HOOVER, Ala. — In a 14th-floor suite of the Wynfrey Hotel, Les Miles autographed a conga line of footballs Thursday morning, then peered out the large plate-glass window.
Would Miles, who rappelled 24 stories in May down the side of a Baton Rouge skyscraper (for charity, not grins) like to shimmy down to the hotel ballroom for Southeastern Conference Media Days the same way?
Not enough of a challenge, as it turned out.
“This is nothing — are you kidding me? I wouldn’t even need a rope,” Coach Knievel said, laying on a thick slab of mock bravado.
In the media session that followed, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger was asked what it’s like to play for a coach who climbs down buildings.
The jaw of the man who has executed his own daredevil stunts — he has thrown passes with people like Jadeveon Clowney and C.J. Mosley trying to dismember him — dropped in true amazement.
“Why are you not telling me this?” Mettenberger asked LSU assistant sports information director Bill Martin behind him. Apparently, the Mett is the only American college kid alive who doesn’t partake in social media, which went crazy over Miles’ Spider-Man act.
“He’s out there,” Mettenberger said of Miles after he recovered his poise. “It’s awesome.
“You don’t know what personality he’s going to bring to the table. You don’t know if he’s going to be the goofy Les everybody knows or the one with the eyebrow and talks-with-his-hands Les. But it’s great to be one of his players and have him in my corner.”
Both versions of Les Miles were on display Thursday. For a media contingent growing weary after a long week of similar-sounding session after session with 13 other teams, it was hoped Miles would deliver a blast of fresh air.
He really did, starting his monologue with the revelation he spent part of the offseason participating in a study at Our Lady of the Lake into how hyperbaric oxygen treatments could aid in concussion therapy.
Instantly one pictured Miles in a white lab coat and his high-riding LSU ball cap. The next mental image was of Miles lifting a Nobel Prize for medicine instead of the BCS trophy’s crystal football.
The goofy side of Miles took a stab at an Australian accent, better to communicate with former LSU punter Brad Wing or current punter Jaime Keehn, both Aussies.
The serious side of Miles arched his eyebrows as talked about suspended running back Jeremy Hill and railed again at the inadequacies of SEC football scheduling.
Miles’ talking points didn’t satisfy everyone. He’s being increasingly taken to task for not having already booted Hill off the team after violating his probation with a videotaped sucker punch thrown outside a campus bar.
But with Hill and everything in his world, Miles moves at his own pace and keeps his own counsel. He isn’t going to bend to the wind of media criticism, especially on a subject as important as this one.
“We go through the same process that all of my guys go through,” Miles said. “We’re gathering information as we go.”
Anyone expecting Miles to pass sentence on Hill just because Thursday was his turn at media day misled themselves. Like it or not, Miles will wait until Hill’s probation hearing Aug. 16 before moving him completely off the team or figuring out a way to bring him back.
Meanwhile, Miles and SEC Media Days should be taken for what football talk is this time of year: entertaining. Time-killing days until the calendar sweeps us toward the last weekend of August and college football takes the field.
And Miles should be taken for what he is — no Nick Saban or Urban Meyer or even Mark Richt. He’s his own unique brand and as such is a better fit than some diehard LSU fans would like to admit for their program.
Miles wouldn’t have been a fit at Arkansas, even if that flirtation early this year was actually real. He wouldn’t be a fit at Alabama or a lot of other SEC schools. Like Louisiana, which has unique flavors that don’t exactly jibe with the rest of the South, LSU is a different place.
It calls for a different kind of coach, the kind who scales buildings and eats grass and talks in what is basically his own dialect.
“It’s not like we’re dreading being around a guy who’s monotone and does the same thing every day,” Mettenberger said.
For anyone who wonders why top-shelf recruits like Brandon Harris, the Bossier City quarterback who pledged to LSU on Thursday, would want to play for Miles, the better question is, why not?
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