Rabalais: LSU’s off to a great start, but The Hat still takes some heat

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- UAB coach Garrick McGee, left, shakes hands with LSU coach Les Miles after the game Saturday at Tiger Stadium.
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- UAB coach Garrick McGee, left, shakes hands with LSU coach Les Miles after the game Saturday at Tiger Stadium.

By Scott Rabalais

Advocate sportswriter

The start to the 2013 season couldn’t be any better for LSU coach Les Miles on the field.

His Tigers are 2-0 with a pair of victories, 37-27 over TCU and 56-17 over UAB, that are about as impressive as could be asked for considering LSU’s unprecedented losses to the NFL draft, having to adjust to a reimagined offense under new coordinator Cam Cameron and the occasional personnel issue.

The Tigers haven’t been perfect, but they have been sharp enough to satisfy all but the most perfectionist LSU fans (though admittedly, that’s a pretty sizeable group).

Off the field, though, The Hat has taken a couple of shots this week. Not that he’s likely to feel much pain from any of it.

Wednesday, LSU lost out to Alabama for a commitment from West Monroe five-star talent Cameron Robinson, an asteroid-sized offensive tackle considered the nation’s best at his position. LSU will probably fill his considerable void with another exceptional talent and will still sign an exceptional class in 2014 and will continue a hot pursuit of Robinson trying to change his mind. But losing THAT recruit to THAT man at THAT program is going to sting for a while.

Friday, news broke that Jeremy Hill would be allowed to play against UAB after what amounted to a one-game suspension against TCU. Hill’s return to the team in August after a judge ruled he had not violated his probation by sucker-punching a man outside a bar near the LSU campus has been a Red State/Blue State-like divisive issue.

Some say let him play because the Tigers need his help to win the big games down the road with the Southeastern Conference heavyweights that rise like mountains in LSU’s schedule. Hill neatly illustrated that very point (shall we call it Exhibit A?), scoring on a 3-yard run the first time he touched the ball in the second quarter. Others say kick him off the team, that two strikes (he landed on probation from a high school charge of carnal knowledge of a juvenile) are worth an out.

Whatever camp draws you into its orbit, I think most people will agree that it didn’t sound good for Miles to say he allowed Hill to return to the team after a vote of LSU’s players. It had an “inmates running the asylum” feel to it, though any reasonable observer should acknowledge that Miles still had the final say on Hill.

Personally, I thought Hill should sit out at least the UAB game. It would have been little more than a symbolic gesture, but I thought his transgressions were enough to deny Hill the enjoyment of knowing he would play in LSU’s home opener, much less score a touchdown, though short of being booted from the team for good.

Saturday brought another sliver of distantly disquieting news for Miles.

Media outlets and Oklahoma State confirmed that Sports Illustrated will publish an article or articles this week alleging misconduct in the OSU football program. The SI investigation apparently focuses on the 2001-07 time period; Miles was coach there from 2001-04.

It must be made clear that Miles’ name has been mentioned in connection to this report so far only to the extent that the SI investigation includes the time he was coach at OSU. Miles said SI contacted him in connection with the story and he denied knowledge of any wrongdoing.

“I don’t know of any improprieties while I was the coach there,” Miles said. “It was never a place where you had to cheat to have success.”

A report by the The Daily Oklahoman said Saturday the SI investigation is not expected to reveal any major NCAA violations. Nonetheless, the school has contacted the NCAA and plans to conduct its own investigation.

What does this all mean for Miles and LSU? At this point, probably little in a tangible sense.

Critics will infer that Miles runs a loose ship and always has. It’s nothing new, and nothing that has kept or is likely to keep him from winning and recruiting at an elite pace in Baton Rouge. Saturday’s victory moved Miles’ career winning percentage at LSU to .806, by far the best ever at the school.

Does Miles win with honor? His standards are at least on par with his peers. TCU’s Gary Patterson flamed Miles over the Hill episode but played All-American defensive end Devonte Fields on Saturday against SLU, cutting his suspension in half. Florida linebacker Antonio Morrison was slated for a two-game suspension after being twice arrested this summer, but he led the Gators with seven tackles Saturday against Miami after just one game on the bench.

Ultimately the question is this: Uneasy lies the head that rests The Hat?

Something tells me Miles slept well Saturday night.