Point/Counterpoint: Les v. Saban's LSU Legacy
LSU's Les Miles
Has Miles finally outrun the Saban shadow in Red Stick? If not, can he ever? And is that his fault, or the fault of many LSU fans? CFN's Brian Harbach and Marc Basham take opposing sides of the argument as we prepare for Saban Bowl V.
Brian Harbach – Miles' LSU Performance
It is never easy to follow a great coach. Even in a short period of time, Nick Saban was a great coach for LSU. It's often better to be the second man in.
An example there is the University of Florida, where the deck was stacked against Ron Zook "replacing" Steve Spurrier, for no matter what he did, Zook would always be compared not just against a legend, but the myth of a legend. However, Urban Meyer comes in Post-Zook, not Post-Spurrier, and quickly built a status in Gainesville that now rivals Spurrier himself.
Which brings us to Miles, the guy who got the job directly after a "legend", has fought and continues to fight the myth of the legend, and in the process has created a legend of his own. As noted, it's difficult enough to do this period, but when the original coach returns to the conference, and at a rival to boot, it's even more noteworthy.
Les does have some similarities with Saban, but no one could ever call Miles anything but his own man. Miles has become a SEC legend in part given his quirky behavior, hilarious quotes and on the field appetite. There is no better interview at SEC Media Days than Miles, and it is obvious why his players enjoy playing for him with his infectious attitude. In a conference full of carbon copies of coach speak in a suit speaking the same cliches week after week, Miles is often as honest as a coach can be.
While his personality is indeed part of his performance at LSU, the real deal is the on-field product, and there Miles has won 70 games in less than 7 seasons. Since Saban arrived, the talent has always been high in Baton Rouge, but Miles has kept the recruiting in the top tier, and there is a not a coach in the country that prepares his team better than Les Miles. That may sound hard to quantity, but LSU has lost just one game when he had longer than a week to prepare. Season openers, bye weeks and bowl games...Miles has lost once. That one game was the Capital One Bowl against Penn State where the field conditions where so poor it's really hard to call it a game.
When given the time to prepare, Miles just wins. There probably isn't a better statement you can make about a coach than how hard they work to get a team ready to play. The most important thing to remember about Miles is that he continues to win games and continues to win big games.
LSU fans were demanding of Miles early, and overly critical of him. He has rewarded that early criticism with a National Championship, BCS Bowl wins and a team that consistently fights for SEC Championships. With just moderate quarterback play, his teams are virtually unbeatable, and he has the undying loyalty of his players and staff. It is hard to imagine what more he could do, but he sits again this season with the number one team in the country and a favorite to play in the BCS title game. His performance at LSU has been fantastic.
Follow Brian on Twitter @HarbachCFN
Marc Basham – Saban's LSU Legacy
Back in September, I was lucky enough to attend my first taping of ESPN College GameDay when the Tigers were in Morgantown, WV. As one would expect, the West Virginia fanbase was witty, and creative signs dotting the landscape of the campus. However, one sign notably caught my eye: "Welcome to West Virginia, LSU Fans. Home of Nick Saban."
That one statement, while seemingly harmless and in good fun, would make almost any LSU fan cringe. The bitterness in Baton Rouge over the departure of Saban to the NFL in 2004 remains a controversial issue among hardcore fans in Louisiana, particularly when the former Tigers' coach returned to the college ranks in 2007, this time on the sidelines of the arch-rival Alabama Crimson Tide.
The grudge over Saban's departure lingers for a good reason: the resume he garnered while at LSU is one of the more impressive in SEC history for such a short tenure. Two conference titles, three first places finishes in the SEC West and topping it all off with a national championship in 2003. All within five short seasons.
However, the most impressive of statistics regarding Saban's tenure has to be his resurrection of a LSU program that had lost its luster. In the 12 years before his arrival, the Tigers were only ranked in the final AP poll twice and didn't win the SEC West even once. Under Saban, it took the Tigers one season to regain the SEC crown. Quite the impressive turnaround in such a difficult conference.
Also, without Saban there is no chance Miles has the amount of success he achieved in his initial years at LSU. The Tigers were a stocked team when Miles took over in 2005, led by quarterback JaMarcus Russell and future NFL stars running back Joseph Addai, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, defensive end Glenn Dorsey and tackle Andrew Whitworth. Yes, at that time they were all young, and Miles would coach them up - but they were THERE because of Saban. All these stars helped lead the Tigers to immediate success out of the gate for Miles, further extending the lasting legacy of Saban's LSU tenure into Miles' most successful seasons.
While Saban is currently persona non grata in Baton Rouge, history will regarded him as the greatest coach to ever occupy the sidelines of Death Valley. By helping revive a struggling Tigers program into, once again, a perennial SEC powerhouse, Saban set the foundation for success that the Tigers are currently enjoying. Sure, the man is as personable as a cactus, but personality doesn't always win football games, as he continues to prove year in and year out.
Will we be seeing a statue of Saban erected on the campus of LSU in a near future? Not likely. However, for all that Saban did for the LSU football program, the legacy of his short regime in Baton Rouge will overshadow the successes of Miles and future coaches for some time to come; to the continued bitter chagrin of many in Tiger Nation.
Follow Marc on Twitter @marc_b
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