After firing the most successful football coach in the history of the program, LSU needs a home run hire.
There should be no shortage of interest for what has become one of the best gigs in big-time college football, but upgrading from Les Miles is far from a sure thing. LSU could be forced to wait on the coaches at the top of its wish list if schools such as Texas and Southern California enter the market.
“Let’s say there’s a coach at Houston who may have a choice at Texas, Southern Cal or LSU,” former LSU coach and Big Ten Network analysis Gerry DiNardo said, making a-not-so subtle reference to Tom Herman. “What does he do?”
Every job has pros and cons, and coaches will have preferences and family ties to influence decisions, but generally, they are all looking for a chance to win championships.
“There’s a few jobs in this country that regardless of what your competition does, you can win a championship,” DiNardo said, citing Alabama, Ohio State, USC and Texas among those that qualify.
“Someone has to slot LSU in there,” said DiNardo, who went 32-24-1 for the Tigers from 1995-99. “Some coach has to say, ‘Regardless of what anyone else does, I can win a championship at LSU. It doesn’t matter if Alabama is rocking and rolling, LSU is the best job.'”
Or at least a better job than what the coach already has. It was a relatively easy choice for DiNardo to go from Vanderbilt to Baton Rouge back in the mid-1990s, even though the Tigers had just gone through six straight losing seasons.
LSU and its fans are not likely to be satisfied with a similar hire this time around. Since 2000, LSU has been one of the elite programs in college football.
Nick Saban followed DiNardo and LSU blossomed along with the SEC. Since 2000, Oklahoma and Ohio State are the only Power Five conference programs that have more victories than LSU. The Tigers’ four SEC titles since 2000 match Alabama for the most. Miles took over for Saban and won 114 games in 12-plus seasons, including the 2007 national championship. Only Charlie McClendon (137) won more games than Miles at LSU, but it took him seven more full seasons to do it.
“I felt, however, that this program needed a change, and the change was necessary to give the players the best opportunity to succeed,” LSU athletic director Joe Alleva said Monday.
Miles’ problems started with the 2011 national title game loss to Alabama. The Crimson Tide has won three of the last four SEC titles and two more national championships since then.
The path to championships at LSU currently goes through arguably the greatest dynasty ever in college football.
“Charlie Mac used to say to me: ‘I could never beat Alabama. Nobody cared that nobody else could,'” DiNardo said.
At 64 years old, Saban likely doesn’t have decades left with the Tide, but whoever signs up for the LSU job has to figure he will be dealing with Saban for at least a few more years.
Saban aside, there is no doubt that access to talent is a huge draw for coaching candidates.
Louisiana is among the most fertile states in the country when it comes to producing FBS talent, and LSU has no in-state Power Five competition for those players.
“Most of the state kids want to be Tigers, regardless of who the head coach is,” DiNardo said.
LSU plugged in Ed Orgeron as interim coach while getting a head start on the competition in its coaching search, though that provides only marginal advantage if its target is an active head coach. And there is no reason to think the Tigers won’t reach for the biggest prizes.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher is a former LSU assistant whom Tigers boosters covet. His resume is sterling, including a national championship, and he is the anti-Miles in that he been one of the college football’s best at developing quarterbacks.
Herman has been a head coach for only two seasons, but he is the brightest of rising stars. His spread offense is the antithesis of the antiquated attack Miles was running.
“That’s ultimately what got Les Miles fired,” former LSU defensive lineman and SEC Network analyst Booger McFarland said on ESPN.
“Here’s what LSU wants: They want a successful head coach who runs the spread,” DiNardo said. “That’s why Tom Herman’s perfect. I think (North Carolina coach Larry) Fedora fits in there, too.”
No matter who lands at LSU, here’s the number to beat: .778. That’s Miles’ winning percentage, the best of anybody who has ever coached more than 40 football games at LSU.
This story has been corrected to show that LSU lost to Alabama in the 2011 national title game, not the SEC title game.