the three matchups of non-conference foes that swings the pendulum in favor of the 2011 squad.

Conclusion: The 2011 Tigers compiled a better "body of work" than their 2003 counterparts.

Next time: 2011 Tigers vs 2007 Tigers

Were the 2011 Tigers the Best LSU Team Ever? - Part II

In Part I, we compared the 2011 Tigers against the 2003 National Champions and concluded that the '11 Bayou Bengals compiled a better body of work than their '03 counterparts.

Now we compare the latest edition of LSU football with the 2007 BCS Champions.

Here's the resumé for Les Miles' 2007 team, which finished 12-2, both losses coming in triple OT.

2007 LSU Tigers
@Mississippi State (7-6) 45-0
Virginia Tech #9 (11-3) 48-7
Middle Tennessee(5-7) 44-0
South Carolina (6-6) 28-16
@Tulane (4-8) 34-9
Florida #13 (8-5) 28-24
@Kentucky (8-5) (3 OT) 37-43
Auburn #15 (9-4) 30-24
@Alabama (7-6) 41-34
Louisiana Tech (5-7) 58-10
@Ole Miss (3-9) 41-24
Arkansas (8-5) (3 OT) 48-50
Tennessee #12 (SEC Champ.) (10-4) 21-14
Ohio State #5 (BCS Champ.) (11-2) 38-24
# victories by vanquished opponents: 86
# losses by victorious opponents: 10
# ranked teams defeated: 5
Points per game: 38.6
Points allowed per game: 19.9
Average margin of victory: 18.7

2011 LSU Tigers
Oregon #3 (12-2) @Dallas 40-27
Northwestern State (5-6) FCS 49-3
@Mississippi State #25 (7-6) 19-6
@West Virginia #16 (10-3) 47-21
Kentucky (5-7) 35-7
Florida #17 (7-6) 41-11
@Tennessee (5-7) 38-7
Auburn (8-5) 45-10
@Alabama #2 (12-1) 9-6
Western Kentucky (7-5) 42-9
@Ole Miss (2-10) 52-3
Arkansas #3 (11-2) 41-17
Georgia #14 (SEC Champ.) (10-4) 42-10
Alabama #2 (BCS) (12-1) 0-21
# victories by vanquished opponents: 100
# losses by victorious opponents: 1 (to LSU)
# ranked teams defeated: 7
Points per game: 29.7
Points allowed per game: 18.2
Average margin of victory: 11.5

The 2011 team faced a tougher schedule, as evidenced by the 100 wins of its vanquished opponents against only 86 for the '07 team, which also lost two games to unranked teams with a combined 10 losses.

The 2007 Tigers scored 9 ppg more than the '11 Bengals. They gave up 1.7 more ppg than the latest aggregation.

As we did in comparing the '03 and '11 teams, let's pair up the games of the two seasons since eight were against the same SEC opponent. We can also match the non-conference games to give us a better comparison of the two records.

2007 Score Opponent(s) 2011 Score
45-0 @Mississippi State 19-6
28-24 Florida 41-11
30-24 Auburn 45-10
41-34 @Alabama 9-6
41-24 @Ole Miss 52-3
48-50 Arkansas 41-17
21-14 Tennessee 42-10
37-43 Kentucky 35-7
28-16 South Carolina/Georgia 42-10
34-9 Tulane/Northwestern State 49-3
48-7 Virginia Tech/Oregon 40-27
44-0 Middle Tenn/Western Ky 42-9
58-10 Louisiana Tech/West Virginia 47-21
38-24 Ohio State/Alabama 0-21
Score in bold on each row indicates the better victory either because of margin of victory or tougher opponent.

This comparison is closer than the 2001/2003 matchup. The '11 Tigers win 7 of the pairings with '07 capturing 6.

It's close, but I give the nod to the 2011 Tigers because of their stronger schedule and the fact that they lost only once to an excellent Alabama team while '07 lost twice to unranked opponents.

