By SCOOTER HOBBS
Written for the LSWA
A noted Michigan Man from Ohio who first made his name in Oklahoma and now toils in Kansas is about to be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
No, Les Miles wasn’t from around here and he doesn’t live here anymore. But if he hadn’t wandered into Louisiana, the Bayou State just might have had to invent him.
Sure, he brought the Tigers their third national championship in 2007, played for another following a 13-0 2011 season, all the while winning games in nutty, sometimes unexplainable fashion as he finished with the best winning percentage of any other LSU coach in history.
That’s just the highlights of a far more fascinating story. It will be celebrated June 6-8 in Natchitoches at the 2019 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Induction Celebration, culminating with the sold-out Saturday night, June 8 Induction Dinner and Ceremony on Cox Sports Television.
Oh, this born Yankee took some getting used to.
There was the language barrier, of course. South Louisiana is used to telling new arrivals to bring an interpreter for their own good. But Miles turned the tables with his own brand of Les-Speak, an odd language or dialect — whatever it was — that was native to nowhere except the head beneath that ill-fitting ball cap.
It was head-scratching stuff, roughly translated to where “desire” became a “want for victory,” where unwanted “rain” became a “good stiff dew,” where a loss was “failure to achieve victory” or a “jog” was “not a full run but the upper quadrant of speed.”
Les Miles was The Mad Hatter and the Awkward Clapper, the frequent Riverboat Gambler and noted natural grass aficionado prone to munch on his own stadium turf during tense moments.
Whether he was tripping over a cheerleader running onto the field before winning the Game of the Century in Tuscaloosa or dialing up an over-the-shoulder fake field goal as a football whoopie cushion for Steve Spurrier, Miles was always different.
He might be scaling a Baton Rouge skyscraper or, on a whim, showing up unannounced and incognito at an international baseball game in Cuba. If it took a tight end reverse to beat Alabama, fine. Dial it up … right after putting a pinch of Tiger Stadium turf between gum and cheek. If it took five fourth-down gambles to beat Florida in the national championship season, go for it.
Yes, Miles fit Louisiana as naturally as an old mud boot.
Say whatever you want about Miles, but nobody ever enjoyed being LSU’s head football coach more. It’s one of the two or three most high-profile jobs in the state … and maybe the most stressful and occasionally the most thankless.
That part never seemed to bother him. Accepting of his quirks, he could laugh along with his adopted state when the fans got a kick out of them. He was happiest when leading those Tigers down Victory Hill or out onto the field and ultimately, in his own unique words, “Celebrating the achievement of victory.”
“To not have the ability to smile and enjoy that time, is not the way to live,” he explained. The best example might be the little farce he played with his team just before running out on the field. He’d make a big show of struggling to hold the eager Tigers back before finally giving up and letting them roar into the stadium.
Miles knew next to nothing about Louisiana when his old mentor and advisor, legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, who hadn’t really commented on some other job opportunities, told him, “You might want to look into that one, Les.”
“I knew that food was important and I knew the football was important,” he said of his perception of Louisiana going in. “That was about all. I knew that they could eat and enjoy a party and I knew that they could enjoy football.”
“I guess what I’m saying is that LSU has a special place in my heart and will always have a special place for all of the guys that fought and did the things that they could do for victory … how much I enjoyed taking a team onto the field there when that crowd just roared when their Tigers came out. I promise you that will never be forgotten.”