Time for the silence to end

Time for the silence to end

COLUMN: After eight tumultuous days, Les Miles needs to stand up and clear the air.

It would be way too cliché and easy to write that LSU coach Les Miles needs to stop the bleeding.

 

It would also be considerably too late.

 

The damage is so deep now, there’s really no way to control it. Instead, all Miles can do now is do his best to pick up the pieces and move forward.

 

Step one in that process is to speak up. Come out of seclusion. Make an appearance where you do more than smile and read a prepared statement for players on the way out. Say something about the players you’re still coaching and to the fans who are still reeling from eight days from one punch below the belt after another.

 

First off, this has nothing to do with Gunner Kiel and his abrupt and still-unexplained about-face. I learned a long time ago to never be surprised by anything that unfolds in recruiting. Kids have to do what they believe is best in their hearts and what will keep peace at home.

 

The thing I would cling to is this: Did LSU and its fans really want Kiel if he wasn’t 100% committed to being here? With the way this played out, who really thinks he would’ve been around for the long haul?

 

Due to NCAA rules, Miles can’t really explain what happened with Kiel and doesn’t really need to. The change of heart is completely on the kid. I have no doubts that the LSU coaches did all they could to convince him this was the place for him.

 

That’s where Miles’ free pass on silence ends, though.

 

It’s time – past time – Miles steps to the microphone and bares his soul. It will be tough, maybe the toughest thing he’s ever had to do. But it will be real and raw, and right now, that’s what the LSU nation needs.

 

Miles needs some form of mea culpa to be part explanation, part confession and part putting out the flames of rumor and innuendo that have engulfed his program since the 21-0 loss to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game.

 

Important to note here that as bad as the hurt from losing on the biggest stage might be to a fan, multiply that by 10 and you have a hint how Miles and his coaches feel. Don’t mistake his inexplicable silence for not caring.

 

But he also can’t get by with saying “we weren’t ready to play” or “Alabama just beat us.” Miles blew that chance when he didn’t use everything he had at his fingertips to try and jump-start his team.

 

That includes keeping Jarrett Lee on ice when the Tigers’ offense simply wasn’t responding to Jordan Jefferson. Lee had earned a chance to play in the biggest game of his life by rescuing LSU’s season before it began by stepping in when Jefferson was entangled in a brawl off campus, got arrested and then suspended.

 

That includes handing the ball to fullback J.C. Copeland on third-and-short when the game was still reasonably in reach. Did anybody really think that play was going to be the one that was best to gain a first down, let alone generate some badly needed momentum?

 

That includes not coming out with some intent of being aggressive on offense from the beginning instead of operating with a handful of basic plays, none of which worked particularly well.

 

Because of all of those things, swirled together with how the game played out, conspiracy theories abound for the cause of the meltdown. Fair or not, it’s become hard (impossible?) for folks to accept the loss as just a loss.

 

Was there some underlying cause for the lethargy and mediocre play? Miles may be the only full-grown adult who knows that answer and is in position to address it. Should he? Honestly, probably not completely because some things are meant to remain behind closed doors.

 

For the record, I don’t buy into the whole story of pre-game strife and fallout. Folks are quick to connect the dots and peg Billy Gonzales’ departure as a result of that. He was outbound before the game ever kicked off – it was just a matter of where. Coaching hires don’t happen that quickly when there is unrest involved. This wasn’t a firing. It was Gonzales pursuing a job up the career ladder.

 

Now, was there a team divide in part because of the two quarterbacks who shared the job? Absolutely. You don’t do what I’ve done for a living as long as I have and not develop the ability to read people a little bit.

 

Every time a question about one of the QBs came up this season after Jefferson came back from his suspension, there was a palpable uneasiness to the answers no matter who you talked to. Whether it boiled over in New Orleans, nobody outside of the LSU inner circle will ever really know or say.

 

If that’s the case, it’s not all on Miles’ shoulders. If players allowed that to become a distraction they couldn’t overcome at that stage of the season after they had managed it for 13 games, then they deserve just as much criticism – especially a group of seniors that had worked so hard to get to that point.

 

Bottom line, if the problem was that bad, it should’ve been addressed and resolved in November, not January. And perhaps it was addressed and Miles stubbornly held his ground. It wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened.

 

Those are the things Miles needs to talk about. Maybe it would be best if he stepped to a podium surrounded by seniors who don’t have to worry about what they say anymore. No worries about playing time repercussions. Let them have a say as well.

 

All LSU fans are passionate and some can be vicious at times. But in my experience, most of them are down-to-earth good folks who can accept and stomach somebody stepping in front of them and saying “I messed up. I didn’t have my team ready to play and there are no excused. I allowed some things in the locker room to fester and didn’t handle them well. I’ll try to learn from this and get better.”

 

Not saying Miles should or will say anything like that. I do know, though, that after Ole Miss in 2009 and Tennessee in 2010 he was contrite and handled things well in terms of explaining what went wrong and his intention to fix it.

 

I noticed a few times this season – and this is human nature and understandable – that he got a little cocky in some situations that were easily camouflaged by winning. In particular, I struggled with how he downplayed Lee’s nearly non-existent playing time the last five games.

 

There are few kids I’ve covered for four years that I respect as much as Lee, who stood tall in 2008 as a 19-year-old redshirt freshman and answered one tough question after another when his season and really his life unraveled. Then this season, he stuck to the party line this season after Jefferson returned and the shift in playing time began.

 

To wave off questions about Lee’s conspicuously diminished role and not explain whether it was related to academics or shattered of confidence or whatever was a slap in the face of a lot of folks, most notably Lee.

 

This isn’t me saying Lee would’ve given LSU a chance to beat Alabama or saying he was a better quarterback than Jefferson. Both of them were, at best, serviceable college quarterbacks who had occasional flashes of brilliance mingled with frustrating performances. Together, though, I thought they formed a rarity: A two-quarterback system that worked.

 

Until Miles pulled the plug on it for whatever reason. He sidestepped questions why the two-QB format changed down the season’s stretch and kept insisting Lee was a major part of the game plan and was right on the cusp of playing. Sorry, but don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.

 

What you won’t read from me is Miles-bashing. One local reporter jumped on that chance, piggybacking on Bobby Hebert’s awkward tirade wrapped around a decent postgame question last Monday. The writer dragged up some old laundry and festering wounds from his own perceived slights from Miles and wrapped it all up with journalistic venom and unloaded.

 

Really don’t see the need for that because this is the same coach who guided the Tigers to arguably the best regular season in school history and perhaps in SEC history. Miles deserves credit for his role in that glorious success, no doubt. And he remains one of the nicer human beings I’ve ever dealt with in this profession at this level and that means something.

 

It should to fans as well, regardless of the sting felt the last eight days. Miles is a good man who has built a sturdy platform for one of the best programs in the country and the Tigers will be a formidable contender for the national championship next season as well and are on solid ground to be good for years to come.

 

It doesn’t seem like it right now, but the sky isn’t falling. Life – and LSU football – goes on. At this point, though, it sure would be nice to hear something from Miles.

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