Conclusion: The 2011 Tigers compiled a better "body of work" than their 2007 counterparts.

Grand conclusion: The 2011 Tigers were the greatest Tiger team of all time!

Question to Ponder Archives

Were the 2011 Saints a Better Team Than the 2009 Saints?

The knee jerk answer might be: Of course not. The '09 Saints won the Super Bowl.

But a team's success is not just a product of its own quality. It is relative to the opposition. A coach was asked once after his team won a championship, "Was this one of your better teams?" He answered, "I've had better teams that finished third."

Both the '09 and the '11 Saints finished the regular season 13-3. The '09 team blew off the final game because they had already clinched the #1 seed. The '11 squad fell victim to the most improbable upset of the 2011 NFL season: Rams 31 Saints 21. The Rams won exactly one more game and that over the lowly Browns.

However, the '09 13-3 record got them the #1 NFC seed whereas the '11 outfit fell to #3. So the Super Bowl Saints got a bye week, then blasted Arizona to reach the NFC Championship Game, which they won at home in OT over the Vikings. This year's bunch had to beat the Lions before playing at San Francisco, which had a week to rest and prepare as the Saints did in '09. As we know, SF won in the last 10 seconds in a classic game that will be reshown as long as the NFL exists.

So it is not a preposterous question to ask whether this year's edition of the Saints was actually a better team than the Super Bowl champs or at least their equal. Let's look at some statistics.

2009 Saints Category 2011 Saints
Rank Per Game Rank Per Game
1 31.9 Points 2 34.2
20 21.3 Points Allowed 20 21.2
4 272.2 Passing Yards 1 334.2
6 131.6 Rushing Yards 6 132.9
26 235.6 Passing Yards Allowed 30 259.8
21 122.2 Rushing Yards Allowed 12 108.6
3 +11 Turnover Margin (net) 10 -3


  • It's amazing how close the Points Allowed and Rushing Yards are, so close that I didn't boldface either one to indicate the larger. Interesting, the '11 Saints were #2 in the league despite scoring more per game than the '09 Saints who were #1. The difference was this year's Packers O machine.
  • So the '11 Saints scored 2.3 points more per game but allowed essentially the same number as in '09.
  • Another way to compare the stats is to say that the 2009 Saints outscored their opponents by 10.6 ppg while the '11 edition's margin was 13.0.
  • This year's Saints passed for significantly more yards (62 more per game) to set an NFL record.
  • The '09 Saints allowed about 24 fewer yards per game passing while the '11 Saints did 13.6 ypg better against the rush.
  • A crucial stat is turnover margin, which the Super Bowl team won by 14 for the season.


I'd say these teams are about equal in performance, this year's team being better offensively but '09 having an edge defensively, especially in turnover margin.

Should LSU Fire Les Miles?
This was written between the Tennessee and Florida games of 2010

First of all, I want to condemn those LSU "fans" who have said "I was rooting for LSU to lose so they'd fire Les Miles." I heard this while leaving the stadium after the North Carolina game and again after Tennessee. No true Tiger would talk like that. What message does that send to the team? I think, and certainly hope, that such people are a small minority.

Secondly, as soon as someone starts, "Les Miles is an idiot," I tune them out. I figure I'm not going to hear anything cogent. Such reactions are like our superficial political discourse nationwide. Too many people don't want to really think about issues; they just want to make a knee-jerk reaction based on no facts or analysis. If you normally "discuss" issues at that level, you might as well quit reading now. (Actually, if you got this far, you probably aren't in that camp.)

Let's put the conclusion right up front.


Again, I may have lost many readers already. So be it. Anyone who has visited this site the last several seasons knows that I have criticized Miles on many occasions. But I've never called for his firing. No, it's someone else I think should be fired. I won't say who so you'll keep reading, but you can probably guess. This isn't really a Defense of Les Miles although some may consider it that. I will point out many of his flaws but also balance that with praise. So let's begin a (hopefully) even-handed, reasonable discussion.

