Nobody knows exactly what happened Saturday, or throughout the latter part of last week, but as of yesterday, Louisiana State coach Les Miles was still Louisiana State coach Les Miles.
Some how, some way, Michigan didn’t get its man. And now it’s left with no apparent options in its search for a head football coach.
So how did this happen?
How did Michigan miss out on its favorite son, a highly esteemed coach who has practically begged for the job his entire career?
Four separate reasons, when put together, seem to have forced Miles to stay in Baton Rouge.
First, LSU athletic director Skip Bertman’s strategy.
On Wednesday, word escaped (apparently from the Michigan camp) that Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin had requested and been granted permission to speak with Miles, albeit after Saturday’s game. Bertman confirmed these reports through a spokesman, saying that LSU would meet with Miles post-SEC Championship Game as well.
“We’re just looking forward to the game Saturday, and that’s the focus of the entire program right now, Saturday’s game against Tennessee,” LSU spokesman Herb Vincent said.
Not quite true.
Sources reported that Miles’s agent was already meeting with LSU officials in Baton Rouge on Wednesday. By asking Martin to wait until Saturday, Bertman knew he had bought himself a week to negotiate with Miles and hammer out an extension without Michigan getting its own offer in. Martin respected basketball coach John Beilein’s run in the NIT last year with West Virginia, and Bertman knew he’d do the same with Miles. That’s why Bertman extended Miles a more than substantial, one-day-only offer that the coach eventually had to accept.
The second reason Miles won’t be coaching the Wolverines is former coach Lloyd Carr’s opposition to hiring Miles, and a small group of people who agreed with him. Carr said at his final press conference he wasn’t going to try to handpick his successor. But he certainly had influence in the search. I suspect Miles knew Carr didn’t want him to be the coach and he didn’t want Carr, in his new position as an associate athletic director, scrutinizing every move Miles made.
Miles also worried that Carr and others would persuade Martin not to offer him the job. Martin wanted a face-to-face interview with Miles, just as he had with Beilein, before he hired him. Miles might have thought this need was prompted by Carr and Co. and wondered if he would get a job offer.
Martin’s old-school approach – the third reason Miles won’t coach Michigan – likely hurt the process in other ways, too. Depending on whom you believe, Martin either “played by the rules” and didn’t talk to Miles or his agent all week or had the entire deal orchestrated and arranged through back channels but wanted to interview Miles before hiring him. Martin stuck to this strategy and didn’t make it absolutely clear to Miles that he was far and away the top choice, even though he knew LSU was negotiating with Miles’ agent late in the week, putting Miles in an uncomfortable spot. Miles knew he had an offer from LSU, and he knew the offer would beat the potential Michigan offer. The problem was, he didn’t know if the Michigan offer would come.
I’ll return to this in a bit.
ESPN analyst (and Ohio State alum) Kirk Herbstreit reported Saturday morning that sources confirmed Miles would take the Michigan job early this week. This report seems to have been the last straw, the fourth reason Miles had to accept LSU’s one-day-only offer. With an SEC Championship Game to coach and a possible national championship game berth in the balance, Herbstreit’s report forced Miles to hold a press conference before the game to debunk the story. But he didn’t.
Instead, he left some wiggle room, not mentioning Michigan and not saying definitively that he would coach LSU next season. Apparently, Miles’s agent attempted to contact Martin, trying to find out if his client was going to get an offer or not. He couldn’t reach Martin, and Miles had to accept the LSU offer.
Because of Martin’s old-school tendencies and a faction, including Carr, opposed to his hiring, Miles never knew whether he would get the Michigan job. Combined with LSU’s offer being one-day-only and Herbstreit’s report on Saturday morning that forced Miles to say something definitive that day, Miles didn’t have a choice. He said he was “embarrassed that (his) name was on ESPN,” and he felt for his team, which deserved better than to be left in limbo any longer.
“(Michigan’s) a proud tradition, and they have to do the things they have to do,” Miles said. “I’m for them, and if there’s any way I can help them, I’d love to help them. But I’m not going there.”
No, he’s not. But it’s not because he didn’t want to, and it’s not because he’s not the right man for the job. Michigan did the things it had to do, and those things lost it Les – the perfect person for the job.
A lot of people will read this and think: “Michigan’s just being arrogant again. Why would they think that the coach of a top 5 program would take less money for himself and less money for his assistants to come to a program that hasn’t won a bowl game in five years?”
Because it’s Les, that’s why.
He wanted this job bad.
And that’s been clear his whole career.
It was clear when a former player at Oklahoma State under Miles effectively said that Miles worshipped the ‘M,’ and that Miles would never truly be a Cowboy and never be a Tiger. He was always a Wolverine. He wouldn’t be completely content until he came home to Ann Arbor.
It was clear when LSU put a clause in his contract mentioning just one job in the entire country that would cost Miles a $1.25 million buyout to take – more than double the amount it would cost him to take any other job.
It was clear when Miles continually dodged questions about possibly taking the Michigan job, even when his team was ranked No. 1 in the country and pursuing a national championship.
It was clear Saturday morning, when Miles called an impromptu press conference to debunk the report he was leaving for Michigan but didn’t debunk anything.
And it was clear after LSU’s win over Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game Saturday, when Miles got choked up talking about his dream job.
“I certainly love Michigan,” Miles said. “I will always be a Michigan man. . But I’m not going there. It saddens me, at times. I can’t be in two places. I’m in a great place. I’m home.”
No, he’s not. He’d referred to Ann Arbor as “home” previously, and he sounded like he was trying to convince himself more than anyone else Saturday that Baton Rouge was home.
It’s not, and it’s likely that he, through no fault of his own, now won’t get the chance he deserved more than anyone else – to come home to Michigan.
– Bromwich can be reached at email@example.com.
A Weekend of Decisions
Early Morning: ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit announces on ESPN’s College Gameday that sources tell him Les Miles is in as the Michigan head coach. Herbstreit also said Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta would join Miles in Ann Arbor.
11:52 A.M.: The Ann Arbor News reports that Miles removed himself as a possible candidate for the Michigan coaching job, refuting ESPN’s earlier reports. Other news sources soon follow suit.
ABOUT 12:30 P.M.: Louisiana State Athletic Director Skip Bertman confirms Miles agreed, in principle, to a contract extension.
1:45 P.M.: Miles holds a press conference in the Georgia Dome and adamantly states he’s staying at Louisiana State. “I’m the head coach at LSU,” Miles said. “I will be the head coach at LSU.”
4 p.m.: Miles tells a CBS sideline reporter prior to the SEC Championship Game that he would return as Louisiana State’s head coach next year.
After SEC Championship Game: In his postgame press conference, Miles reiterates that he has no interest in the Michigan job. “There is no wiggle room,” he said. “It’s very difficult for me to take another job if I’m not talking to anyone else.”
9:45 p.m. Sunday: Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin ends any lingering hope for Miles with an e-mailed statement saying he talked to Miles’ agent that morning and that Miles is staying in Baton Rouge.