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Undercover Barner: Hat Thing You Do

This week’s Undercover Barner contemplates Francis Bacon’s “Of Goodness and Goodness of Nature” and the Goodness of Les Miles.

NCAA Football: Texas Bowl-Louisiana State vs Texas Tech
It was the best of times.
Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The parts and signs of goodness are many.

I’ve never really disliked LSU. LSU has broken my heart. LSU has made me angry. LSU has made it decidedly un-fun for me to wear orange and blue once or twice. But I’ve never hated them. I’ve touched on it in this space before, and I just don’t have the capacity or even the desire. My law school roommate and best friend in the world loves purple and lives gold but would roll her eyes at me for saying that in public even though she secretly agrees. I want nothing more in the world than for her to be happy because she deserves it, but even before she took me to Tiger Stadium, I looked forward to Auburn-LSU games with equal parts dread and unbridled excitement.

It's not a hammer and a nail relationship. It's an opportunity for an opponent to be equal, and to raise the level of play in such a fashion that they win. And that's how this thing works.

Les Miles was describing Florida in that moment, but I like to think he approaches every opponent like that. When Auburn beats LSU, I don’t enjoy it because it makes their fans sad. I relish those wins because more often than not, they mean something.

If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world, and that his heart is no island cut off from other lands, but a continent that joins to them.

For the last ten or so years and for various reasons, LSU has been a damned enjoyable football team to watch. It’s no stretch to say that much of that fun has come as a direct result of the Tigers’ enigmatic head coach, known for brazen decision-making and interesting clock management. Before Saturday, Les Miles had won one hundred and fourteen games at LSU and lost just thirty-three, an impressive feat in today’s SEC West. On Saturday evening, before an official review, he’d notched another win. But before the stands in Jordan-Hare cleared and the Golden [Pep] Band from Tigerland finished its fight song, that win was stricken from the record. It was replaced by his thirty-fourth loss, one that ultimately sounded his coaching death knell. It was another missed clock cue. It was another year with a stagnant offense, unwilling or unable to adapt. It was another year with all the talent in the world but no results to show for it. More wasted potential. It was the flip side of the Mad Hatter coin.

The team is never about the single player…. and it's not about the coach. It's about the strength, and the abilities of the sum.

On Sunday, after having both won and lost to Auburn, LSU Athletics decided that because of the coach, the sum was no longer able. To be clear, I was ecstatic Auburn won on Saturday night. I cried. I truly have no idea how the rest of this season will go, but Gus Malzahn did not suddenly find himself jobless, and that was a step in the right direction. So why does LSU’s coaching change matter? It matters because I think Les Miles is a special person. I don’t know him and will likely never meet him. I’m not a real LSU fan, nor is it my alma mater. I don’t want to talk out of turn, but I do want to shout into the void my thanks to a man who did not have to share his light with us but chose to anyway.

If he be compassionate towards the afflictions of others, it shows that his heart is like the noble tree that is wounded itself when it gives the balm.

College football is, above all, a business. College coaches come and go, tracks greased by Jimmy Sexton and Nick Saban. I doubt anyone would argue that Les Miles did not begin and end his tenure at LSU in Nick Saban’s shadow. They are wildly different men, but I’m not here to debate the value of Saban’s crimson death machine versus finding redemption in imperfection. Nick Saban is the best college football coach in the country, maybe in history. It’s commendable and impressive. He, too, brings joy to a lot of people. However, Saban’s personality and coaching style are not pertinent here. I’m not saying they’re wrong or that he’s a bad person, just that Saban himself is irrelevant to his message.

The reasons for liking or disliking particular coaches vary from the logical to the outrageously irrational but I’ve never not liked Les Miles. He is entertaining and honest, and we’re lucky enough to boast living in a time when both Steve Spurrier and he coached and gave press conferences on a weekly basis.

I’ll tell you one thing: the grass as Tiger Stadium tastes best.

He brought joy with him to work everyday, and he made people laugh. He made football fun, even when his defense strangled the life out of my own Tigers. But more importantly, I believe that the world is a better place because Les Miles lives in it. Since the news broke of his firing, Twitter has been flooded with countless anecdotes about his kindness beyond the game of football. We know the stories of the people’s lives he’s touched, players and strangers alike. You can quantify Les Miles’ worth to LSU by his win totals or championships or even dollars brought in. But I doubt anyone will ever be able to quantify his worth off the field. I expect Miles’ legacy will last well beyond the end of his tenure, if for no other reason than he’s still very much alive, despite my melodramatic eulogizing.

If he easily pardons and remits offences, it shows that his mind is planted above injuries.

Last November, Miles was nearly fired because of the same reasons for which he was ultimately let go on Sunday. His players carried him off the field after a win over Texas A&M in what would’ve been his last game at Tiger Stadium. He stood on the field and sang the alma mater with the home crowd after the game. I sobbed at that video, so I can’t imagine what that moment felt like for the LSU fans who knew and loved him dearly. The strong negative response to the idea of Miles’ dismissal without time to right the ship combined with the fact that LSU actually won that game eventually led Alleva to balk. Regrouped and reloaded, LSU began 2016 ranked in the top five. Unfortunately, the problems that plagued the offense in 2015 reemerged and Miles’ best efforts to fix them proved unfruitful. On Sunday, the day after after LSU failed to come away victorious despite its defense not allowing Auburn to cross the goal line even once, Alleva made good on his threat. Miles didn’t make a scene, or bemoan his treatment. I’m sure he recognized the problems that went uncorrected and accepted his fate.

Anything that makes the Tigers better, I'm for.

I don’t know how this story ends. I don’t know if Les Miles will ever coach again. If he does retire, selfishly, I hope he is offered and accepts a position in sports media so we’ll be able to enjoy the benefit of his enthusiasm and idiosyncrasies indefinitely. But I also wouldn’t blame him for taking some time for himself. He’s been the face of an immensely successful program for more than a decade. Just not successful enough. And the ramifications of that impossible standard will comprise a different column for a different day. On this day, I’m just grateful to have rooted for and against the Mad Hatter.

If he be thankful for small benefits, it shows that he weighs men’s minds, and not their trash.

When I wake up in the morning and I turn that film on, it's like reading a book and it's exciting. I don't read books, but if I read books it would be like reading a book.

Thank you, Les. For everything.