Miles, Tigers can 'let it out' after winning national title
NEW ORLEANS -- "Excuse me," said LSU coach Les Miles, pausing momentarily to, what -- compose himself? Cry? Lead the postgame news conference in prayer?
"Wa-hooooo!" yelled Miles. A beat later, "Just kind of had to do that."
You'd yell, too, if you were Miles on Monday night at the Superdome. That's because Miles' damn strong football team won the Allstate BCS National Championship Game, beating No. 1-ranked (cough, cough) and supposedly more focused Ohio State, 38-24.
"I think he just wanted to let it out and scream," said Kathy Miles, who happily watched her husband from near the back of the room.
Can't blame any of the Miles family for whooping it up. About five weeks ago Miles was thigh-pad deep in job controversy. The Michigan job was open, and anybody who knows Miles and knows where he played and who he played for, was aware of his dream to one day return to the Big House as the Wolverines' head coach.
But from the rumors -- and the angry, theatrical denial from Miles that followed -- LSU managed to gather itself in time to win the SEC championship, then somehow squeezed into the second spot of the final BCS standings, and then held a Mardi Gras parade on Ohio State's national championship plans. That noise you heard at 4 a.m. was the nearby French Quarter begging for mercy from LSU fans.
The score didn't do the rout justice. The only thing LSU didn't do was dot the i in victory with one of the Buckeyes' sousaphone players.
It was just the way Miles thought it could be, maybe better. His team reflected its coach: defiant, geeked, relentless. The Tigers fell behind 10-0, and then scored the next 31 points. Ohio State never recovered.
"We played a lot tougher teams, mentally tougher," said safety Harry Coleman, who replaced injured all-American Craig Steltz during the game. "When they got down, they shut it down."
Miles and the Tigers kept cranking it up. This is the Miles way. When in doubt, be aggressive. Maybe that's why, with 1:50 left in the game and LSU ahead by 14, the Tigers threw a touchdown pass on a second-and-goal from the Ohio State 5-yard-line.
Because of something as innocent as luck and a series of weird circumstances that can shape a man's career, Miles stood on the Superdome field late Monday evening with the drop-dead gorgeous BCS championship crystal trophy in his hands. Somehow that dream of coaching Michigan didn't seem so important anymore.
"The Michigan thing, it really didn't compare," Miles said. "There will always be a wonderful place in my heart for Michigan, it's just that simple. It will never change. But there will also be an extremely warm spot in my heart for LSU. It's a very special season, a very special team."
Special for lots of reasons. LSU was the first two-loss team to play in and win a BCS National Championship Game. It overcame a pair of triple-overtime defeats. It overcame injuries. It overcame the rumors and reports that Miles was doing a slow dance with his alma mater.
But none of that mattered after the game when Miles called his team together to sing the LSU alma mater.
"I want Porter," he said, signaling for assistant head coach Larry Porter to join him at the front of the makeshift team choir.
Miles put an arm around Porter on his right, and an arm around senior running back Jacob Hester, who grinded out 86 yards and a touchdown against the Buckeyes, on his left.
"Maestro," said Miles, waiting for the LSU band to begin playing.
At the end of the song, Miles took his time as he belted out the final words: "And thy spirit dwell in us forever L-S-U!"
Everybody celebrated. Miles waved to the crowd and held up his forefinger. Defensive tackle Marlon Favorite, with very little prodding from a TV crew, broke out his newest song, "We Rock, We Roll." My favorite line: "You better give LSU respect, like Aretha."
LSU earned respect and a national championship. USC and Georgia can make their arguments for No. 1, but LSU, even with those two losses, played like the best team in the nation.
Of course, it helped to have Ohio State on the other side of the field. The Buckeyes are now 0-9 in bowl games against SEC teams, including the 41-14 loss to Florida in the BCS Championship Game a year ago, and now this mauling. That's 79 points allowed in two title games. So much for the power of The Sweater Vest.
Just think if Miles hadn't been here for this. Just think if the Michigan Man, and not West Virginia import Rich Rodriguez, had been offered the Wolverines' coaching job.
"I couldn't blame him for that," Favorite said. "I know it's a dream of his to coach at his old school."
Not anytime soon, it isn't.
"He's stuck here," Coleman said. "We got him a ring now."
Porter, who has been on Miles' staff for the past six years, said he was never especially worried about his boss ditching LSU. "No, because we talk," he said. "I knew where he wanted to be. I knew all along. The bottom line is that LSU made a commitment to him, and he made one to LSU. There's a marriage."
Until Michigan we part? Doesn't seem like it.
"I'm so fortunate to be the coach here," Miles said. "So fortunate to represent LSU."
As the rest of LSU Nation adjourned to The Quarter for adult beverages on Bourbon Street, Kathy Miles said there wouldn't be much of a family celebration.
"We'll take the kids out for ice cream or something," she said.
Here's an idea: a group "wa-hooooo!" You know, for the guy wearing the white LSU cap.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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