Dallas was Les Miles' proving ground

ARLINGTON, Texas -- For three years, just as the Dallas Cowboys' dynasty of the '90s was crashing and burning, Les Miles was an anonymous tight ends coach.

Is there any other kind?

These days, he's known as The Mad Hatter or The Grass Eater. Or simply Coach.

Rest assured, there's nowhere in Louisiana that Miles can go without signing an autograph or taking a picture.

And after the way fourth-ranked LSU pummeled third-ranked Oregon 40-27 Saturday night in the Cowboys Classic, folks might have to come up with another nickname for him if he wins a second title with the Bayou Bengals.

Miles is right where he always figured he'd wind up. Now, he didn't know exactly where he'd end up coaching, but he always knew he'd get an opportunity.

With the Cowboys, Miles spoke as though he could see the future, in part because he had mapped out his life in his mind.

In the early evenings, after the players had left for home and before he walked into his office to watch more video, Miles often stood in the empty hallways of the club's Valley Ranch training complex, talking about why moms and dads would trust him with their children.

He would talk about the lessons former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, his college coach, taught him about being a man and a football player.

There's no doubt his time in Dallas helped him become one of the best coaches in the country.

"The big stage was very evident in Dallas," Miles said, "The big business of pro athletics really allows you to scale down to college and feel that you're prepared."

The only perfect coaches are icons from yesteryear, such as Woody Hayes, Darrell Royal and Bear Bryant. Every coach is flawed, from Alabama's Nick Saban to Oregon's Chip Kelly to Texas' Mack Brown.

We all know Miles can use some work on time management at the ends of halves and games, but so can a lot of other coaches.

All he does is win.

Miles, in his seventh season at LSU, is 63-17 with a national championship and a 5-1 bowl record, including 2-0 in BCS bowls.

His critics would suggest his title in 2007 came with Saban's recruits playing key roles.

So what.

We've all seen coaches wreck good college programs because they couldn't recruit, assemble a staff or deal with spoiled and demanding boosters. Miles has succeeded despite replacing a living legend, so to speak.

No one wants to be the man who replaces the man.

Saban won a title at LSU and seemed poised to win several more when he left for the Miami Dolphins. Enter Miles, the son of a steel worker from Elyria, Ohio, about 30 miles west of Cleveland.

They don't make real gumbo in Elyria. Etouffee, either. And they sure as heck don't know about sucking the meat out of the heads off crawfish.

To some at LSU, Miles will always be an outsider. He'll always have his critics and a plethora of second-guessers every time the Tigers lose a football game.

All of that has little effect him because those years in Dallas prepared him for everything and anything he'd see in college football.


Do you think the scandal with quarterback Jordan Jefferson and linebacker Josh Johns, who were suspended indefinitely for their alleged role in a bar fight last month, is any more intense than scissor-gate that dominated the headlines at the Cowboys' training camp in 1998?

For of those of you who don't remember, that's when Michael Irvin stabbed starting guard Everett McIver in the neck with a pair of scissors during a dorm-room dispute while several players were getting haircuts.

Miles saw a player revolt lead to head coach Chan Gailey's firing and he saw how Gailey's replacement, Dave Campo, dealt with the scrutiny of the job.

Those experiences forged the man you see leading LSU today. It's why he knew LSU would play well Saturday.

"We asked them to put all of those things that could be distractions and things that the sports media needed to visit about and rehash and define and clarify," said Miles, referring to the suspensions, "and we suggested that that wasn't going to play any part in this game."

After his time in Dallas, the man knows how to handle distractions. Large or small.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.