So with the pain still raw, he sat in his office and relived the carnage. He watched his Louisiana State team get dismantled, 21-0, by an Alabama team the Tigers had beaten earlier that season. The DVD over, Miles pressed eject and decided to move on, college football’s inevitable changing of the calendar.
“I think it was hard for other people to get past that,” Miles said recently. “I don’t think it was hard for me, though. I suspect no one likes to lose their last game. It doesn’t make any difference which game that happens to be, it’s a miserable event and an ugly feeling. I can’t stand it.”
Eight months passed. Miles had to tweak his offense, handing the quarterback job to Zach Mettenberger, who has 11 career passes. Miles had to watch as 15 of his key contributers signed NFL contracts. Most recently, he had to part ways with Tyrann Mathieu, a Heisman Trophy finalist last season who was booted from the team and reportedly entered a drug rehabilitation program. Still, Miles will start the new season with perhaps the best team in college football, ranked No. 1 in the preseason coaches’ poll.
The turmoil and turnover doesn't stir much in the veteran coach. Change is perhaps the lone constant in college football, and few handle it better. Miles lives in the moment. A championship game, a big win, a crushing defeat — all disposed of in short order, his target constantly dancing along the horizon.
‘We want to win every one’
A season ago, the Tigers won 12 games by double-digit margins. The way Miles sees it, there’s only one way to improve upon a one-loss season. To him, it doesn't really matter how similar to dissimilar this year’s crop is from the one that was four quarters away from a perfect season.
“We want to win every one. I'd love that. I would,” he said. “I don’t want to be just okay. I want to be up there at the top, be there at the end of the season with no regrets and no excuses.”
Barely a week into summer practices, Miles surprised many with a news conference on Aug. 10, where he said Mathieu broke unspecificed team rules and was no longer a Tiger. But the coach’s concerns with his star defensive back started long before that.
Sitting in his office not long before the start of summer practices, Miles said he was concerned with preseason hype undermining his star player’s effort and motivation. He’d already decided he wouldn't endorse any sort of Heisman campaign on Mathieu's behalf entering the 2012 season.
“It’s all about next year, all about the next play,” Miles said. “There’s no room for entitlement. What did you think you really earned? Really accomplished? Well, you accomplished a lot, but frankly there’s more to get. There’s something else out there.”
The position with perhaps more intrigue this season for LSU is quarterback. Miles’s recent offenses have been recognizable by their run-first philosophy. In last season’s BCS title game, the Tigers had just 53 passing yards. Their quarterback, Jordan Jefferson, had more than twice as many rushing attempts as any tailback. That will not be the case this season.