I recently heard someone ask someone else, "How's LSU this year?" The answer: "Horrible." That's ridiculous. The 2010 Tigers are not horrible. The D is one of the best in the country, as are the special teams. No "horrible" team goes 5-0 against any kind of schedule. It's a disservice to the many players who are busting their butts to call the Tigers "horrible." And I've never heard anyone accuse the offense of not playing hard. The O unit wants to hold up its end but are frustrated by their lack of success.

The critics can't have it both ways. You can't on the one hand hold Miles responsible for the O woes and yet not give him credit for the fine performances of the other two parts of the team. The fact that the D and special teams are so good testifies that several important aspects of the LSU football program are sound.

  • Recruiting is solid. While there are some holes on offense, the D is loaded with excellent players, most of whom are young, boding well for the future.
  • The strength and conditioning program makes the Tigers competitive throughout four quarters.
  • Players are motivated and buy into the total program. LSU has had very few problem children during Miles' tenure. The biggest headache was Ryan Perriloux, whom Miles dismissed, an action that hurt the Tigers talent-wise for the two years he would have started but helped them by removing a negative influence. (If you condemn Miles for recruiting Perriloux in the first place, then you are rewriting history. Tiger Nation was overjoyed that our new coach lured Ryan away from Texas.) Would you prefer that LSU be like Florida or Georgia, each of whom has had dozens of players arrested the last few years?

The defense and special teams under Les Miles are more than healthy. The offense pales in comparison. So what's the difference? Obviously, John Chavis is doing an outstanding job with the D, as did Bo Pelini before him. (Miles made a major mistake by going with co-coordinators in 2008 but corrected that fiasco by hiring Chavis.) Likewise, Joe Robinson has produced excellent special teams since he took over in 2008 - not that they were poor before that.

So where do we lay the blame for the offense's woes? Obviously, at the feet of O coodinator Gary Crowton. As stated earlier, failure to develop a top-notch QB is hurting the Tigers. For the record, both Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee were four-star recruits. The fact that neither has played at that level has either of two explanations: they were overrated coming out of high school or they have not received the coaching they need to succeed at the college level. Perriloux was the heir-apparent to Matt Flynn for 2008 and 2009, but he would be gone by now anyway. LSU recruited another four-star Lee, Zach, for 2010, but he signed with the Dodgers for $5M. Miles is responsible for recruiting overall, as he is responsible ultimately for all aspects of the program. But who is a major influence in any QB recruit's choice of school? The O coordinator. So whether the lack of a top-notch QB is a recruiting or coaching problem, Crowton must share blame either way.

Crowton inherited senior QB Matt Flynn when Jimbo Fisher, whom Miles inherited from Nick Saban, went to Florida State in 2007. The O was strong that year or LSU wouldn't have won the BCS championship. Miles' critics point to the Auburn game that season when LSU was in position to kick the winning FG in the last 30 seconds. Flynn let the clock tick down to 6 seconds before taking the snap and throwing a TD pass to Demetrius Byrd. Critics rightly pointed out that, if the pass had fallen incomplete, time might have expired with no chance to kick the FG. But who was the O coordinator that year? Gary Crowton. I have reviewed in my mind Miles' first two seasons, 2005 and 2006, to recall any similar clock-management problems and can remember none. What was different about 2005-6 as compared to 2007-10? Fisher was the O coordinator. So perhaps the refrain, "Miles won the national championship with Saban's players" should be reworded to "Miles won the national championship with Fisher's players" because no one has charged Bo Pelini with letting Saban's D decline.

To my knowledge, Les Miles does not prepare the O game plan and teach it to the players each week. That is Crowton's job, although Miles, whose background, unlike Saban's, is on the offensive side, surely has input. Miles does not call the plays. Crowton does.

