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Les Miles leads LSU to top

Les Miles knows all about raising kids. He and his wife, Kathy, have four of their own.

Anybody who has ever raised kids knows a big part of doing it successfully requires pressing the right buttons at the right times and, all the while, drawing a line in the sand that isn't crossed.

Miles drew a line on the gridiron with this LSU football team in August in the tense moments of the fallout from the bar brawl and the negative publicity that followed.

It was a fine line, and one he has navigated beautifully in bringing the Tigers to the brink of one of the most treasured seasons in LSU football history.

This is a football team that's as deep as it is talented.

But let's give credit where credit's due.

The guy with the ever-present white cap -- the same guy who munches on grass, uses words that don't quite fit and has taken on a cartoon-character persona at times -- has done a masterful job leading his team.

This team has dodged every crisis and met every challenge that has come its way and hasn't flinched once.

Maybe that's because its head coach doesn't flinch.

In fact, his assistants and players say there's no "maybe" to it.

"I think it says a lot, not only about the team but I think it says a lot about the leadership coach Miles provides. That's where it starts," said LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis, who knows what a perfect season looks like.

Chavis was the defensive coordinator at Tennessee in 1998 when the Vols went 13-0 and won the first BCS national championship.

Just like everybody else at LSU, Chavis is well aware of what the outside perception of Miles has been over the years: that he's goofy, unconventional and has led a charmed life at LSU thanks to incredible talent and even more incredible luck.

As Miles would say, all those perceptions are on your football team's perimeter.

On the interior, Chavis sees a much a different Miles -- a strong-willed leader who simply wasn't going to allow anything to tear this team apart this season.

"Let me tell you: He's a focused individual and certainly understands what it takes," Chavis said. "If you look at this profession, the people that do the most and do the best job are the ones that deal with issues. You're going to have issues. People are dealing with them right now. They're not getting the publicity that we got because we were in the front of the entire nation. But you have to deal with that.

"He does a great job, the best I've ever seen."

What hasn't Miles had to deal with this season?

His starting quarterback, Jordan Jefferson, was accused of kicking a man in the face during that bar fight in August. Jefferson initially was charged with a felony and was suspended for the first four games. He rejoined the team when the charge was dropped to a misdemeanor.

Starting receiver Russell Shepard ran into an issue with the NCAA and missed the first three games.

That's after the NCAA had already been on campus in July asking questions about talent scout/adviser Willie Lyles.

Another bombshell dropped the week of the Auburn game, when three starters -- cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon and running back Spencer Ware -- were suspended after reportedly testing positive for synthetic marijuana.

Miles refused to even acknowledge the suspensions and said very little about them publicly.

But behind closed doors, he lit into the culprits, according to several players, and reminded everybody that no one is above the team.

"Coach is always fair," Mathieu said. "That's the thing about him.

"He's going to come down on you when you deserve it, but he's not going to keep you down and keep beating on you. He's going to give you a chance to get back in."

Miles concedes that, more than once this season, he has thought about his own kids when making decisions about his 100 or so football kids.

"My team gets bored if I tell them about one of my sons that I've had to kick their tail with some issue that happened around the house," Miles said. "I think that that's how you operate. I think there's a point in time where they deserve real strong discipline, and it's something that's very serious.

"I think there's a point in time where, once they have served, like your son in your family, you point them in the right direction, and, if they take guidance, they're back.

"You bring them in, and you love on them."

The thing you hear almost universally about Miles when you talk to his players, current and past, is that they all genuinely like playing for him.

Sure, there are some chuckles about things he has said. Others offer sheepish grins when you ask them about Miles' hat. Former star cornerback Patrick Peterson used to revel in referring to Miles as "The Hat."

But what you hear from all of Miles' players is that they know unequivocally that Miles has their back and will support them unconditionally as long as they're giving that same unconditional support back to the team.

Senior safety Brandon Taylor said it most poignantly.

"He's like our father away from home because he disciplines us and keeps us with a straight level head," Taylor said. "He tells us what we can't do and what we can do and what's right and what's wrong.

"We just thank him for that."

Something says the only thanks Miles needs is for his No. 1 Tigers to play these next two games the way they have all season.

Chris Low covers college football for ESPN.com. You can contact him at espnclow@aol.com.