The biggest surprise of Les Miles’ news luncheon Monday – the beginning of the week of perhaps the biggest regular-season game of his LSU career -- was the part where he admitted that, yes, he does get nervous before games.
“I have great anxiety and worry until about 10 minutes before kickoff,” he confided.
Nobody in the room would have guessed that to be the case. Not with the good-natured, joking demeanor he exuded throughout his 30-minute weekly news luncheon -- a demeanor that has become the norm this season for the coach of the nation’s No. 1 team.
Nervous? He wasn’t so woundup that he couldn’t take a second to pick on a reporter dressed in Halloween orange and black.
“My 8-year-old daughter was dressed as a witch this morning,” Miles told him, “but I’d expect that because she’s 8.”
He talked about spending his off week watching “three prospects” named Miles, Kragthorpe and Cooper -- all who play for University High and all who happen to be children of members of the LSU coaching staff.
“Is that an (NCAA) violation?” he playfully asked, looking in the direction of athletic director Joe Alleva.
Nerves? What nerves?
For Miles, the theme of Monday’s news conference was that something as rare as this -- when LSU visits Alabama Saturday it will be the first-ever regular-season matchup between teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the country -- is something to enjoy.
He said his team loves playing these kinds of games, and he isn’t the least bit worried about his team getting too “jacked up” for the game.
“Frankly, I don’t know how high ‘too jacked up’ is,” he said.
He wasn’t hesitant to admit it makes him happy when his team is jacked up.
He described a ritual, which he said started at the Oregon game this year, in which he playfully holds his players back before they come out on the field before the game.
He said the enthusiasm and fun of the pre-game is something that brings happiness to him.
“I’ve never had a team come out of a tunnel quite like this one,” he said.
That, he said, is something to be embraced.
“If you can’t recognize youth and happiness and want to play, if that doesn’t make you smile ... that’s a mistake,” Miles said.
His luncheon wasn’t just 30 minutes of waxing poetic about enjoying the game. But even in moments of serious business, he had time to joke.
For example, he said LSU has no suspended players this week, implying that the trio of defensive backs Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon and running back Spencer Ware, all suspended for the Auburn game, are back in good graces. He said he expected all three to return to their normal roles, implying that Mathieu and Ware will start and Simon will continue to be a key piece of LSU’s nickel defensive package and the third cornerback in the rotation.
“But, it is early in the week,” he said with a smile.
He also spoke of the efficiency of Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron and the talent of Tide Heisman Trophy hopeful Trent Richardson, saying that the tailback’s highlight-reel open-field move on Ole Miss’ Senquez Gordon earlier this season would have “thrown my hip out of place.”
His constant levity might have stood in contrast to a similar affair some 340 miles away in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, on his 60th birthday, admitted that “I lose sleep over every game, even the ones we win.”
And maybe Miles was just being coy.
When told later in the day how loose his coach seemed, LSU offensive guard Will Blackwell said. “He must have been in a good mood. I hope there’s nothing he needs to take out on us.”
Like his coach, Blackwell said it with a smile, more evidence of a loose team looking forward to a big game.
After all, Miles said, this week is no pressure-packed week to fear.
“It’s a beautiful time,” he said. “Two great institutions, playing a significant game.”
One got the feeling Monday that Miles was in full appreciation of the beauty.