The failures of LSU's offense in the last minute against Ole Miss in 2009 and Tennessee in 2010 were fundamentally failures of preparation. Coaches and players panicked in late game situations because they had not worked through all possible scenarios in advance and drilled the QBs and the entire unit in handling the clock management and play-calling each situation demanded. Miles can be criticized for meddling at the end of the Ole Miss and Tennessee games when he added to the chaos by giving his own signals to the QB. But he would probably reply that he had to step in because his O staff seemed confused. Who is the main person responsible for preparing the offensive coaches and players for the situations they will face in games? Gary Crowton, of course. Miles' main fault may be showing too much patience with Crowton. I will remind everyone that, the week after the Ole Miss debacle last year, Jefferson led the Tiger O to the tying FG in the last minute to set up the OT victory. Hopefully, the O will bounce back this season and produce in the next clutch situation they face.

The offense also shows a general lack of discipline, with numerous penalties from false starts to lining up wrong to delay of game even in the fifth game of the season. (Fans rightly go crazy when LSU calls a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty right after a change of possession and a 2-minute TV timeout.) The D and special teams units don't have such problems. What's the difference? It's like two teachers in the same school teaching the same subject. One is constantly correcting his students and demanding that they do better. His students quickly shape up, concentrate, and improve week by week. The other teacher knows his subject but wastes class time and doesn't ride herd on the details that hinder progress. His students get away with less than their best effort and don't progress as far as their counterparts in the other class. Same school environment, same curriculum, different results. Do you fire the principal because the English department does poorly on standardized tests when math, science, and social studies do well? No, you fire the English Department chairman. You fix what's broken without tampering with what's working.

The analogy to football is obvious. Chavis clearly utilizes his NCAA-restricted practice time to drive his charges toward perfection. Without attending a single workout, we can surmise that John and his D staff meticulously plan every minute of every practice. By contrast, I'll bet Crowton's practices are less well organized and consequently less demanding. In other words, Chavis teaches defensive football much better than Crowton teaches offense.

So I'm calling for Crowton's dismissal at the end of the season. Firing Miles is too drastic a step for a program that is not that far from being outstanding again. Finding a new head coach who can continue the recruiting momentum, keep the conditioning program at a high level, continue to turn out good citizens, and go to January bowls each year is a daunting task. Miles will never be Nick Saban. But neither will anyone else. (I've heard John Gruden offered as a successor. He has never been a head coach in college. What makes you think he will recruit well, relate to college players, and handle all the details of making sure players go to class and stay eligible, behave themselves off the field, etc., that he didn't have to worry about in the NFL?)

You may disagree, and that's fine. But please give a well-reasoned defense of your position, not a thoughtless, emotional reaction. I have confidence that LSU AD Joe Alleva will be prudent in the judgment he must make concerning the future of the football program. I pray that LSU will not go the route of Auburn and other schools where a few major donors, or even just one, have dictated the firing and hiring of coaches.

Certainly this is an ongoing discussion. If the Tigers fall apart the rest of the way and lose badly to Florida and/or Alabama and stumble against Ole Miss again, all bets are off. But based on the evidence so far, this juror is not ready to vote Miles guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Should the SEC Expand to 16 Schools?

I want the SEC to stay with 12 teams. A 14-school league might be tolerable, but let's consider the ramifications of going to 16 teams.

Why? Let's put aside any discussion of increasing TV revenue, expanding the conference footprint, and any consideration other than what happens on the field. Instead, think about the implications of expansion for scheduling in football, which is most fans' primary sport.

