That Les Miles had things he would have rather been doing on Tuesday than an endless round of interviews at ESPN is a given. Miles is a football coach, and football coaches always have something they feel needs doing when it comes to their football team in order to try to outwork/outwit/outmaneuver the guys they’re trying to beat during the season.
But the exposure of spending the day at ESPN being poked and prodded with questions on 11 different programs and platforms in what folks at the worldwide leader refer to as the “car wash” (yes, the car wash at ESPN goes to 11), is irresistible. If you’re a young football recruiting prospect, there’s probably no form of electronic media short of the telegraph that Miles wasn’t involved with in Bristol, Conn., and reaching recruits means everything.
Who knows, maybe there was a little Morse code involved as well, a few tapped tips on grass chewing, perhaps.
Ultimately, though, most of the questions were predictably repetitive, homing in on six primary topics: the BCS playoff, LSU’s championship rings, Zach Mettenberger, Alabama, Gunner Kiel and Tom Cruise.
Yes, Tom Cruise, who we hear will be playing a grown-up Kiel in the upcoming drama, “All the Right Moves II.”
First, on the BCS playoffs. While the major conferences and Notre Dame are currently haggling over what sort of format to go with, to Miles, there is no argument.
“You’ve got to have the best teams in there, however that works,” Miles said. “Rankings have to play a part. I’d hate to have the best team standing in the wings and everyone saying in a year, ‘They didn’t get the best teams in there.’ ”
That coming from the man whose team was hammered 21-0 by Alabama in the BCS championship game. If only conference champions are invited to the playoff, a team like Bama wouldn’t have a chance to be there, but Miles doesn’t want that.
“We wanted to play the best,” he said. “Frankly, we would have picked them and would look forward to playing them again.”
Asked how the returning Tigers got over that loss, Miles said: “They understand we didn’t play our best. Our team took an edge to the field in the spring.”
And if they forget, there is the reminder on the side of their Southeastern Conference championship rings, which is stamped with the words “#2 NATIONALLY” above LSU’s 13-1 record.
The rings have caused quite the internet stir (it’s summer, and the stories flow slowly), and were something Miles was asked about over and over again. By his last stop of the day on SportsCenter (a stop preceded by a series of clips showing Bama beating LSU into submission in the Superdome), Miles quickly cut off the host when he started in about the rings.
“Let me tell you what they say first: they say SEC champion,” Miles said. “The idea that we carried the No. 1 tag for 11 straight weeks and the best record in all of college football, we needed to put something on there that said the reality of that on the ring and said we didn’t get it all done. I don’t think anyone has to remind them any more fully than that montage that introduced us.”
Earlier, radio talk show host Colin Cowherd tried to ease out of the rings controversy by saying there’s nothing wrong with being No. 2. Miles smiled, but replied, “No. 2 isn’t any fun.”
Miles said there’s no hate on his part when it comes to the Alabama rivalry — though this from a man who clearly still enjoys hating Ohio State from his Michigan days. Some may have wondered about his feelings toward Kiel, the quarterback who switched from LSU to Notre Dame and incurred Miles’ wrath. Miles didn’t go out of his way to criticize Kiel’s “chest” as he has in the past, but didn’t shy from the question, either.
“There are reasons for guys not wanting to accept that challenge,” he said. “There are reasons for wanting to stay home and play in front of friends and family. To step into our stadium and play on our team takes a different breed of cat.”
Different breed of cat? Classic.
“I wish Gunner Kiel all the best — I mean that very honestly,” Miles said. “I’m excited about the guys choosing to accept the challenge at Louisiana State, and I’m not worried about the other guys.”
The quarterback who has Miles’ full attention is Mettenberger, talented but unproven, the linchpin in LSU’s BCS title hopes for this season.
“I think it would be premature to say that we would be better than last year,” Miles said.
“We’re not picking up where last year left off. We have to put together a brand new team. If you come to work every day and look to improve segment by segment and game by game, they can achieve a lot.
“Mettenberger is that kind of guy. If he comes in and gets after it one game at a time and one week at a time and improves, I think he can be as good as we’ve had.”
But will he be as fun to watch as Cruise hopping on Oprah Winfrey’s couch? Cruise was recently here filming part of his upcoming sci-fi flick “Oblivion,” and apparently asked to meet Miles.
Miles suggested he would be best as a traditional movie sidekick, off to the side munching on popcorn, when one of the hosts on the Scott Van Pelt radio show asked if he could play the villain.
“I have the ability to flip the switch,” he said.
One gets the impression Miles’ football switch is flipped on already.
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