Dig Baton Rouge

A Fork in the Road

By Trey Mongrue
@TreyMongrue

Les Miles has lost 29 games as coach at LSU.

Still, last week’s Music City Bowl shortcoming against Notre Dame was a first. Not due to anything that actually happened on the field in Nashville, but rather what occurred in the postgame press conference afterwards.

Instead of using the usual Les-ism of “finishing second” to denote a defeat, Miles outright admitted that his team lost.

“As much as I hate to admit it, certainly this is a loss,” a sullen Miles said following his third bowl defeat in the last four seasons.

In a time where it is nearly impossible to decipher what Miles is actually saying week in and week out, you quickly learn to hone in (and potentially overanalyze) on the little things like that above line.

Yeah, a loss to a team with inferior talent on national television can never be taken as a positive, but the 31-28 mark on the scoreboard and the extra notch in the loss column are largely meaningless. The book on the 2014 LSU football season had long since been signed, sealed and delivered.

What LSU did lose, though, was one of the best defensive coordinators in John Chavis and because of that, clarity for the future has also been misplaced for the time being.

In the weeks prior to the Tigers’ trip to Tennessee, there was a lot of talk among the players and coaches about how 2015 could be the season that they make another run at a Southeastern Conference title and a spot in the playoffs. With the players that are potentially returning, the maturation of young talent on both sides on the ball, things were seemingly in place for good things.

Just how important was Chavis to LSU’s immediate future? So much so that Miles made one last frantic pitch for the defensive guru to stay before they boarded separate planes in Nashville.

Obviously, defense is very important in the SEC. But for a team like LSU that has won the majority of its game under Miles by holding opponents to under 20 points and winning the time of possession battle, a stifling defense is that much more paramount for good things to occur in Baton Rouge.

Chavis’ departure for not only the same position at another place, but to an SEC West rival in Texas A&M has detonated so much explosives around those expectations that even Wile E. Coyote would run away in fear.

There is no point in sugar coating it; this whole ordeal has been a black eye for LSU and now it’s up to Miles to pick up the pieces.

Ironically, he has been in a similar position once before – when he brought in Chavis before the 2009 season.

LSU was coming off of an 8-5 record and a defense that wasn’t getting the job done in 2008, leading to the departures of co-defensive coordinators Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto (No worries LSU fans, he’s not a candidate for promotion this time around).

Despite being just a year removed from a national title, adversity had Miles backed into a corner for the first time in his LSU career and it led to the high-profile hire that was Chavis. It was a move that paid off as the Tigers steadily progressed into title contenders in just four short years, almost exclusively due to the defenses implemented by Chavis.

Now, Miles and LSU are backed into a corner once again. Except this time, the barrier is much more formidable.

The Tigers are three seasons removed from a national championship game appearance and their conference loss column is on a steady incline. 2015 is supposed to be the season where things get back on track. For that to happen, Miles needs to make another Chavis-like hire.

Things seem to be on the right track with well-respected candidates like Bob Shoop, Clancy Pendergast and D.J. Durkin popping up in recent reports as possible replacements. Whoever the hire ultimately is, Miles and LSU need to take their time and make sure they pick the best defensive coordinate possible.

If that doesn’t happen, well then, unlike last week against Notre Dame, that will be a loss that they likely can’t afford.

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