Feinswog: Miles' Trying Weekend Ends in Victory

LSU head coach Les Miles
LSU head coach Les Miles
Chris Parent (@chrisparent)
Lee Feinswog
Lee Feinswog

Long after the field had been cleared, the stadium basically empty and most of the interviews done, his young quarterback passed Les Miles in the hallway near their locker room.

Anthony Jennings, sharply dressed and way too young to imagine what the previous 24 hours could have been like for Miles, shook his hand and they embraced.

“It’s all you coach,” Jennings said.

Miles smiled as he told his young charge that wasn’t the case.

“Well done. Well done,” he told Jennings. “You made some big plays down the stretch. Well done. And how about the ‘Naked’ that we worked?’ ”

They both laughed as one of the most memorable 24-hour periods in both their lives came to an end, one in which Jennings took his place in the lore of LSU football by tossing a game-winning touchdown on the play they call simply, “Naked Right,” and Miles went through, well, he went through a day of life.

LSU’s 10-7 victory Saturday night over third-ranked Ole Miss was one for the ages and a game that was played like those from ages ago. Relentless ground attack. Fierce defense. A sellout crowd that came early and stayed late. After all, who was going to leave a game that was obviously a classic in the making?

For Miles, it had to be surreal. It started this past Monday when he implored the fans to stay till the end, something the LSU faithful simply hadn’t done this season.

And then Friday night things got too real.

Miles and his wife, Kathy, were watching their oldest son, Manny, play football for University High.

That’s when the phone rang, a call from LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Cameron was watching Catholic High, where not only his son plays but also the Miles’ other son, Ben. In their game against McKinley, Ben got hurt.

They decided Kathy would stay and Les would go. He went with Ben to the doctor, where they learned he broke his ankle. Surgery will be this week.

“The good news is he’s resilient and he handled it well,” Miles said.

It was just the beginning.

The phone rang again.

“It was the coroner,” Miles said. “The coroner.”

He was calling to tell him that his mom, 91-year-old Martha Miles, had died. Martha Miles lived at an assisted living center for seniors in Baton Rouge. She had a myriad of health problems, Kathy Miles said, including dementia and never fully recovering from a fall a few years ago.

But still Les Miles was taken aback at the sobering news. No matter how tough things had been for Martha Miles the past few years, a man lost his mom. His wife her mother-in-law. And their four kids their grandmother.

“I didn’t know what to say. My son went from being the one being consoled to my son consoling me.”

Miles wistfully said he almost had gone to go see his mom on Friday morning.

“But then I knew we had an open date next week and I figured I’d wait and spend some time. I didn’t go as often as I like.”

He smiled at her memory, one that was honored by his team after the game when Miles was given the game ball. He proudly brought to the podium for his postgame news conference.

“The good news is she had a great life. She was loved greatly. Her impact and her contribution to her family was very significant.”

Her son was dealing with all this during and after one of the more significant victories of his 10-year LSU career, one that improved his record at the school to 102-26. And that includes a 23-20 overtime victory over Ole Miss in 2006 that came a day after his old college coach and mentor, Michigan legend Bo Schembechler, passed away. Sometimes the sports gods must have a smile among themselves.

On this night, Miles’ Tigers upset No. 3 Ole Miss in what can only be described as an old-timey football game. Or, as LSU offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said, “It was an offensive lineman’s dream. Man on man. Impose your will on somebody else.”

Maybe it’s something about playing Ole Miss, a series that LSU now leads 59-40-4 after yet another night in which incredible memories were made. Was it Billy Cannon’s punt return? Didn’t top that. But over the years there were other great plays that won games and Jenning’s roll right and soft pass to tight end Logan Stokes -- the first catch of his career! -- will rank right up there.

To say nothing of LSU’s defense, which was nothing short of magnificent.

When it ended LSU public-address announcer Dan Borne said one of his rarely used catch phrases, one he first uttered in 1990 when LSU beat Loyola Marymount in the monumental 148-141 overtime basketball victory.

As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Borne exclaimed to the Tiger Stadium sellout crowd, “What a game, what game, what a great, great game!”

No wonder Miles’ first sentence in his postgame address was, “What a great game.”

And it really was.

“I’m just really proud of how this team has progressed in the last month,” LSU athletic director Joe Alleva said. “They’re really made tremendous strides.”

He’s out $5,000 for the fine the SEC will impose on LSU for its fans, mostly students, going on the field after the game.

In the meantime, Miles has some time to re-group personally and emotionally, but knowing him and his staff it’s all hands on deck as they prepare for Alabama. Winning a title, so much as the SEC Western Division, is out of the realm of reality, but all season Miles has been telling us how much he likes this team and how it was going to get better.

"This is a quality group of men. I’m telling you, you don’t understand. They are special. This is a great group of people. I’m going to tell you right now, I love going to work with them. You love doing this with them.”

Being down three touchdowns at home to Mississippi State and getting blown out by Auburn are suddenly distant memories. The Tigers are now 7-2 overall, 3-2 in the SEC, and squarely back in the hunt to play in a major bowl game and reach double figures in victories once again.

“It’s been fun,” Miles said. “Ups and downs early and hopefully we’ll continue to keep doing what we’ve been doing and continue to improve and it can be special.”

Considering what Miles went through from Friday night to Saturday night and the way the game unfolded, in many ways it already has been.

 

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