Coach Analysis: Les Miles

Recently I did an analysis of Urban Meyer’s record at Florida, even though he’s only been here three years. It’s not long enough to make lasting conclusions, but it’s enough to get some general ideas about what has happened and where he’s going.

There is another coach, though, who joined the SEC at the same time yet is overshadowed by Meyer when it comes to discussions of the conference’s best coach. He has been to one more conference title game and has a national title too, but rather than be singled out for excellence he’s always grouped in with the five SEC coaches who have won a national title.

Life has certainly been interesting at LSU for Les Miles.

His hiring was widely questioned, and for good reason. His best record at Oklahoma State was 9-4, he came into Baton Rouge off of a 7-5 year, and his reputation was mainly built on two improbable upsets of Oklahoma.

Shortly before his debut, Hurricane Katrina struck and football became the least of anyone’s worries in Louisiana. Despite the adversity he led his 2005 squad to a 10-1 regular season, losing only in overtime to Tennessee in a game postponed by Hurricane Rita. After losing the SEC title game to Georgia, his Tigers hammered the Miami Hurricanes 40-3 in the Peach Bowl in a delicious bit of ironic symbolism.

Even after winning the 2007 national championship, some doubters still remain. The stars of that 2007 team – guys like Glenn Dorsey, Matt Flynn, Jacob Hester, and Early Doucet – were Nick Saban recruits. That 2007 team also lost two games, leading some to point out that, “You can’t spell Les Miles without two Ls.” On top of that, the architect of his fearsome Tiger defenses, Bo Pelini, has left to take over at Nebraska.

Whatever you think of his time before joining or his future at LSU, you can’t help but be impressed by the records he has posted there so far. His 2005 game against Appalachian State has been omitted in keeping with the policy of only analyzing I-A competition.

Here it is broken down by site:

Les Miles at LSU
Site Wins Losses Totals
Home 18 2 20
Away 11 3 14
Neutral 1 1 2
Bowls 3 0 3
Totals 33 6 39

The neutral site games are SEC title games.

A winning percentage of .850 over three years is impressive no matter how you slice it. The three bowl wins are more impressive when you consider they were by 37, 27, and 14 points. Both of the home losses came in overtime games, and the two road losses in 2006 were to Florida and Auburn teams that combined to go 24-3 on the year.

Here is Miles’ record broken down by tier. As always, first tier opponents are teams that had a winning percentage of .750 or better, second tier were .500 to .749, third tier opponents were .250 to .499, and fourth tier opponents were .249 and below.

Les Miles at LSU
Tier Wins Losses Pct. Avg. Scored Avg. Allowed
First 7 3 .700 25 16
Second 12 2 .857 37 21
Third 13 1 .929 37 12
Fourth 1 1 1.000 56 3

Miles has had a first tier team each year, so the three losses within that tier are understandable. They were to basically equal or better teams.

The other three losses were to 5-6 Tennessee in 2005, 8-5 Kentucky in 2007, and 8-5 Arkansas in 2007. The common thread that binds these games together, besides being losses to lesser teams, is that they all were overtime losses.

That means Miles is a few well-placed field goals away from being an eye-popping 36-3 over his first three years with perhaps a third BCS appearance in ’05. Given his struggles in overtime so far, it’s no surprise that Miles coined the “undefeated in regulation” doctrine last year.

It’s likely that the Miles/Meyer comparison will go on for quite some time since both appear to be at their current schools for the long haul and both have had so much early success. Miles has had a slight upper hand so far, mainly because while Ron Zook left the cupboards full at Florida, Saban left an embarrassment of riches for his successor when he bolted for the NFL.

Periodically, the argument will arise about the pecking order of coaches in the SEC. Before you instinctively put Urban Meyer over Les Miles, just think about his record so far because it’s really, really good. Then go ahead and put Meyer ahead anyway because he’d be celebrating ring number three if he had Saban’s players the past three years.


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