“I think we are still healing from that last wound we suffered as a team, and our team will understand that we will eventually be stronger and will want to show our scars. I think our team will rally behind that this fall.” lES miles, LSU coach
What did you do on summer vacation?
For LSU football coach Les Miles, the highlights included attending the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha, Neb., with his family, then heading next door and talking their way into the final three innings of a College World Series final game between Arizona and South Carolina.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever snuck in a sporting event,” he said Wednesday at the Baton Rouge Rotary Club meeting, raising his hand with a sly grin. “We kind of stood behind poles for a while, but a number of guys left, and we got right behind home plate and watched the last three innings.”
The summer also included a series of team outings and speaking engagements for his LSU football team, speakers such as former LSU basketball player Stanley Roberts, former football player Damien James, one-legged NCAA wrestling champion Anthony Robles of Arizona State, and a member of the Navy Seals.
The last speaker’s talk was a metaphor for what Miles told a packed audience at Boudreaux’s is his team’s continued recovery from its 21-0 loss to Alabama in January’s BCS national championship game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“He said, ‘We show our scars. In Iran I got this, and in Iraq I got this.’ All these things are healed wounds,” Miles said.
“I think we are still healing from that last wound we suffered as a team, and our team will understand that we will eventually be stronger and will want to show our scars. I think our team will rally behind that this fall.”
LSU goes into the fall as the preseason favorite to win the Southeastern Conference for the second straight year. The Tigers are expected to be ranked at or near the top of the major preseason polls.
“The good news about our program is we understand what No. 1 rankings mean: nothing,” Miles said. “You recognize that you’re just a guy, and unless you work and prepare, you will not achieve.”
Miles said there was achievement during last season’s 13-1 campaign, achievement that will be reflected in two banners the team will hang from the rafters of its indoor practice facility — and the one it will not.
“Fundamentally, that’s what our program is designed to do: graduate our guys and hang championship banners,” Miles said. “Now, there is a banner that we didn’t hang, and we recognize that. It’s an experience and memory that this team will carry.”
As has been the case with most of his public appearances this offseason, Miles was asked about his offense — and particularly his team’s passing game — with junior Zach Mettenberger now at the controls.
“Mettenberger came to camp here (last year) at about 245 (pounds), a little pudgy, didn’t seem to have really good feet but could throw the ball extremely well,” Miles said. “He’s gotten in great shape. I’m saying he’s more in the 223-225 range, a much more athletic, faster, stronger quarterback.
“His personal development certainly mirrors the chemistry in our passing game.”
Miles said Mettenberger could well be the best quarterback LSU has had in years.
“We’ll throw it,” the coach promised. “We’ll throw it more efficiently, and we’ll throw it down the field a little better. Zach does those things incrementally better than any other quarterbacks we’ve had since maybe the national championship year with Matt Flynn.”
To that end, though, Miles said there were large swaths of the LSU passing playbook left unexplored last season because the Tigers frequently had huge leads late in most of their games.
“In nine games, we were ahead by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and didn’t want to throw a pass,” Miles said. “We were trying to run the clock out, taking away our opponents’ opportunity to win the game. That will always be a part of us.
“But with a little more competitive game and the need to throw, I think there are a lot of things that you haven’t seen, which are part of our playbook, which will make a difference.”
A small group of former LSU band members played the school’s famous pregame fight song “Hold That Tiger” just before Miles took the podium, sounds that had the coach yearning for the season just ahead.
The Tigers report to campus next Wednesday and begin practice Aug. 2 in preparation for their Sept. 1 season and home opener against North Texas.
“No matter how many times you hear those familiar refrains, it’s the same feeling,” said Miles, now entering his eighth season at LSU. “The same feeling you have when you walk into Tiger Stadium. It’s that feeling of being part of something very special. It’s ‘Get ready, coach.’ Whether you’re saying it or not, that’s what I’m hearing.”