NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana State University coach Les Miles can be hard to take seriously, chomping on grass, jumbling phrases and words, wrestling with the game clock.
Even with all his success, it’s taken a while for Tigers fans to appreciate him.
Alabama coach Nick Saban, on the other hand, often makes football seem as serious as surgery. Crimson Tide fans greeted him as a savior from Day 1 and their admiration for the man Miles replaced at LSU has grown.
Miles no longer coaches in the shadow of Saban, is no longer derisively compared to his predecessor.
Heading into the BCS championship tonight between the top-ranked Tigers and No. 2 Tide, Miles has shed his Lucky Les nickname and is now viewed as a legitimate and formidable rival to Saban in the Southeastern Conference.
“You can’t have the level of success that they’ve had on a consistent basis without doing a fantastic job as a coach and a leader,” Saban said Friday at the Superdome. “And I think Les has done that. I think he’s done a marvelous job.”
Saban did a marvelous job at LSU first, leading the Tigers to the 2003 BCS Championship, before bolting to the Miami Dolphins after the 2004 season.
Miles was hired away from Oklahoma State to replace Saban, and LSU fans were skeptical.
Eleven victories in each of his first two seasons wasn’t enough to satisfy many of them, and even when Miles led the Tigers to another national championship in 2007, Miles was viewed by many as a guy who simply stepped into a ready-made situation.
The 58-year-old Miles, who is 3-2 against Saban, said he never felt burdened by the sky-high expectations Saban left behind.
Some high-profile issues with clock management made Miles an easy target for critics. Not to mention his admission that he’ll pick a blade of grass from the field and eat it during the game, and his penchant for … let’s call it creative English.
On Friday while answering a question about his team, Miles said: “I’m just letting you know that this football team, irrespective of the coach, deserves to play well in this next game.”
Maybe he meant regardless of the coach?
It happens a lot at LSU.
“We’ll be in the meeting room, and I can’t even think of the words he’ll group together, and we’ll just look at each other like, ‘What does that mean?’ ” defensive end Barkevious Mingo said.
But make no mistake, Mingo said, players don’t take kindly to others taking shots at their coach.
And his daring style emboldens his team.
“That feeds down to our players,” offensive line coach Greg Studrawa said. “The trick plays, the going for it on fourth down, the fake field goals over the head –the kids buy into that, and know that their head coach is doing everything he can to fight for them for victory. I know that’s why our kids play with so much enthusiasm.”