  • For many years – even before the league expanded to 12 schools in 1992 – SEC teams have played eight conference games per season. (The same rule is followed by the Big 12, ACC, and Big TEleveN.) Will that change if the league grows to 14 or 16?
  • Presumably, a 16-team conference will break into two subdivisions of eight for football if not for all other sports. Staying with eight league contests means you would play all seven schools in your own division and only one team in the opposite division. If that opponent rotates every two years (to allow for home-and-home games), then it would take 16 years to rotate through every team in the opposite conference. And if that extra foe doesn't rotate, then you never play the other seven teams in the other division except occasionally in the championship game.
  • There's no way to maintain a rivalry with a school you play every 16 years unless you frequently meet them in the conference championship game.
  • So I would think the conference schedule would be expanded to nine or even ten games per year. If nine, you would play two from the opposite division every season, cutting the time for rotating through all opponents in half to eight years.
  • The Pac-10 currently plays a complete round-robin. Each team plays nine conference games. The problem with an odd number is that the home and away games do not balance. The Pac-10 uses the final in-state rivalry games as the extra contest with the other eight games split four home, four away. For example, Oregon plays a fifth road game at Oregon State one year and an extra home game with OSU the next.
  • If the SEC expands to 14 schools, it would have two divisions of seven in football if not in other sports. (In basketball, you could play all 13 or 15 conference foes every year.) In addition to six games against the other teams in its division, each school would play two in the opposite division if you want to hold the conference games at eight or three if you're willing to go to nine league contests.
  • Playing additional conference games has advantages and disadvantages.
    • Advantage: As indicated above, teams would face all the schools in the opposite conference over a shorter span of years. You would have more of a feeling of belonging to a conference and not just a subgroup of the league.
    • Advantage: You would have fewer non-conference slots to fill in your schedule. This would mean not having to fill a date with a patsy that provides a "rent-a-win" but doesn't excite fans. Conference games draw more fans from both the home and visiting schools.
    • Disadvantage: Conference games are more gruelling. Teams in power conferences would have a harder time going undefeated or escaping with only one loss and having a chance to play in the national championship game. Playing more league foes is more exciting for fans but means beating each other up even more than now. So you can bet that the coaches will adamantly oppose expanding the number of conference games.
    • Disadvantage: More conference games means coaches will not want to play any difficult intersectional foes. SEC teams would play Sun Belt foes even more than they do now. Having only three or just two non-conference games would especially be a hardship for teams like Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida that traditionally end their seasons with non-conference rivals (Georgia Tech, Clemson, and Florida State respectively) unless, of course, the rival were now a fellow conference member.
Can Conferences Learn from the WAC?

This could be termed "A Cautionary Tale" directed at the Pac-10 and Big 10 and even the SEC if it feels forced to expand because of what the other conferences do.

The Western Athletic Conference expanded from 10 to 16 universities in 1996, absorbing three teams from the defunct Southwest Conference (Rice, SMU, and TCU), two from the Big West (San Jose State and UNLV), and Tulsa from the Missouri Valley. After three football seasons, most of the pre-expansion members departed to form the Mountain West Conference. In other words, Brigham Young, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado State, San Diego State, and the Air Force Academy decided that it had been a big mistake to expand their conference to 16 teams.

Let's go back and look at why the WAC expanded in the first place and then the reasons the arrangement soured so quickly.

  • Commissioner Karl Benson persuaded the WAC to add teams in major TV markets, such as TCU and SMU in Dallas-Fort Worth, Rice in Houston, and San Jose State in the San Francisco Bay area. The idea was all about expanding the conference footprint and thereby gaining space in newspapers and local TV broadcasts in new regions across the country.
  • Second, he started a conference championship game in Las Vegas, broadcast on ABC.
  • Third, in order to manage the conference, he split the teams into four quadrants. Each group of four teams would stay in the same division for two years and then switch. Traditional rivalries would be destroyed, as the core teams of the old WAC would never be in the same division.

Does any of this sound familiar? "Adding teams in major TV markets," "expanding the conference footprint," and "starting a conference championship game" have all been given as reasons for Big Ten and Pac 10 expansion.

After three years, a rebellion developed against Benson's regime.

