In August of 2013, I traveled to Baton Rouge to spend the day with then LSU football coach Les Miles for a profile I was writing about him for the New York Times. I was to attend practice that morning and then spend the afternoon with him in his office and around campus, basically a normal late summer, preseason work day for him.
The scheduling for this hangout of sorts was difficult to nail down. The idea I originally pitched the LSU athletic department was to spend an offseason day that summer with Miles, one in which he wasn’t consumed with his normal duties as coach of a major college football program, before preparations for the upcoming season began in full, so that I could get more of a glimpse of Miles’ life outside of football. I wanted Miles’ wife to send him out with a honey-do list — to get groceries, pick up dry cleaning, stock up on potting soil from Home Depot, etc. — so that I could accompany him on such errands. I wanted to see Les Miles out and about doing normal, real life things and having interactions with other, non-football people. I wanted to see his human side, essentially.
Unfortunately, the plan to spend a personal day with Miles got scrapped after multiple scheduling conflicts from Miles’ side arose, and I was rescheduled to instead spend a work day with him, a day that I was told would be the last day before the season started that any member of the media could get a full day of access to him. Though it wasn’t what I originally hoped for, I still got a good glimpse at the human side of Les Miles.
You see, at around 6 a.m. on the day I was to spend with Miles, I was hit by a car as I rode a bike to a rental car place in New Orleans’ central business district. The car ran a red light at an intersection just as I was cruising through it. The driver slammed on his or her brakes, but I was still hit head on. What transpired was and still is kind of a blur, but what resulted was me being flipped over the car and landing on my back in the street. The driver then sped away in a classic hit-and-run, leaving me splayed out in the middle of the intersection.
Luckily, despite the fact that I wasn’t wearing a helmet, I somehow came away with no major injuries. I was banged up pretty good, sure, but I was okay. I remember two witnesses at the scene looking mildly shocked when I picked myself up off the ground without any help as the bike I was riding lay a few feet away in a mangled mess. They insisted I go to an emergency room to be examined, but I refused.
“No, I have to get to Baton Rouge to spend the day with Les Miles,” I told them. “Today’s my last chance to do it.”
That said, I didn’t feel totally right in the head. I was dizzy, a bit wobbly, to the point where I didn’t feel like it was a good idea for me to be driving. So I went down to the bus station and hopped aboard a Greyhound bus headed to Baton Rouge.
On the way I called the LSU sports information department and let them know what had happened, but that I was still making the trip, just that I might be a little late to practice that morning. When I arrived in Baton Rouge, they had someone pick me up at the bus station to drive me to campus, and when I arrived at practice, Miles came over immediately to check on me.
“I hear you’ve had quite a morning,” he said. “Let’s have our trainers take a look at you. We’ve got some of the best in the business on staff here. They’ll take care of you.” (I was later diagnosed with a sprained wrist, a knee contusion, and a low grade concussion by LSU’s medical staff.)
I stayed a few feet away from Miles as the team spent the next couple of hours practicing. He came over often to see how I was feeling. Later, back in his office, we had a long talk about timing and chance and mortality, and he detailed — off the record — a couple of incidents from his own life that, had luck not been on his side, could have resulted in serious injury or death. Both of us even got a little choked up during the conversation, as I recall. It was an illuminating glimpse into Les Miles, the man, and I came away from the whole thing utterly charmed by him.
Something else I remember from that day: At one point Miles went into his closet to retrieve his “dress ball cap,” the hat he’d wear on the sidelines for games that season. I’ll never forget how happy he was to show it to me, beaming like a child proud to show off a shiny new toy. He loved LSU and its fans and the entire state of Louisiana so much. He was so proud to be the head football coach at LSU.
With this all said, as an LSU fan, I’m both happy and sad to see Miles go. It feels like we’ve reached the end of a once-great marriage, one filled with passion and incredible memories and ups and downs that were both exhilarating and exhausting, but whose best days are in the rearview mirror. It’s time to move on. It’s what’s best for everyone involved.
The downfall of the relationship started not long after it peaked.
The 2011 LSU squad was one of the greatest college football teams to ever take the field. The 2007 national championship aside, this team — which went 13-0 during the regular season — was probably Miles’ crowning achievement at LSU. But it was that same team’s anemic performance in the national title game against Alabama that sowed the seeds of LSU fans’ collective discontent. Miles’ stubborn refusal to deviate from the game plan that he went into with is something that still haunts many LSU fans to this day.
LSU’s offense never crossed midfield in that game, and backup quarterback Jarret Lee — who was at the helm when LSU beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa in the regular season — never saw the field despite Jordan Jefferson being no more effective that night than a soggy croissant would be if employed as a sex toy. And it’s all been downhill since then, a slide that has seen LSU football descend into mediocrity, something that is just not acceptable anymore in Baton Rouge.
So, in summary, it was time. As a fan, I support the decision to fire Miles and usher in a new era in LSU football. It just sucks that it had to end this way. (Side note: I find it oddly fitting that Miles’ firing came on a wildly eventful sports day — an NFL Sunday that saw the passing of Jose Fernandez and Arnold Palmer, and the final home game for legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully.)
But as an LSU fan, I’d like to thank Miles for his decade of service, for the love he exhibited for LSU and the people of Louisiana during his tenure. It’s been quite a ride, Les. Thanks for the memories. We’ll all be pulling for you to succeed in whatever you do next.
And on a more personal level, I’ll always remember the mildly traumatic day I got to spend with you and the talk we had in your office. Thanks for that. I’ll probably always cherish the audio recordings of our conversation. May life be as kind to you as you were to me that day going forward.