‘It’s fun’: Les Miles’ trip through SEC media days

HOOVER, Ala. — Les Miles didn’t wait long.

Moments removed from the main platform at Southeastern Conference media days, Miles had his yellow-and-purple striped iPhone in hand, dialing the number of Smacker Miles.

“I’m dead,” LSU’s coach said, pacing and clearly worried. “My daughter is going to kill me.”

The coach had just done a no-no. In front of more than 400 reporters and live on national television, Les Miles called his family’s recent vacation to Austin, Texas, “miserable” and that he “hated it.”

Smacker Miles is a swimmer at the University of Texas — which, of course, is based in Austin.

“Are you mad?” Miles asked through the phone.

Smacker’s voice cracked across the other line: “It could have been worse.”

That’s how Miles’ 10th SEC media days began Wednesday — an apology to his 20-year-old daughter.

It ended some four hours later at this hotel’s ritzy steakhouse, Shula’s. He had the crab bisque, a salad and a New York strip, cooked medium.

His day of talking — more like entertaining — was done.

Not that this is so tough for him. This is his element: cameras flashing and microphones rolling.

“It’s fun,” he said.

The Advocate received permission to follow Miles through the expansive array of ballrooms in the Hyatt Regency Birmingham, where 1,200-plus media members swarmed.

Miles moved from one room to the next, visiting with a different media group: television, print, online, radio. There were separate rooms for the SEC’s partners: CBS and ESPN.

In all, Miles went to more than 12 rooms and answered about 100 questions.

At least a dozen times, Miles was asked about running back Leonard Fournette, the nation’s top-ranked recruit who signed with LSU in February.

“Think he was an eighth-grader,” Miles said in one of the rooms when asked when he first saw Fournette. “He looked like he was a senior.”

Media day is a time for Miles to shine. And he does.

He flashes those goofy faces, the eyebrow raises and silly smiles. He uses oddly phrased sentences to talk about the most random topics.

It’s not all planned. Some of it? Well, sure.

Miles and six others — three player representatives and three sports department administrators — took an 80-minute flight from Baton Rouge to Bessemer Airport, just down the road from this Birmingham suburb.

Miles spent much of the ride on the seven-person propeller plane studying a list of talking points. Accompanying the football-related items are an unusual list for Miles to chat about: his family, the World Cup and basketball star LeBron James.

It breaks the tension for the 60-year-old. It also provides something of an escape from answering monotonous questions.

Miles’ answer to one of the many questions on Fournette lasted just seconds. It was interrupted by a text from wife Kathy Miles.

Miles read the text aloud to the room. His youngest daughter, Macey, had pitched a no-hitter in a 4-0 win at a youth softball world series event in Orlando, Florida.

“A no-no!” Miles exclaimed.

Miles’ opening statement in that same room included the pecking order of his World Cup favorites: the U.S., Costa Rica, then Colombia.

“Colombia uses a physical brand of ball,” Miles told a group of giggling and somewhat baffled reporters.

A couple of hours before on the flight to Alabama, Miles scrolled through his phone to research more information on the World Cup. After all, he had to be ready for what the media expected — that goober Les Miles.

“I don’t look at the media as foul-mouthed with horns,” he said.

Miles journeyed through the Hyatt like a politician through a cocktail party.

He popped into rooms he wasn’t scheduled to visit, slapping hands and distributing hugs to old friends.

He started conversations with cameramen and spent any downtime chatting with his host, Marianne Jenkins, a slender brunette who escorted Miles around media days for the eighth straight year.

“I always request him,” Jenkins said. “He’s so much fun.”

Miles had a long embrace with commissioner Mike Slive, spent time with fullback Connor Neighbors’ father, a radio host in Alabama, and shouted at SiriusXM Radio reporter Jack Arute.

“Where y’at! Where y’at!” Miles yelled to Arute down a hallway.

“I miss you,” Arute said during their five-minute conversation later.

Along the way, there were, of course, football topics.

The No. 2 recruiting class. The quarterback battle between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris. Fournette. The array of true freshman receivers.

And Miles himself. He enters his 10th year at LSU.

He gave a different answer when asked about his long-term future. It depended on the room.

“I hope I’m here for 10 more years,” he said in one.

“No idea where I’ll be in 10 years,” he quipped in another.

Still a hot topic for some, Miles explained his grass-eating habit: He occasionally nibbles on the root end of a blade to wash a sour taste from his mouth.

“It’s not like I have a meal,” he said.

Early in the day, he ran into Arkansas coach Bret Bielema in a third-floor suite where coaches sign footballs.

Bielema walked in without noticing Miles. The LSU coach gave him a wink before Bielema offered a “Hey, Coach” and continued signing in earnest.

Meanwhile, Miles lingered with national media members doing what he does — entertaining an audience.

“He’s a character,” running back Terrence Magee said. “It’s his personality. People gravitate to him.”

As the day wore on, Miles’ outfit grew by two. A pair of local law enforcement authorities joined, one of whom even escorted the coach to the restroom.

Miles was enthralled by them, even asking to check out their badges. They pulled them from the breast pocket of their dark suits, flashed them at Miles and slipped them back in.

Miles asked the officers about their guns before telling them about his.

After all, the star of media days doesn’t perform his act only for reporters.

“Had a .22 caliber,” he said. “Shot groundhogs with it back in Michigan.”