I am a huge fan of the Rich Rodriguez-hire as you probably already know. He has always been near the top of my wish-list to replace Lloyd Carr. Bill Martin may have made a few miscues but he atoned by bringing in Rodriguez who was very likely the last “home run” left considering Michigan’s apparent disdain for Brian Kelly. I am elated about the future of the program in all its facets. Game-planning and player development—the two most obvious indictments of Michigan Football gone wrong over the last six years—should take off. Recruiting will likely benefit—in the short term—due to the momentum of the Rodriguez hire (see; Terrelle Pryor’s immediate interest) and—in the long term—because of the attractiveness of the spread offense at high-profile schools (see; Florida). However, before it gets lost on everyone, I wanted to rehash the “Les Miles to Michigan” situation with a bit of a twist. Every Michigan fan knows with painstaking detail how the process went. I’m not going to waste everyone’s time with a play-by-play of the situation. There is one thing, though, that seems to have gone unnoticed and that’s the fact that Les Miles threw away his dream because he couldn’t suppress his stubbornness for simply a few hours.
Scrape away all of the hoopla and hyperbole, blame and innuendos, and only one thing kept Miles from Michigan. Miles chose embarrassing Kirk Herbstreit over fulfilling his dream. It seems incomprehensible that someone would let such a petty thing get in the way of a lifelong goal. Miles could’ve let Herbstreit make his report and simply chosen to focus on the SEC Championship and reserve comment for later. Commenting on anything unrelated to on-field stuff hours before a Championship game is ridiculous anyways. Instead, he scheduled an immediate press-conference declaring the report to be full of “misinformation” and that he would remain at LSU. After the press conference, Miles took heat from LSU officials for not stating clearly enough that he would remain at LSU next season creating a firestorm that never would’ve been there had he avoided comment to begin with. His initial statement left too much wiggle-room thus the LSU-forced second statement in which he declared unequivocally that he would absolutely be at LSU next season. Miles then had to repeat that message just short of a trillion times over the next few days making it nearly impossible to go back on his word with any ounce of integrity remaining (see; Nick Saban). The window for “Miles to Michigan” closed the minute he vehemently refuted Herbstreit’s report. Whether the report was true or not was irrelevant. It was the fact that Miles said anything publicly that did him in. LSU deserves credit for staying in-touch with reality and offering Miles a lucrative contract extension the day before and forcing Miles’s hand when he wasn’t conclusive enough about staying with LSU beyond this season. LSU wasn’t going to wait around after the entire nation saw Miles’s outburst as an attempt to play both sides. Herbstreit’s report pressed the issue and Miles unwittingly dictated the outcome. Miles could’ve ignored the report but he chose to address it and his fate was sealed. I feel bad for him because he obviously didn’t know the events that would be put into motion based on what seemed like an innocent attempt to reassure his players before a huge game.
The onslaught of public criticism that Bill Martin received for not being aggressive enough in luring Miles to Michigan was deserved but certainly not nearly as damaging as Miles’s overreaction to Herbstreit’s report. Culpability can be assigned to a number of people and factors. Herbstreit, Martin, Carr, the media and blogosphere all deserve some blame for the outcome. However, Miles is the most responsible of the bunch because none of the other factors closed the door on his candidacy. Carr’s announcement-timeline made it difficult but not impossible. Martin’s decision to wait until after the SEC Championship game sent the wrong message to Miles but had Miles remained patient it wouldn’t have been an issue because Michigan likely would’ve made an offer in the next few days. Herbstreit’s report was damaging but if it wasn’t true—and it seems like it wasn’t since Michigan had not talked to Miles yet—then Miles had nothing to hide from LSU. The media and blogger “leaks” made LSU aware of Michigan’s “interest” and the extent of such interest and prevented Michigan from methodically conducting a coaching search as was commonplace 38 years ago when it conducted its last national search for a football coach. That approach may have been possible in the past but “leaks” mean such searches need to be done with stealth and secrecy now days. (It’s no coincidence that Michigan conducted its own “Get Rich Quick”-scheme where it did everything it should’ve done in its courting of Miles just a few weeks later to nab Rodriguez. Michigan learned the terrain and adapted very well. That’s no consolation to Miles but it did land Michigan a top-flight coach nonetheless.)
All of those factors made things difficult but only Miles’s impromptu press-conference ended the whole thing. I can understand the argument that Miles had no choice but to reaffirm his commitment to LSU because Michigan hadn’t shown that it clearly wanted him. Miles wasn’t going to double-cross LSU without knowing for sure that the Michigan-job was his. That’s true and that was a big mistake by Martin. However, Miles could’ve talked contract extension with LSU—and even signed a contract extension—and still ended up at Michigan. It was his bold proclamation admonishing Herbstreit’s report and affirming his commitment to LSU that made that the point-of-no-return. I am certain that Les Miles would’ve been named the Michigan coach within a few days had he not scheduled the initial press conference. He didn’t know what he was doing at the time but his ambiguous reassurance that he would remain at LSU was what ruined the whole thing for him.
The irony is that—throughout the whole ordeal—Miles wanted to come to Michigan and Michigan—although Martin may have been a bit reluctant—wanted Miles. In fact, there was rampant speculation that Miles was still interested in the job when Michigan began talking to Rich Rodriguez. Remember, Miles’s contract never changed with respect to how much it would cost to leave for Michigan. Miles’s decision to sign an extension at LSU didn’t make it any more difficult contractually to leave than it had ever been. I think Miles’ comments did two things that inevitably ended a realistic chance that he would end up at Michigan. First, to say with such boldness that he would remain at LSU next season only to renege would be a huge blow to Miles’s image and be a slap in LSU’s face. Regardless of his love for Michigan, I think Miles loves LSU enough to be upfront and honest. Second, I think Michigan—right or wrong—was turned off big-time by Miles’ antics and his agent’s comments about Michigan leaving Miles out to dry. Those two factors made it nearly impossible for the two sides to get together despite mutual interest all the way up to the Rodriguez hire. Miles appears to be wired in such a way that he comes out firing without considering the ramifications and that’s what he did here. It’s ironic that a trait he likely acquired from Bo Schembechler ended up keeping him from his dream job.
Happy New Year!