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Risky business

LSU's Miles has gotten places by taking chances, although he would prefer that you didn't talk about that part of his reputation.

January 06, 2008|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS -- Jumping motorcycles over school buses is a risk. So is walking a high wire without a net and, in the journalism world, reporting that the Louisiana State coach has agreed to take the Michigan job.

Les Miles, speaking at media day Saturday in the Louisiana Superdome, said he was not the Evel Knievel of coaches.

"I am not a risk taker," Miles insisted. "I stop at lights. I give it gas when I am supposed to."

What about blackjack?

Does he hit on 16?

"I do not play blackjack," the third-year Tigers coach said.

Reputations die hard, though, and it may take punting on fourth and two from the Ohio State 37 in Monday's Bowl Championship Series national title game to prove Miles still isn't in the risky business.

Miles can't deny that leading LSU to the precipice of its second BCS title this century hasn't been a hilarious, hellbent hoot.

The postseason media guide can boast only that the Tigers are undefeated in games played in regulation this season because the team has lost twice in triple overtime.

How many other games might LSU have lost had it not pulled out all the stops?

The Tigers' Sept. 22 win over South Carolina was highlighted by a fake field-goal play, just before the half, in which holder (and starting quarterback) Matt Flynn almost cavalierly tossed the ball over his shoulder to kicker Colt David, who ran 15 yards for a touchdown.

Then came the Oct. 6 game against defending national champion Florida in which LSU was successful on all five of its fourth-down attempts in a thrilling four-point win.

The players, of course, loved it.

"I think if we would have gone to the sideline on any one of those and Coach Miles would have called for the punt team, I think we would have looked at him like he was crazy," Flynn said.

Two Saturdays later, Miles and LSU left the football world stunned with a last-seconds touchdown pass to beat Auburn that seemed to defy all conventional wisdom.

LSU trailed Auburn, 24-23, with time winding down and needing only a 39-yard field goal to cinch a victory.

Instead, Flynn tempted time-clock fate by heaving a 22-yard touchdown pass to Demetrius Byrd with one second left. Had the clock expired on LSU, Miles might not have just been known as a riverboat gambler -- he might have soon been employed as one.

Miles, though, resents accusations that he has no respect for conventionalism. He has been cast in stark contrast this week to button-down Jim Tressel, the Ohio State coach.

"I think that's unfair, to be honest with you," Miles said of his reputation. " . . . Shoot, I don't want to go for it on fourth down ever. I like to have everything done by third. And I enjoy punting. I really do. I think we've got a good punter. And we'll kick a field goal too. I don't have any problem with that. . . . I think in this game, possibly there needs to be some fun written about, go ahead, enjoy yourself."

Miles says his luck, like Branch Rickey's, is the residue of design.

"I trust this team," he said. " . . . I'm not calling plays that we make up. It's something that we'll have a chance of success with."

No one can quarrel with Miles' coaching success. He has more wins in his first three years, 33, than any football coach in school history. After going 28-21 in four years at Oklahoma State, Miles was called to Baton Rouge to replace the outgoing Nick Saban.

Contrary to appearances, LSU tailback Jacob Hester says Miles is dedicated to detail.

"Coach Miles loves to practice," Hester said. "That's his thing to do. All those fakes you see, trust me, we work on those hours upon hours. I mean, they're not just something we throw together."

You can understand why Miles may not like being compared to go-for-brokers.

He is cut from traditional cloth, a son raised in the coaching cradle of Ohio. Miles played at Michigan for Bo Schembechler, a disciple of fundamentals and field-position football.

Miles did take one big risk in his early life.

After earning his degree in economics, he left football behind and returned home to Ohio to become a trucking agent -- distributing steel. The job paid $32,000, good money in the mid-1970s, and Miles had a company car and an expense account. He also earned a $13,000 bonus in his first year.

It seemed the start of a nice, safe, life.

"I ended up being the general manager there shortly because it was a small operation," Miles said Saturday. "And I learned it all -- I learned how to drive it, how to maintain it, and I made some calls on customers."

But Miles decided he wanted to become a coach. He begged Schembechler, his old coach, into allowing him to return to Michigan.

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