A Year Later, LSU Welcomes Routine
Thursday, August 24, 2006
There's a moment when Louisiana State Coach Les Miles is at home in the kitchen preparing breakfast. He fixes a bowl of raisin bran, washes a handful of blueberries, drinks a glass of orange juice and sips a cup of coffee and goes about it all in an unremarkable way. He goes about it in the quiet that accompanies 5 a.m., and really, Miles's morning routine is nothing extraordinary except for one thing: It exists.
Miles has said that he is a creature of habit, and in his second year with the Tigers, he might get to stick to his routine. It's a stark contrast to a year ago, when Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath left LSU and its football program displaced, its personnel wondering every morning what new unpredictable change was headed its way.
An hour before the coaching staff's 7 a.m. meeting, Miles settles into his office and starts tackling the day's pressing issues: the schedule, film of the last practice, personnel issues.
It might be something about one of the two LSU freshmen whose academic paperwork is still being examined by the NCAA (the other three have been cleared). It might be another film study of LSU's final scrimmage Tuesday night, when the offense seemed to finally perform as well as the defense. It might be, to the delight of the LSU faithful, an inner debate about the Tigers' trio of quarterbacks.
There's last year's starter, JaMarcus Russell, the 6-foot-6, 260-pound junior with a strong arm. There's junior Matt Flynn, who made his first college start in the Peach Bowl after Russell was injured in the Southeastern Conference championship game. The Tigers beat Miami, 40-3, and Flynn won the offensive most valuable player award. Finally, there is Ryan Perrilloux, who redshirted last year and whose strong arm and grasp of the game continue to excite the coaching staff.
Russell is expected to start the team's opener Sept. 2 against Louisiana-Lafayette, but the discussion continues. It has followed Miles overseas.
"Probably the most unique place I was asked about our quarterbacks was in Iraq," Miles said. "Late in the day, one of the last, if it wasn't 11, it was 11:30 and we were preparing to close it up and find a place to take a nap and a gentleman from Louisiana -- and I hadn't gotten the question for days -- asks, 'Who are you going to play at quarterback?' It made me smile, because no matter where I was at -- across the country, across the ocean -- that was always the question."
It's practice time now. According to wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, Miles is on the field with his players, and his voice is serious, but calm and collected.
"He's more of a hands-on coach," Bowe said. "He gets down and shows you what the mistake is and if you mess up he'll explain what you did instead of cursing you out or getting all in your face."
Cornerback Chevis Jackson calls Miles a players' coach, someone who smiles and cracks jokes.
"He's just one of the guys, but he can be, you know, a coach, too," Jackson said.
Miles says he wants to maintain control of himself, but make no mistake, there is a time to "let it rip." Yet he is not a coach who will shout until his face turns red. "His face is always red because it's hot up here," Bowe said.
Practice is a routine, a preparation for a set of occurrences that may or may not occur within the frame of a football game. Miles runs constant repetitions of possible responses to expectations and plans. The routine is to prepare for the spontaneous.
And then there's another moment when Miles stops seeing the routine and sees his team.
"I see a closeness with our football team that I didn't see at the start of last year before we went through what we went through," Miles said. "I think the experience that we've had as part of the '05 team has reaffirmed characteristics of championship teams and really strong people. I really think the experience looking back will shape what, in my opinion, strong leadership is in a football team."
Though the summer days are getting shorter, Miles's days average roughly the same duration, and the coaching staff begins to wrap up its day around 10 p.m.
Changes have made Miles see his team in a certain light, but this year's routine also has its place.
"He's more in charge now," Russell said. "He's learned everyone's names, he's kind of got the ropes going on the side."