Published November 20, 2014
Les Miles made it clear, in his own particular way, that he is living in the present.
His nostalgia for Michigan, where he played, and his enduring pride in his alma mater could not outweigh the relationships he's built in the past six seasons at LSU, where he's won 62 games and five bowls, including the 2007 national title.
"I'm one of those guys that believe where you are at is where you live your life," Miles said Wednesday shortly after LSU announced that the Tigers' coach had agreed to a new contract that would keep him living down on the bayou for the next seven seasons.
The announcement of Miles' new deal came two days after Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon flew to Baton Rouge to meet with Miles about the Wolverines' coaching vacancy that has since been filled by Brady Hoke.
Miles' annual salary will remain the same at a little more than $3.75 million. However, his new deal gives him three additional years and more opportunities win bonuses based on postseason success.
LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva said the contract will lend stability to a program that has already piled up an average of more than 10 victories a year since Miles arrived.
Miles said that stability would only make him a better recruiter and allow him to weather intermittent down years caused by injuries or unexpected departures of key players on account of personal or academic factors.
It also should make it easier for Miles to ignore his vocal critics. Miles has been lambasted on sports call-in shows in Louisiana and even booed in Tiger Stadium when the Tigers have struggled, as they did in a memorable narrow victory over Tennessee this past season. The Tigers initially appeared to lose that game on a botched play in the final seconds, only to be rescued by a Tennessee penalty.
Yet, Miles downplayed fans' fair-weather treatment, chalking it up to a fringe element prone toward negativity.
"I bet you those people don't sing the alma mater at the end of the game, and I bet you those people don't have tears in their eyes when the Tigers take the field," Miles said. "I began to understand that, as a part of love and appreciation for a team, just occasionally 2,500 knuckleheads might boo. I think I might want to be at a place where they care greatly for the work that you do and that it's important that you do it well. If that means that, very rarely, one or two guys might boo, I kind of understand."
It remains unclear how close Miles came to being offered the Michigan job. While Brandon has said that never happened, Miles said they had "a very substantial talk."
"I was honored by their arrival. I enjoyed the communications, the conversations," Miles said. "My alma mater just warmed my heart."
Miles said he discussed his options with his wife and his children on Monday night, largely ignoring the telecast of the BCS championship game in which Auburn edged Oregon to run the Southeastern Conference's string of national titles to five.
Miles' wife, Kathy, had a central role in the decision, and "tears were shed," the coach said. Miles also let his four children weigh in.
"Every one of my children are so happy here, enjoy being here, their friends, their things," Miles said. "That's not something that could not necessarily be maneuvered and replaced, but it did tell me they're happy here and that was an important factor."
All the while, Miles reflected on his commitments to current players and incoming recruits, as well as assistant coaches and officials in the LSU athletic department. He described struggling to sleep through the night and lying awake around 4 a.m., talking again with Kathy.
While he was leaning toward remaining at LSU, Miles said he had to consider the possibility that he could be persuaded to go to a place he's loved since he played under the late Bo Schembechler, who later gave Miles his first assistant coaching job.
"I could not have met with Michigan without the potential of a different outcome," Miles said. "I always allowed for that, but it kept comfortably returning to the people and the commitment. I enjoy this community."
Miles also had the memory of LSU's 41-24 Cotton Bowl triumph over Texas A&M fresh in his mind — the postgame celebration with his players and the howls of approval from rabid Tigers fans who'd traveled to Arlington, Texas.
As the team bus left Cowboys Stadium, Miles sat near redshirt freshman defensive end Sam Montgomery and freshman defensive back Tryann Mathieu. Mathieu had made big plays all season and had an interception against the Aggies. Montgomery was having early success as a pass rusher when his season was cut short by a knee injury. Miles considered their promising futures at LSU and all that went into bringing them to Baton Rouge.
"I told them I was going to be here when I recruited them, and for me not to respect those people that I committed to is just very difficult," Miles said.
Then Miles, the so-called "Mad Hatter," whose litany of quirky quotes inspired the creation of the website thequotablelesmiles.com, summed up his outlook in a way befitting his reputation.
"My strength and my weakness is loyalty," Miles began, "and I'll always see it as a strength."