With Tom Herman's departure to Texas last week, Houston's head coaching position opened up and became one of the more attractive landing spots in the coaching carousel.
Houston sits in one of the top five recruiting hotbeds in the country and with facilities upgrades and more on the way, it's as close to a Power 5 school without the conference affiliation. At the same time Houston came open, Les Miles' name began to circulate for almost every other opening around the country, from Purdue to Baylor. Our advice to Houston, stay away. He's not what the Cougars need.
Let's start here, Miles was a great recruiter at LSU, a school smack dab in the greatest recruiting region in the country. Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Florida, all schools which he had access to, produce more college prospects and pro prospects than any other area. By a mile. Miles did well recruiting. If we're to believe recent Rivals rankings, Miles never had less than a top 10 recruiting class. Since 2013 his classes at LSU ranked sixth, second, eighth, and fifth. Even last year when Miles was on the chopping block, only four schools recruited better classes according to the folks that know. But Miles performances on the field fell off. After winning the SEC and playing for a National Title in 2011, Miles teams never again finished better than 2nd in their division and are sitting on a streak of four straight finishes of 3rd or worse.
Is that terrible? Not really. But it lends to a bigger point, Miles players didn't drop off. He was still grabbing classes than 95% of the FBS would have gladly traded for but he couldn't beat Alabama. Then he couldn't beat Auburn. Then Ole Miss. Then Mississippi State. The reason was that, schematically, he fell behind. His teams stuck to a conservative offensive model. And here's the kicker, he saw it happening and never attempted to adapt. Nick Saban saw it happening and his program evolved. Miles saw it happening and continued to trot out Cam Cameron and an offense with new table settings but no substantive changes.
While Les was a great quote at media day and a lot of fun in post game interviews, his tenure at LSU, in addition to the SEC titles and National Title, were marred by what appeared to be just plain old dumb clock management. Those decisions and apparent lack of preparation sometimes worked out because of fate or kismet, but they also ended up costing his team games. Every year seemingly Miles would address his game management, assuring the leering press that he'd made the proper changes, but those quirky often dumb gameday decisions continued. They certainly didn't help his antiquated offense.
He's a great recruiter, but so was Tom Herman. Yet Houston never got close to signing classes as highly regarded as Miles' LSU classes. Herman's teams were among the elite in the nation. Beating better teams, i.e. Florida State, Oklahoma, Louisville (twice) and ranked teams more often than not. Miles couldn't beat the elite teams in the SEC any longer and for the Tigers, watching Ole Miss, Auburn, and dependent on the season Arkansas and Mississippi State, pass them by was not palatable. Fans grew tired of seeing the team that was LSU's chief SEC rival, Alabama, further themselves from the Tigers and everyone else in the league.
The difference is that Herman was on the cusp of offensive innovation and brought in a coordinator from Utah State who played that role defensively. Herman relied on good players, with the occasional great one, whom he put in a schematic advantage over their opponents. Houston ran an up tempo offense with a dual threat quarterback and the use athletic weapons on the outside. He brought a freshness and a hunger to get Houston into a bigger league and if not, beat those bigger leagues when they met on the field.
Is the AAC the SEC West? Nope. But the point is Miles had every possible advantage at LSU, great facilities, choice recruiting area, incredible athletes, rabid fan base and he couldn't keep up with the top teams in his league. We're sure he'd love to "reinvent" himself in a new location and that he's learned from his mistakes, but his results speak differently. Miles knew is leash was short at LSU this season but he showed up hoping the same formula would somehow work this time. When offensive stagnation and clock management cost him games again, LSU made a change. A change that Les Miles of all people knew was possible.
Houston's ideal candidate is someone who can build off the Tom Herman blitzkrieg of recruiting, scheme progression, facilities upgrades, brand development, and social media acumen that made the #HTownTakeOver not just a hashtag but a movement. Maybe that guy is already in the building, maybe he's somewhere else, but he ain't Les Miles.