  • BYU and Utah in particular disliked losing the traditional rivalries with Colorado State and Air Force. Perhaps if the sub-divisions had been created more wisely, this problem could have been avoided.
  • Concerns continued to develop regarding the academics of Fresno State. With more schools, the conference office has an even greater challenge trying to investigate accusations of impropriety.
  • Two main problems caused the end of the Super WAC—exclusion from the BCS and limited basketball bids in the NCAA tournament.
    • Being left out of the BCS in spite of expansion to sixteen seemed to invalidate the arguments that had been made for the creation of the super conference. If losing traditional rivalries did not result in top tier status, why even have the enlarged conference?
    • Picking basketball success over football needs seems silly to most football fans, but receiving only three bids for a sixteen-team conference really annoyed some conference leaders.
  • The more far flung conference imposed a hardship on all the minor sports. The volleyball and soccer teams, for instance, had to travel further and now had only a 1-in-16 chance of winning the conference title rather than 1-in-8 as in the past.
  • The promised increased revenues did not offset the added expenses for all sports across the board.

So Wyoming, Utah, BYU, Colorado State, and Air Force decided to form a new conference, which largely reflected the pre-1992 WAC, with New Mexico and San Diego State tagging along with the other five and UTEP by UNLV replacing Hawaii. In 2005, TCU, a former WAC member, joined the MWC after four seasons in C-USA.

Admittedly, the WAC never had the status, fan base, and national recognition of the Big Ten, Pac 10, or SEC. Still, leagues contemplating expansion should study the Super-WAC failure if, for no other reason, to avoid the pitfalls that led to its quick demise.

  • Will expansion add enough revenue from tv contracts, a football championship game, increased sales of merchandise, etc. to provide increased income to each school despite the pot being split more ways? And will the added income offset the increased travel costs for all sports?


The Big Ten Network reportedly earned the conference $22M last year or $2M per school. But if there are 16 schools instead of 11, the network would have to bring in $32M million for each school just to make as much as it does now. Will adding new members increase revenue by $10M?

  • Will the loss of rivalries in all sports be offset by the interest creating by playing new foes?


Currently, the Pac 10 plays a complete round-robin in football and a home-and-home round robin in basketball. Will Arizona decide after a few years that it wasn't worth it to play Colorado every football season but USC only two years out of every eight? Will Arizona State sell as many basketball season tickets even though UCLA doesn't come to town every winter?

Final question to ponder: Is all this expansion talk just a high stakes game of Texas Hold 'em? You want to add three new schools. I'll raise that to five. I can't let you end up a larger conference than ours. If you go to 16, I must also to save face with fans. Standing pat is not an option.
Pepping up the Conference Baseball Tournaments [5/29/10]

I have a proposal for college baseball similar to the one I made for basketball last year.

I'm not as opposed to conference baseball tournaments as I am to conference basketball tournaments. Still, I think the following idea deserves consideration.

Instead of each conference gathering its teams to play each other yet again, pair two conferences and have tournaments involving the top eight teams from each league. One tournament would be at a site within the borders of one conference while the other would be in the other league's territory.


Pair the SEC with the ACC. Take the top eight teams in each. Send seeds 1-4-5-8 to one site and 2-3-6-7 to the other. A hypothetical tournament this year based on this formula would have produced these matchups.

Tournament A: Hoover AL

Day 1
#1 Florida vs #1 Virginia
#4 Arkansas vs #4 Miami
#5 Vanderbilt vs #5 Florida State
#8 LSU vs #8 Boston College

Day 2
#1 Florida vs #4 Miami
#4 Arkansas vs #5 Florida State
#5 Vanderbilt vs #8 Boston College
#8 LSU vs #1 Virginia

Days 3 and 4
Continue to rotate the ACC teams so that each SEC team plays every ACC team over the four days.

Tournament B: Turner Field, Atlanta

Day 1
#2 Clemson vs #2 Auburn
#3 Ga. Tech vs #3 South Carolina
#6 Virginia Tech vs #6 Ole Miss
#7 NC State vs #7 Alabama

Day 2
#2 Clemson vs #3 South Carolina
#3 Ga. Tech vs #6 Ole Miss
#6 Virginia Tech vs #7 Alabama
#7 NC State vs #2 Auburn

Days 3 and 4
Continue to rotate the SEC teams so that each ACC team plays every SEC team over the four days.

