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LSU fans will miss Les Miles more than they realize

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How tough will it be for Miles' replacement at LSU to have success? (1:31)

ESPN's Rece Davis looks at LSU's coaching history prior to the tenures of Nick Saban and Les Miles, who was fired Sunday, and ponders whether Miles' replacement will be able to match his level of success with the Tigers. (1:31)

He ate grass, for heaven's sake. He ate grass, and we laughed.

We came to love his idiosyncrasies, from that toddler clap to his play-calling guts to -- thanks, George and Ira Gershwin -- the way he wore his hat.

No, they can't take that away from us. We loved it all because Les Miles could wink at us and keep winning. He came into LSU and produced a level of success never achieved by any of his 29 predecessors in Baton Rouge, and somehow, that's not enough.

It is not something that Walter Camp decreed when he came up with the line of scrimmage and the center snap. It is not written in the 216 pages of the 2016 and 2017 NCAA Football Rules and Interpretations. Only in the state of Louisiana is it carved into stone tablets and handed down from on high that LSU must win 10 games a season.

No, check that. Miles won 114 games in 11⅓ seasons and he's down at the Baton Rouge U-Haul buying boxes.

On the very weekend that Miami, under new head coach Mark Richt, rose to No. 14 as Georgia, which fired Richt after he averaged a 10-3 record for 15 seasons, got humiliated at Ole Miss and fell out of the polls, LSU fired Miles so that it could hire someone more successful.

Miles had a record of 114-34 (.770) with the Tigers. If you're looking for context of how good that is, consider that a career record of .600 makes a coach eligible for the College Football Hall of Fame. Consider that it's better than the record of his predecessor, Nick Saban (48-16, .750). Or just consider this: Miles began this season as one of five active head coaches who had won a national championship.

And then there were four, which include Saban, Urban Meyer of Ohio State and Jimbo Fisher of Florida State. Bob Stoops of 1-2 Oklahoma? You're on the clock.

On the very weekend that Tennessee extracted itself from the eight-year sinkhole it fell into after firing Phillip Fulmer, LSU decided that five losses in nine games is untenable. Think about that for just a minute, Tigers fans.

Fulmer went 5-7 in 2008, one year after his ninth 10-win season in Knoxville, and Tennessee fired him. In 91 games since Tennessee fired Fulmer, the Vols are 48-43. That includes being 4-0 as we speak, after those 38 consecutive points against Florida that exorcised every ghost of the Derek Dooley era and the Lane Kiffin year.

There is no guarantee that firing someone as successful as Miles will result in a better program. It's just as possible that LSU won't be able to hire a coach as successful as Miles. There's a long list of schools that got rid of someone who was winning and got worse.

  • Nebraska has gone 19 years since its national championship. More to this point, it has gone 17 years without a conference championship.

  • Michigan, which has won more football games than any program anywhere, hasn't won the Big Ten championship in 12 years.

  • Syracuse fired Paul Pasqualoni in 2004 after he had one losing record in 14 seasons. The Orange have had nine losing seasons since.

That could neevvvvver happen at LSU. Ask head coaches about the best jobs in America, and the head-coaching job at LSU is second only to the guy who signs the Powerball checks. LSU is the only Power 5 school in a talent-rich state. Miles built upon Saban's strategy of laying a foundation at home. For more than a decade, it has taken a court order and a crowbar to convince a five-star Louisiana recruit to cross state lines. The state has served Miles well. It's the vice versa that LSU doesn't remember.

When did the state of Louisiana fall in love with Saban? Not when he won the national championship in 2003. No, it was two years earlier, when Saban brought home the SEC title, the Tigers' first since 1988. Trust me, no one is making documentaries about LSU football in the 1990s.

If you dig at the root of this issue, that's who you will find: Saban, the man who broke Tiger hearts when he landed at Alabama only two years after leaving LSU. Miles has matched the one national championship and two SEC championships that Saban won in Baton Rouge. But since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa, he has won four national championships and four SEC championships.

No matter how much Miles won in Death Valley, LSU fans still looked over their shoulder at Saban. Wherever Miles took the Tigers, he would have to go through Saban once a year to get there. And through the 2011 regular season, Miles gave as good as he got. When LSU won that 9-6 overtime fistfight that season, Miles held a 3-2 edge on Saban.

But Alabama embarrassed LSU 21-0 in the BCS National Championship rematch two months later, and something seemed to shift. Saban's teams beat Miles' teams the next four seasons, twice by double figures, twice by late-game scores. You decide which hurt the most.

The LSU offense is stuck these days, and Miles has been too slow to fix it. Anyone who can read game scores can understand that. Miles had the chance to kick offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to the curb after last season and he didn't do it. When the offense continued to sputter this season, Cameron got kicked to the curb, all right. Where he landed on Miles.

My guess is Miles would have fixed it by the end of this season, if not before. No one at LSU wanted to wait. Instead, don't be surprised if Tigers fans wait a long time to return to where Miles had taken them.