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Les Miles spends spring in coaching exile

LINCOLN, Neb. -- You know the hat.

Les Miles still wears it well. Without a team to lead this spring, the 63-year-old former LSU coach has taken to speaking at clinics. He addressed coaches in March at North Carolina -- where his oldest son, Manny, competes as a backup quarterback -- then made stops on Friday here at Nebraska and on Saturday at USC.

His presentations in Lincoln and Los Angeles opened with an anecdote about President Theodore Roosevelt, a symbol of toughness who advocated for football in the early 1900s, when the game's violent nature threatened to halt its advancement.

These days, Miles wears toughness on the sleeve of his suit jacket.

He's a revered figure in the sport -- introduced with words of praise by Mike Riley and Clay Helton to gatherings of some 400 coaches at Nebraska and USC. But Miles, the near-consensus national coach of the year in 2011 who has two SEC titles and a national championship on his résumé, can't find a program to coach in 2017.

And Miles makes it clear: He wants back in as soon as possible after an unsuccessful round of job hunting that followed his firing at LSU four games into last season.

"I want to coach football," Miles said Friday at Nebraska. "That's pretty simple. I want an opportunity at a place that can win, a place where they really want to invest in the players. If they do that, I'm good."

Twenty-one FBS head-coaching jobs changed hands during or after last season, including eight in the Power 5. None remains available. Miles said he's open to a "different style of job," if the situation appears right.

"But then I'm going to be picky about the people that I work with," he said. "All I need is an athletic director and a president that says, 'Yeah, I want ... to be the best.'"

His presence definitely creates a buzz in the business. Coaches from lower levels of football listened intently to his words for more than an hour at Nebraska and USC.

"When you invite a guy who hasn't coached for a couple months," Miles said as his time on stage grew short at Nebraska, "he could stay up here for a couple of days."

His cadence is familiar. Miles drew laughs as much for the way he told stories as for their content.

Wearing a dark suit with a white shirt and no tie, the coach grabbed his familiar white hat early in his talk on Friday. Instead of purple and gold lettering, this headgear featured a red "N."

Miles figures to get some wear out of the Nebraska hat, regardless of his job status. His youngest son, Ben, a senior fullback at Baton Rouge (Louisiana) Catholic, signed a letter of intent with Riley's Cornhuskers in February. Ben traveled with his dad on this trip; he'll move to Lincoln this summer.

Manny Miles walked on at North Carolina in 2015. Miles' daughter Smacker recently finished her career as a swimmer at Texas.

Les Miles talked extensively about his children during the presentation in Lincoln.

"The father perspective is a different one," he said. "It probably has made me a better coach yet again. You realize how important some of the little things are that you do as an assistant -- recruiting -- [and things] that you do as a coach that become so important to the player."

In the fall, after his September exit from LSU, and through recruiting season, Miles said he experienced a recurring dream. He likened it to a dream about college -- a realization that he had missed an exam and would not graduate -- that jolted him awake.

Only this was the coaching version.

"It's about recruiting or spring ball," he said. "You go to bed with a bunch of questions, sort out some answers, and you want to apply them."

The day before recruits signed in February, Miles said he awoke "ready to text" with recruits and high school coaches.

Miles said he believes he's a much better coach today than when he worked his last game in 2016, an 18-13 loss at Auburn that dropped LSU to 2-2. The Tigers went on to win six of their final eight games, including a 29-9 victory over Louisville in the postseason.

While he's without a coaching job, Miles said he plans to travel to visit friends in the business and meet some of the "best college minds and see what's new."

If an opening materializes before next season, Miles said he'll investigate. If not, he's OK with starting the process over in November. A broadcasting job also appeals to Miles, he said, because it would keep him close to the game.

In fact, Miles said he thinks he could enjoy doing TV work.

"But I'm a football coach," he said, "and it's hard for me to admit that."