By Andrew Alexander, DIG Sports Editor
As the players carried him off the field Saturday night following a Tiger victory, chants of “Les Miles!” rang from the thousands of fans remaining Death Valley.
The scene brought to mind the advice Proximo gave to Maximus in the movie Gladiator, “Win the crowd and you will win your freedom.”
Maximus eventually won over the Roman crowds, but met a tragic end on the sands of the Colosseum. It seemed as though Miles was destined to meet a similar fate Saturday night.
In front of an emotional and appreciative crowd of thousands of fans, Miles sang the alma mater with his players, seemingly savoring every last drop of his potential final night as head coach of LSU in Tiger Stadium.
The cheering eventually faded, as the fans slowly trickled out of Death Valley Saturday night, and the mystical era of Les Miles football in Baton Rouge seemed to have come to a close.
Then the unthinkable happened: LSU announced Miles would remain as head coach of its football team.
“Miles has won the hearts of the purple and gold faithful after eleven years of leading the LSU football team to 111 wins, but unlike Maximus, Miles survived Saturday night and will enjoy the freedom of coaching the Tigers once again.”
“I want to make it very clear and positive that Les Miles is our football coach, and he will continue to be our football coach,” Alleva told the media following LSU’s 19-7 win over Texas A&M.
Almost two weeks after news broke that Miles would be coaching for his job in the final two games of the regular season, Miles’ job security was no longer in question.
Though Miles said after the game he harbored no hard feelings from the previous two tumultuous weeks, the eleventh-year coach did take a moment to speak candidly about the entire situation.
“There’s probably a guy or two I’d like to meet in an alley and have a little straight-talk with,” Miles said to the media after the game. “But I’m not built that way.”
The outpouring of support from the fan base extended to the locker room, as several players expressed their elation upon discovering the news that Miles would indeed remain their head coach.
“The players love him as our coach,” wide receiver Malachi Dupre said, “I love him as my coach.”
Dupre, like many of his teammates, was unaware of the Miles news until speaking with the media during postgame interviews.
“[Coach Miles has] built a legacy here,” Dupre said. “I know for myself and my teammates that we love him a lot, and we made that known before the game and afterwards.”
Many players shared the team was motivated to beat Texas A&M, not only to snap the three-game losing streak, but to win for Miles.
“[Coach Miles] deserved it,” defensive tackle Christian LaCouture said. “We love him to death. We thought as a team that he deserved the win.”
Defensive end Lewis Neal said he “had a feeling” Miles would remain LSU’s head coach.
“There’s a reason why Joe Alleva and everyone didn’t say anything,” Neal said. “He’s not going anywhere.”
Lost in the shuffle of the Miles’ magical evening were Leonard Fournette’s record breaking performance to surpass Charles Alexander as the single-season rushing leader in LSU history, former defensive coordinator John Chavis’ return to Baton Rouge and Jim Hawthorne’s last game in Tiger Stadium as the “Voice of the Tigers.”
But those storylines simply do not compare to the emotional whirlwind that was the Les Miles saga on Saturday.
Did LSU make the correct decision to retain Miles? Arguments can be made for both sides and time will only tell. Will there be offensive changes moving forward? Who knows?
Only one thing remains clear to this particular writer: Miles has won the hearts of the purple and gold faithful after eleven years of leading the LSU football team to 111 wins, but unlike Maximus, Miles survived Saturday night and will enjoy the freedom of coaching the Tigers once again.