If you prefer, you could pair the 1-4-5-8 teams of the host league (SEC for Tournament, ACC for B) with the 2-3-6-7 squads from the other league. That way, the two #1 seeds would be separated. However, you lose the best matchup of all, which is #1 vs #1.

I'm realistic enough to know that conferences would change the current setup only if they can make more money than the current tournaments. I think attendance and tv ratings would increase because of the excitement of playing new foes. Note the Day 2 matchup at Turner Field: Clemson vs. South Carolina. Also, under this system, every team would be assured four games.

This approach might be more attractive to non-BCS conferences like C-USA and the Big South.

What will be the impact of NFL umpires moving behind offense? [5/1/2010]

The NFL competition committee recently voted to relocate the umpire behind the offense. The main reason for the change is the safety of the striped shirts.

  • Last season, more than 100 umpires were knocked down during games.
  • Two suffered concussions; three underwent surgery.

For the 2010 season, umps will line up 14 yd in the O backfield, behind either tackle. In the last two minutes of each half, they will move to their old position behind the D in order to ready the ball for play more quickly.

Will the umpires' new positioning affect how games are called?

  • DTs should benefit the most from the change. When umps lined up behind the D line, the O linemen's hands were hidden from view. Now the ref on one side and the ump on the other will better see the O linemen's use of hands. "There won't be more holding calls," says former ump Ron Botchan. "But there will be more correct holding calls.">
  • The flip side is that umps will miss some false starts by interior linemen and ineligible receivers downfield. The zebras in the secondary will have to be more alert for the latter.
  • Another call that umps used to help spot is whether or not a receiver over the middle trapped a low pass. In that connection, teams like the Saints that work the middle of the field in their passing game will have more room to operate since defenses used to force receivers toward the umpire as if he were a 12th defender.
  • The umps themselves will have to cover more ground during games, testing their conditioning. After a 20-yd gain, the umpire will run to the new line of scrimmage to spot the ball, then hurry to his position behind the O. Retired umpire Jim Quirk says, "The job will be three times more demanding."
Reference: "Changing Stripes," Seth Wickersham, ESPN the Magazine
Is sure tackling a dying art and, if so, why? [1/2010]
  • Most commentators agree that the answer is, "Yes, sure tackling is a dying art."
  • Defenders don't lead with the shoulder and wrapup the way they used to. There is too much arm tackling.
  • An article in USA Today Sports Weekly (11/3/09) by Jarrett Bell gave a good analysis of why tackling skill has declined. It's not all the fault of defensive coaches and players.
    1. Offenses today, at all levels, spread the D across the field in order to get the ball to fast, shifty receivers and RBs in the open field where they are isolated on defenders. So there's more opportunities to miss tackles.
    2. The players running with the ball are bigger, stronger, and faster than ever. As a result, defenders are reaching more and bouncing off more when they do get a solid hit.
    3. Coaches are reluctant to practice live tackling during the season lest they lose a valuable RB, WR, or defender to injury. Many teams try to simulate almost-complete tackling every week but, for the most part, defenders finish real tackles only on game day.
    4. The rules, especially in the NFL, have increasingly protected QBs and receivers. Helmet-to-helmet contact, tackling the QB below the knees, and hitting the slightest bit after the whistle or out of bounds draw penalties and even fines and suspensions.
  • Nevertheless, what former Ravens coach, Brian Billick, says is still true: "Show me a good defense, and I'll show you a good tackling team."
How Can College Instant Replay Review Be Improved? [12/2009]
  1. A receiver jumps high for a pass, and the DB drills him helmet-to-helmet. No personal foul is called.
  2. The runner is pulled down by the face mask, but no penalty results. Or, the opposite, a face mask violation is flagged, but the tackler grabbed the shoulder pads, not the mask. Or the ball carrier clearly grabs the face mask of the tackler but is not flagged.
  3. A receiver pulls the DB out of the way by the jersey and runs past him to catch a TD pass. No official sees the interference.
  4. A pass rusher is grabbed around the neck by the center and pulled aside, allowing the QB to throw the go-ahead TD pass over the middle. Holding is not called.

