The Case for (And Against) Les Miles at USC


When news broke early Sunday evening that the LSU Tigers had surprisingly given head coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron the boot, USC Twitter quickly was buzzing with speculation about a potential future with Miles wearing Cardinal and Gold. After No. 18 LSU lost 18-13 in heartbreaking fashion to unranked Auburn, the powers that be in Baton Rouge decided they needed a change.

Coincidentally, that sentiment is shared out west in Southern California.

It’s no surprise that Trojan fans are already looking elsewhere to build another dynasty, as offensive-coordinator-turned-head coach Clay Helton is off to a 1-3 start this season — a 2-5 start if you count the final three games he coached last year after former head coach Steve Sarkisian was unceremoniously let go from Troy. The Trojan football program has been a mess for the past few seasons, and the natives are ready for change.

To some, that change comes in the form “The Mad Hatter”, a dude who sometimes eats grass, is fiery on the field and (sometimes) playful with the media, and who’s said to be adored by the players he’s coached.

But to others, USC should set its goals higher than Miles and target a different a coach whose program is currently tearing it up (here’s looking at you, Houston!)

So should the Trojans even have another coach on their radar right now, or keep their attention locked in elsewhere?

Here are three reasons why USC should pursue Miles, and three reasons why they shouldn’t.

Les Miles Is a Proven Winner, and USC Needs to Win

Despite LSU no longer being the program it was 13, 9, even 5 years ago –- the Tigers finished 5-3, 4-4 and 5-3 in the SEC the past three seasons –- Miles is still a winner. He’s tallied a 114-34 record in 11 full seasons in Baton Rouge, highlighted by seven 10-win

seasons, two SEC titles and a national championship. But none of that was enough to keep him at the helm, as his stubbornness to evolve the LSU offense and an inability to dethrone Alabama as the king of the SEC likely contributed to his demise.

While that may have been inadequate for the LSU faithful, his coaching pedigree and resume would impress a Southern California fan base whose dreams of returning to greatness have been replaced by nightmares of mediocrity.

A team that is arguably one of the most talented in the country often looks outclassed and outcoached by its opponents. USC doesn’t play with the confidence it once had, with the swagger that it could beat any opponent on any given day. It takes a proven winner to embody that confidence and breathe it into the team.

Currently, the coaching staff in Troy doesn’t have that. But it could, if it sets its sights on Miles. And besides, with no Nick Saban or Alabama-like program to loom over him in the Pac-12, Miles could be the king of the conference.

Hiring USC Guys Hasn’t Worked. At All.

Under Lane Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian and now Clay Helton, USC has gone 51-30 since 2010, an abysmal record for a program that considers anything less than a 10-win season and a conference championship appearance a failure. It’s no secret the Trojan program -– while blessed with a brand that (for now) sells itself and keeps each recruiting class loaded with talent –- has lost its way, failing to learn from its mistakes and repeatedly entrusting the team to coaches without a proven record of success.

If there’s one consistent thing that can be said about the Trojans of today, it’s that they lack an identity. They’re a squad full of talent, but not a true team. The coaches call plays, but don’t really run an offense. It’s clear with each frustrating loss that they are still trying to figure it all out.

USC fans and more importantly, USC boosters, have no time for that.

If new athletic director Lynn Swann wants to undo some of the mess former AD Pat Haden made, he could start by hiring a new coach outside the USC bubble. Miles is perfect for that, as he has no preexisting ties to the Trojans. He’s enough of a culture change that he could shake up a stagnant Trojan program, but he’s still got the charisma and charm required to handle life in the L.A. media spotlight.

Les Miles Is Popular with Athletes and Would Be a Dream Recruiter in L.A.

In the fallout of LSU firing Miles, many of his former and current players took to Twitter to express their fondness for their former head coach. He’s the kind of coach young athletes dream of playing for one day, as was the case for many recruits who had pledged their commitments to LSU.

With him gone, we will see in the coming months just how may athletes choose to stay their commitments, how many will open up their recruitment and how many will wait to see if he ends up at a different program and follow him there.

Should he end up at a new program and should that program be USC, the Trojans would have landed themselves another elite recruiter.

Not only is Miles already a household name, he has the ties and experience recruiting in the South to bolster USC’s already strong pull in the region. Couple that with USC’s recruiting prowess in its own backyard and the Trojans could keep their rosters loaded with elite talent for many seasons to come. There are many reasons USC could benefit from having Miles on roster, and these are just the three that would address the most immediate concerns in Troy.

But for every reason Miles looks like the obvious choice, there are question marks about him that could also give you pause.

Les Ain’t Getting Any Younger

While he’s by no means “old” for coaching, at 62, there’s no telling how much longer Miles even intends to keep coaching. Realistically, retirement can’t be that far in the future.

And even if he does stay in the game several more years, is he too set in his ways to adapt to a college football landscape that now relies more on flexible offensive schemes instead of the “smash mouth” football of days past? USC’s current troubles are having coaches who are in over their heads as it pertains to experience. But if you replace them with a coach whose best days are behind him, did you really solve anything?

Les Miles Hasn’t Developed a Quarterback Since…

For the past several seasons, Miles hasn’t been able to get much out of his quarterbacks. While it could be argued that he’s still found a way to win and be relevant without one, it’s certainly a major concern if you want to entrust him with the future of your team. The last really good quarterbacks he had were JaMarcus Russell (2003-2006) and Matt Flynn (2003-2007), who led the Tigers to a BCS Championship. Since then though, Miles hasn’t been able to develop a quarterback out of high school.

As a result, his offenses of late have been ineffective and underachieving, despite being loaded with wide receiver talent. Critics of Miles’ feel he’s squandered too much offensive talent recently, and that’s already a problem USC has been having under its past three coaches. It’s true that USC is located in fertile country for quarterback talent, but that doesn’t matter so much if the head coach in charge can’t do anything with it.

USC Should Go After A Coach Teams Can’t Live Without, Not One They Discarded

Perhaps the biggest indictment against Miles is the fact that he got fired in the first place. While his upside could be great, LSU fired him for legitimate reasons. If the Tigers are ready to move on from a stagnating coach, why should the Trojans be eager to bring him on board?

The better tactic would be for USC to target a coach whose program would hate to see him go.

A popular name in the discussion is Tom Herman, the current head coach at the University of Houston. In two seasons, he’s turned the Tigers into a legitimate contender. Last year, Houston went 11-1 before beating Temple 24-13 in the American Conference Championship, and they capped their season with a No. 14 ranking and a 38-24 win over the No. 9 Florida State Seminoles in the Peach Bowl.

Houston is the truth, and Herman is going to be the coach to pursue once the coaching hot seats really start to sizzle.

In theory, LSU has a leg up on USC. The Tigers already have a head coaching vacancy while many in Troy just wish they did. But beyond Herman, there are a handful of
other head coaches that USC could court that are also proven winners before they really even need to look at Miles.

The shocking, but altogether expected dismissal of Miles so early in the season has certainly made things interesting 2,000 miles away in Southern California, where the spotlight is now going to shine even brighter on Helton.

If he doesn’t want the Trojan Family to completely abandon ship and start backing the Brinks truck up to Miles or another coach, he has to turn things around. And fast.

There’s still a lot – A LOT – of the season left to play, and any number of things can change in Troy. But if Miles stays available through December, it might be a good idea for USC boosters to start researching his favorite type of grass to munch on and bring out the welcome wagon.

But then again, maybe not.