Sunday, July 25, 2010

Les Miles and the CEO Head Coach

A friend e-mailed me after my post last Monday night to ask why my opinion of Les Miles had changed. As the sidebar will remind you, I created the "LesCrush" tag in 2007 when it appeared that Miles would be the next head coach in Ann Arbor. I defended Miles against all manner of charges. Now, I've swung along with most LSU fans to think that the guy isn't a great head coach. It's not that coaching in the same division as Nick Saban has exposed Miles. If LSU were having great seasons and just coming up short against the Tide, a la Fulmer's Vols against Spurrier's Gators in the 90s, then Miles' reputation would be on safer ground. Rather, LSU has been poor over the past two years, especially considering their talent. 9-4 last year wasn't the end of the world, but LSU was a lucky 9-4. I don't know too many other teams that finish 9-4 when they are dead last in the conference in total offense.

The regression of LSU's offense seems to be a coaching issue, mainly because the Tigers deploy offensive starters whose recruiting profiles would suggest that talent isn't the issue. Whether LSU struggles with player development, offensive schemes, or playcalling, a fair amount of legitimate criticism has been directed at Miles and his offensive coordinator, Gary Crowton. Crowton came to LSU with a reputation of being strong in his first year at a program and a disappointment thereafter. His time in Baton Rouge has been no exception.

Crowton's struggles are especially interesting to me because one of the major selling points for Miles in 2007 was that he appeared to be a successful CEO coach. Miles is not an offensive expert like Urban Meyer, nor is he a defensive guru like Nick Saban. However, he did seem to have a knack for hiring the right assistants and then ensuring that they had the right talent and environment to do their jobs well. Who cares if Miles is no expert if he has Bo Pelini running his defense and Jimbo Fisher handling the offense?

The regression of the LSU offense could mean one of several things: (1) the perception of Miles as a keen evaluator of coaching acumen was misplaced; (2) Miles made a mistake against type in hiring and then retaining Crowton; or (3) the skill of picking assistants is highly overrated because just about any sentient head coach can figure out which of his colleagues understands offense or defense, so the "successful CEO" types are really just lucky that the right guys were available and their budget allowed them to hire those good fits. I have to admit that I'm leaning toward #3. Was Steve Spurrier smart when he hired Bob Stoops and dumb when he hired John Hoke? Was Pete Carroll smart when he hired Norm Chow and dumb when he promoted Lane Kiffin? Was Mark Richt smart when he hired Brian Van Gorder and dumb when he hired Willie Martinez? Was Mike Bellotti smart when he hired Chip Kelly and dumb when he hired Crowton? Were Tommy Tuberville's revolving door of offensive coordinators evidence of alternating episodes of genius and insanity?

So, coming full circle, isn't Les Miles just one (hopefully obvious) offensive coordinator away from being smart again? Aren't Georgia fans hoping that Mark Richt is going to look like a better coach because of Todd Grantham? We like to brand coaches as good and bad. Lord knows that I do enough of it in this space. But when we are making these snap judgments, shouldn't we recognize the outsized role that luck and timing play in our evaluations? When I write that Miles and Richt seem outgunned against Saban and Meyer, what I'm really saying is that they both have/had one sub-standard coordinator who will almost certainly be replaced. Actually, I'm also saying that having a coach like Meyer or Saban is better because they really only need one ace coordinator instead of two, although the Steve Addazio experience would be a sliver of evidence that this is not always the case.

(Michigan fans, there is an implicit defense of Rich Rodriguez in here. Unless you think that Rodriguez has forgotten how to coach offense, he may be one or two hires on the defensive side of the ball [and not necessarily the defensive coordinator] away from looking smart again. Well, that and finally getting to coach an offense with freshmen quarterbacks.)


Anonymous said...

Crowton was lucky to have an old, mature talented squad in 07, and unlucky to have very inexperienced QBs since. They should be okay this year; if they aren't Crowton shouldn't coach again.

Luck has way, way more to do with all of this than anybody wants to admit. What if Chris Leak pulled a Mallet on Meyer? It certainly might have been in his long term interests to do so, yet he stayed and single handedly saved their offense (2600 yds, 20 td/6 int, 62%, 7 YPA). Would Meyer have won with Josh Portis and, uh, nobody? If Meyer had a losing season in year one, would he have landed the #2 class for 2006 (Tebow, Harvin, Riley Cooper, Brandon Spikes, Jermaine Cunningham, etc.)? I doubt it.

Well, luck and the ability to land jucos. Take Reggie Nelson off Florida and they wouldn't have won the national title. Rich Rod is unlucky and just isn't allowed to use the same tools...

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