All these situations happened in games this season. In no case could the replay official review the call. Even if the booth official noticed the error on the replay, the rules did not allow the play to be reviewed since none of the situations involved in-bounds/out-of-bounds rulings, placement of the ball, whether a fumble occurred or a pass was caught before it hit the ground, etc.

So here's my proposal.

Each coach is allowed two challenges per game. The coach can challenge almost anything that happened on a play, including situations like those above.

That's the general principle. Here are some provisos.

  • The challenge must be specific. In example 4 above, the coach must specify which player held or which player was held. He cannot simply throw the challenge flag after a TD pass and claim, "There was holding on that play." The same holds for situation 3 above. The challenger must specify either the person guilty of the interference or the offended player. Again, no vague claim of "there was interference on that play."
  • The rule for challenges would be the same as it is now. There must be clear evidence that a foul did (or did not) occur to overturn the call (or non-call). The benefit of the doubt goes to the officials' judgment. For example, if the rusher and the blocker fall to the ground and it is not clear whether the rusher pushed the blocker down or the blocker pulled the rusher down, the non-call of holding is upheld.
  • If the coach is unsuccessful on his challenge, he loses a timeout, as at present. If he succeeds on both challenges, he receives another one.

If you object that the game will be interrupted much more than it is now, remember that each coach has only two challenges. He must use them wisely. He doesn't want to waste a challenge on a holding call early in the game on a 10-yd gain in the opponent's end of the field. NFL coaches face these decisions every game.

You might also ask, "Why not allow the booth to review all the calls listed at the beginning of this article?" That obviously would lead to incessant interruptions. An intermediate position would be to expand the current scope of review to include rare situations like, say, example 1 above (helmet-to-helmet contact). However, holding and interference reviews should be done only when the call or non-call is challenged. A common statement is, "You could call holding on every play." So we certainly don't want to open blocking techniques to automatic review. The play clock would have to be set to at least 45 seconds and the number of review officials and monitor screens doubled or tripled to allow each offensive play to be reviewed. No, review the play only when the challenging coach thinks the holding or interference was blatant.

While we're on the subject of replay review, let's throw in two more recommendations that have been discussed on many sites, including this one, this season.

  1. Replay officials in every stadium should have high definition monitors.
  2. Replay officials should have access to all video from telecasts of the game. This means access not only to the in-house TV system that shows replays on the stadium video board but also to the cameras of ESPN, CBS, Fox, or whatever network is telecasting the contest.


Since I posted this question in mid-December, ESPN the Magazine's year-end issue contained the following proposal for "basketball and individual sports and for nonscoring plays in other team sports."

Coaches (or players in individual sports) will receive three challenges per game/match, which may be utilized to review any decision. Wrongful challenges will be subject to penalty, to be determined by each sport's governing body.

This is basically what I call for above, except I limit football coaches to two challenges per game with the possibility of a third if the first two are upheld.

Les Miles and Dale Brown - Two Peas in a Pod?

More reponsible for 2012 Saints' 0-4 start: Coach suspension or Brees's holdout?

How would the Final Four concept of spring 2012 have worked in the past?

Were the 2011 Tigers the Best LSU Team Ever?
Part I | Part II

Were the 2011 Saints Better Than the '09 Saints?

Should LSU Fire Les Miles? (early in '09 season)

Should the SEC Expand to 16 Schools?

Can Conferences Learn from the WAC?

Pepping Up Conference Baseball Tournaments

What will be the impact of the NFL umpires moving behind the offense?

Is Sure Tackling a Lost Art?

How Can College Replay be Improved?

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