Les Miles is safe, but staff changes still a possibility at LSU

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Joe Alleva and F. King Alexander answered the biggest question Saturday night, giving Les Miles the option to return as LSU’s head coach.

That does not mean, however, that LSU’s football program in 2016 will closely resemble the one that just completed a rocky November. In fact, it would be a major upset if Miles’ staff remains intact.

The question is how deep the changes will go because both coordinators and special teams coach Bradley Dale Peveto faced as much criticism as their head coach during the Tigers' recent slump.

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is in the final year of a three-year contract and could be made the scapegoat for the Tigers’ offensive failings down the stretch. The Tigers scored just 16.5 points per game in four November contests and statistics indicate that sophomore quarterback Brandon Harris regressed as the season continued.

“I thought up to Game 7 [Harris] was magnificent,” Miles said. “There seemed to be a pause and we haven’t quite got him back on track. There’s some work to do there.”

After Saturday’s win against Texas A&M, Miles danced around a question about whether he expected Cameron -- a longtime coaching acquaintance with whom he worked on Bo Schembechler’s staff at Michigan -- to return next season.

“I’m not answering any of those questions,” Miles said. “I want to look at statistics and do studies and I’m going to make quality decisions. I can tell you this: Thank goodness we had him tonight.”

Miles has sent mixed messages about the need to overhaul LSU's offensive approach. His one-dimensional, run-heavy scheme has drawn fire from critics who say it's an outdated philosophy, and Miles actually seemed to agree with that assessment following a Nov. 21 loss to Ole Miss.

“I don’t think there’s any question,” Miles said. “I think we’ve got a mobile quarterback, I think we’ve got a guy that can throw it and I still think we’re going to have balance, but I don’t think there’s any question that offense needs to be adapted. It needs to be fixed, adjusted.”

However, after the A&M game, Miles did not seem as interested in making major offensive changes -- not with sophomore running back Leonard Fournette returning to the backfield in 2016.

“A serious overhaul of the offense, does that include Leonard Fournette? Are we taking the running game out of the offense? Oh, OK, so then basically there’s not a serious overhaul because the motor seems to be pretty stinking strong,” Miles said. “Offensive line, protection-wise, was tremendous tonight. Do you want to consider change? You betcha. I think ‘serious overhaul’ is appropriate, but would be a little much.”

Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has another year on a contract that pays him $1 million per season, but LSU’s defense was inconsistent for much of his first season replacing close friend John Chavis. The Tigers rank 25th nationally in total defense (342.5 YPG) and 45th in scoring defense (24 PPG), and yet Steele’s defenders had an unfortunate habit of getting out of position and surrendering long touchdowns for much of the season.

Peveto, in the second season of his second run as a Miles assistant, leads a dysfunctional special teams unit. The Tigers have covered kicks more effectively in recent weeks, but they were atrocious in that department in the first half of the season. Punter Jamie Keehn has been inconsistent for much of the season -- he’s 72nd nationally in punting average (40.9) after ranking 10th last year (44.9) -- and while place-kicker Trent Domingue was rock solid for most of the fall, he has missed four of his past seven field goal tries.

Peveto has one year remaining on a three-year contract that would pay him $450,000 in 2016.

Miles found out for sure that he would return next season only after leaving the team’s on-field victory celebration Saturday, so he likely needed time to digest the events of a whirlwind week before moving on to formal staff evaluations.

However, he said staff changes would be “a natural contemplation” even if he stopped short of making any definitive statements.

“When you have change, there is staff change,” Miles said. “But sometimes there isn’t.”