Seriously, LSU’s Miles can coach

ARLINGTON, Texas – He talks funny. He wears his hat funny. He sings “Calling Baton Rouge” in a funny way. He eats grass, of course, and that’s funny. He calls funny plays at the funniest times and even wins games with great comedic timing.

There was even one point during the fourth quarter here Saturday that LSU coach Les Miles shouldered up to a referee and appeared to be telling funny joke. And then there was postgame when he tried to say “Go Cowboys”, only with a Cajun flair.

“That’s spelled G-u-a-u-x,” Miles said.

Les Miles again proved he can lead LSU to signature wins.
(Getty Images)

Ah, no it’s not.


There you go.

Yes, the Mad Hatter is a big joke, until you have to play his LSU Tigers. Then more often than not all those big guys up front and all those playmakers on the outside put you in a clown suit, Nike Pro Combat-designed, of course.

It was No. 4 LSU 40, No. 3 Oregon 27 to kick off the season and it will surprise no one if at the end of the year if Les is playing in the big one also. LSU is that good. This was even more impressive than the score.

If his team reaches New Orleans for the title game then it will be plenty prepared because if there is one secret to Les Miles run of success, it’s that for all the funny things that happen in front of the cameras, there’s hours and hours of seriousness when no one is looking.

[Recap: No. 4 LSU 40, No. 3 Oregon 27]

LSU began preparing its defense to handle Oregon’s fast-break offensive timing just days after last year’s victory in the Cotton Bowl. Throughout spring practice, and then into fall camp, Miles and his staff dreamed up a drill called “tempo” that would condition the Tigers for the challenge.

It featured one defense facing two offenses. One offensive unit would line up and run a play while the other huddled. When the play ended, the second offense would sprint into formation and snap the ball as fast as possible and the defense would have to scramble into position. Then the first offense would huddle and repeat the cycle.

It caused defenders minds to spin and their muscles to burn. It also got them ready to stuff the Oregon offense and negate the Ducks’ usual schematic advantage.

“We knew that [Oregon’s] tempo would be the best in the nation,” safety Eric Reid said. “It worked out for us.”

Oregon’s Heisman hopeful running back LaMichael James had just 57 yards on 18 carries. The Ducks’ longest run was for just 13 yards. Quarterback Darron Thomas was just 31-of-54 passing and his longest completion was for 18 yards. Oregon had none of its typical quick strikes and big plays.

“We’ll be in every game if our defense plays like that,” Miles noted.

When it comes to Les Miles you don’t hear much about fundamentals or preparation or innovative practice plans or bedrock values. It’s all there though. He has undoubtedly struggled with game management, but there is no questioning his ability to make players better and walk teams into critical contests ready to win.

He played and coached under Bo Schembechler, remember. Of course he’d build his teams like this, with the kind of brutes in the trenches that eventually wore down the Ducks on both sides of the ball.

“We felt like our defensive front could rotate guys in there and push that line at them, take the line of scrimmage,” Miles said. “And then offensively we challenged them to be more physical and control the ball at the line of scrimmage. If you do those two things, it becomes predictable … victory.”

Yes, predictable. Follow the simple plan and LSU wins. And wins. In his seventh season at LSU he’s now 63-17, including the 2007 national title.

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Chip Kelly's Ducks didn't have an answer for Miles' dominating defense.
(Getty Images)

At the end of the day there isn’t that much funny about Les Miles core football values. His players admit laughing at all of the malaprops and his goofy antics but they never doubt that he knows what he’s doing.

“[He’s] up there nearly 20 hours a day working on the game plan and all [he] wants to do is win,” said offensive lineman Will Blackwell. “[The ‘Tempo’ drill] was a great idea.”

Such a great idea that Miles felt his offense had even become prepared enough to try some no-huddle stuff themselves. So right at the end of the first half, the usually careful, ball-control Tigers went Duck-esque, caught Oregon off balance and punched in a critical score that gave them a 16-13 lead they’d never relinquish.

Oregon’s Chip Kelly is generally considered a coaching mastermind. Miles toyed with him here Saturday night.

“You know as a player in practice you don’t always understand,” said quarterback Jarrett Lee, who despite being the second stringer until two weeks ago appeared to develop nicely during the offseason. “It may be hot outside or there may be some plays that are longer than others or we have to repeat plays. But at the end of the day it really benefits us.

“He does a great job at that in practice week and preparation.”

None of this is going to change Miles national – or even local – reputation. The man is funny. There’s no denying it. You just never know what he’s going to say or how he’s going to say it or, it turns out, even how he’s going to spell it.

It makes him so easy to underestimate.

Yet here he was in Cowboys Stadium, another big game, another big win, another supposed genius coach humbly crossing the field to shake his hand in concession.

No, Les Miles doesn’t talk much of a game. He just wins them.

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Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Sunday, Sep 4, 2011