LSU’s Miles keeps winning despite NFL defections

Ben Cook

February 27, 2014 at 4:53 pm.

Les Miles and LSU are always a threat in the rugged SEC West. Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

LSU’s Les Miles is one of college football’s best coaches. He’s won two Southeastern Conference titles and one national championship (2007). He’s won 95 games and lost 24 at LSU and is an impressive 37-19 against Top 25 teams and 15-13 against Top-10 teams.

He has 15 wins over coaches who have won national championships—Phillip Fulmer and Gene Chizik twice, three over Urban Meyer, Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban and one win each over Jim Tressel and Larry Coker.

He continually recruits top-rated classes that keep the talent pipeline flowing to Baton Rouge.

So by any measuring stick you gauge Miles, also known as “The Mad Hatter” because of his unorthodox approach to managing games, he has proven his worth as one of college football’s best coaches. He’s a favorite with the media due to his propensity for throwing out humorous quotes and chewing on blades of grass during games.

But the one thing — perhaps the only thing — that Miles has not been able to accomplish is keeping his star players on campus for four years.

Losing players early to the NFL Draft is nothing new for LSU. LSU has lost 17 players early over the past two years and yet Les Miles continues to crank out 10-win seasons. He’s had seven of them at LSU; and in the two the Tigers failed to win at least 10 games, they finished with eight and nine-win seasons. In those seven double-digit win seasons, they won 11 games three times, 12 games once and 13 games in 2011.

The Tigers lost seven players early to the NFL Draft following the 2013 season, including dynamic receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and leading rusher Jeremy Hill, but there is never any shortage of running backs in Baton Rouge.

Somehow LSU never seems to suffer from the early exit of so much talent, which is a testimony to the success of Miles’ recruiting. It means that Miles and his staff are great at evaluating talent and selling that talent on coming to LSU. And because of that the Tigers, despite losing so good players to the pros early, continue to be a factor in the SEC West and on the national scene on a yearly basis.

One of the biggest losses this coming season comes at quarterback.  Zach Mettenberger passed for 3,082 yards 22 touchdown passes last season before tearing his ACL in the season’s final game.

He was replaced for the bowl game by Anthony Jennings. Jennings, junior Steven Rivers and early enrollee freshman Brandon Harris will be in the mix to replace Mettenberger.

The Tigers started gearing up for the coming season with another stellar recruiting class. They signed 23 players, topped off with a late signing of Deondre Clark, a defensive end from Oklahoma City.

“We are thrilled to have him join this class,” said Miles. “He fills a need for us at defensive end. He’ll be able to come in and compete for playing time right away.”

That’s another Miles trait. Incoming freshman know that they will have a shot at playing right away under the LSU coach.

“Our 2014 class starts with what are our needs and replacing those needs with elite players and I felt like we did that,” Miles said of his recruiting class. “This class has a mix of speed, size and strength. I think there’s a number of elite players and guys that are good students in this group. They’re a very, very talented group and a very quality character group.

“This class is a must. It’s an opportunity to replace guys that have graduated from college and gone on to business or gone on to play professional football. It’s a class that will come into replace those juniors who have gone on to the NFL.”

Miles has adapted to the modern-day college football game where elite players very seldom stay around for four years. He uses the fact that the NFL routinely welcomes NFL underclassmen to the world of playing for pay. That’s a strong selling point to elite high school players.

Miles plays that card well and LSU should benefit from it with another double-digit win season.

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