BATON ROUGE, La. -- Only a few feet from Les Miles’ office lies total chaos.
A colorful mess of miniature candles sits blocking anything and everything that could be important to LSU football.
Instead of fielding calls or making sure Miles’ creature comforts are in order, his secretary, Ya’el Lofton, is relaxing at her desk, laughing with the handful of other women who work behind the scenes in LSU’s athletic department, trying to sell candles.
That’s right, on the Tuesday before Armageddon, Miles’ right-hand woman is peddling candles just in time for the holiday season.
From cotton scent to evergreen, Lofton has you covered.
Essentially, her football team’s season is on the line and she’s trying to convince people – even Miles – that this dark green candle smells more like bad men’s cologne than anything else.
Miles passes twice, each time glancing down and giving an approving smirk before vanishing into one of his many workrooms.
(Don’t worry, Miles’ wife, Kathy, has already ordered six, so he’s covered.)
But that’s just how it goes when you work for The Hat. Even during a week as big as this, with No. 2 Alabama (8-0, 5-0) looking to derail the top-ranked Tigers’ season, the stress level around Miles’ office chair is surprisingly low.
It’s not like they don’t care, but when Miles is in charge, fun is always an option and you never know what you’re gonna get.
“With Les, every day is a new day. It’s fun,” Lofton said. “Every day we laugh, we enjoy work.
“There’s never a time when at some point during the day we can’t have a good time and laugh about something and bring it back to reality.”
Lofton has worked in LSU’s football office for 25 years and has seen it all. From the days when LSU played not to lose instead of trying to win, to Nick Saban’s national championship, to now -- the game of the century.
She has two national championship rings and a lifetime of stories. But she also has a dear friend in Miles, and of everyone she’s worked for she’s never felt so comfortable. When she broke down emotionally in front of him during the first part of the two-week hell that is preparing for Alabama, he was there to calm her down. When she needs to vent, he’s there to listen.
And when he needs his bagel at 9 a.m. sharp, she’s there before he even notices.
It’s that sort of bond that keeps things as sane as they can be at a time like this. When asked if she could toss her cornucopia of candles out on her desk when Saban was around, Lofton let out a booming howl before releasing a “Oh, gosh, no.”
But with Miles, it isn’t a big deal. I guess that should be expected from a head coach who during his Monday news conference roasted himself about his own playing career, playfully blasted a reporter for dressing in the same color scheme of a jack-o-lantern and led things off by talking about how he scouted his family athletes before even thinking about recruiting.
“I like the position of my family as I do my team,” Miles said.
When you talk to players about how cool and collected Miles is during Alabama week, they aren’t surprised. This is who he is, no matter the opponent. There is no lack of intensity when it’s time to work, but there is always time for fun.
“He keeps us kind of grounded,” defensive end Barkevious Mingo said.
“He’s not that uptight guy that freaks out and panics. He’s calm and waits for things to unfold.
“If he’s calm, we’re calm.”
Added offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert: “For him to come and do something like that it’s one of the reasons why we love him so much because he’s willing to show his human side. He’s not just some robotic authority figure.”
From flamboyantly dancing in front of his players to lumbering down the field with them during kickoff drills, Miles knows how to keep things enjoyable. His players can go from playful to focused instantly, but they’re always relaxed because of their coach.
Miles admits the anxiety quietly eats at him until about 10 minutes before kickoff, but he doesn’t let that deter him. Not now. Not when the stakes are so high. It’s not time to be tense, it’s still time to let loose.
“There are times as the coach that you enjoy the enthusiasm of our team,” Miles said. “If you can’t recognize youth and happiness and want to play; if that can’t make you smile then I think … that’s a mistake for me.
“At some point in time, it’s time to play.”