LSU fired Les Miles Sunday. At its core, it was a simple decision. LSU lost an unacceptable number of games over the last four seasons relative to the amount of talent on the roster and resource commitment to the program.
Miles’ Tigers signed 67 four- and five-star recruits over the last four cycles. Only Alabama and Ohio State signed more. Yet in his last 56 games, spanning from the loss to Alabama in the BCS Championship to LSU’s most recent loss to Auburn, LSU is just 39-17 (.696).
A .696 winning percentage for a team that recruits as well as LSU over a period of four years and change just won’t cut it. The best finish in the division for LSU in that time frame is a tie for second in 2013.
Yes, the 39-17 mark does include five losses to Alabama. And yes, everyone in college football has a “Saban problem.” But Miles is also just 24-9 in SEC games not against Alabama during this stretch, including two losses to Arkansas, one to Florida, one to Mississippi State, two to Ole Miss, and two to Auburn.
That is just too many losses for a program with as much talent as LSU.
The losses have highlighted LSU’s most glaring issue: an inability to develop a quarterback. In LSU’s last 35 SEC games, the Tigers have thrown just 33 touchdown passes. Even with a run-first attack, that is simply too little production from the most important position. LSU’s last 14 losses against the SEC have come while scoring 13, 16, 14, 17, 29, 7, 13, 0, 41, 24, 17, 6, 17, and 9 points, an average of just 15.9.
There was little to suggest Miles, who turns 63 in November, was going to turn things around. In the last five years, only Saban has won a national title after being at a school for more than five years.
Urban Meyer has won them in years two and four at Florida and year three at Ohio State. Jimbo Fisher won his in year four at Florida State, Gene Chizik in year two at Auburn, and Miles won his in year three at LSU. His final full season at LSU was his 11th.
Miles leaves behind another tremendous recruiting class.
LSU has 10 four- and five-star commitments and currently sits at No. 4 nationally in the 247Sports Composite Rankings. JaCoby Stevens is one of the most athletic football players in the country. Tyler Shelvin is a true nose tackle with great power. Austin Deculus is a mauler of an offensive tackle who could also dominate at guard.
The Tigers also have a dynamic dual-threat QB recruit in Lowell Narcisse and a more pro-style prospect in Myles Brennan.
Those players didn’t commit to LSU solely because of Miles. LSU’s staff is full of tremendous recruiters, including Ed Orgeron, who is now the interim head coach. Receivers coach Dameyune Craig and defensive backs coach Corey Raymond are also great recruiters.
Whoever the new head coach is, it’s likely he’ll try to keep several of those excellent assistants who have brought countless future pros to Baton Rouge.
But the Tigers are doing something interesting as well, to ensure the new coach hits the ground running with an elite class — naming a general manager.
It’s Austin Thomas, who was previously the Assistant Director of Athletics for Football, a role LSU described as follows:
Among Thomas' primary responsibilities include prospect evaluation, managing recruiting events as well as maintaining LSU's recruiting database and updating the recruiting board. In Thomas' first two seasons at LSU, he helped the Tigers claim back-to-back Top 5 signing classes in 2014 and 2015, which included signing the nation's top overall player in 2014. He was named the Personnel Director of the Year in 2015.
With any interim staff, the lame-duck problem looms. How hard will coaches really recruit if they don’t believe they will be at the school the next season? What vision can they sell? Schools going through transition sometimes suffer in recruiting because coaches on the interim staff cannot provide the answers recruits want.
Having someone who is tasked with maintaining the roster for the incoming coach is likely a smart move that will be appreciated by the new head coach. Thomas can help to provide recruits with information on the coaching search, how they can fit in with whatever new schemes LSU plans to feature, and most importantly, is a representative of LSU who isn’t likely to be going anywhere.
LSU is an awesome recruiting opportunity.
The state produces about 15 four- and five-star prospects annually, making it one of the most talented states nationally. But LSU has the state all to itself; it is the only Power 5 program in Louisiana. The Tigers never lose prospects to Lafayette, Tech, Monroe, or Tulane.
There is fierce loyalty within the state to the Tigers as so many prospects grow up LSU fans. The only school consistently competitive with the Tigers in recent years for prospects LSU actually wanted from the state has been Alabama.
Additionally, Baton Rouge is just three hours from Mobile and four from Houston, two major hotbeds of recruiting talent. And there is strong junior college football in Louisiana and in bordering Mississippi, from which the Tigers can compete with just about anyone on an admission-standards basis.
SB Nation’s Steven Godfrey has four big names to know in LSU’s coaching search, and any of the four would likely recruit at an extremely high level. LSU’s bet is that whoever it hires will continue to recruit elite talent, but will turn it into wins more often than Miles did recently.