Style over substance and a whole lot of talk about process.
There is nothing like passion. It cannot be fabricated. True passion, anyhow. Passion often begets irrationality. When I watch LSU football games I do not watch them in analytically, pragmatically. No, I want to be lost in the moment. I revel in being caught up in the spectacle, the event of it all. There is a time for analysis and rational thinking... the middle of the game is not it. I am prone to swearing, hitting things, throwing things, and shouting irrational drivel that I would never agree with the next morning. But that's all okay, because for three hours I want to spend those emotions. Get it all out and let it lie. That way, the victories are sweeter. On the other hand, the agony also runs deeper (like Saturday), but such is the sacrifice to be made. So, I get that.
But, after it's all over, reality returns and it becomes time to analyze, put things back into perspective and consider all that transpired, good, bad and ugly. Then can I ask questions, ascribe blame and deduce exactly what lead to the outcome. There is nothing special about the way I handle this. Everyone deals with a loss (and a win, for that matter) in different time frames. For some, they will never re-watch the game from Saturday, November 3rd. Too painful. Too heart-wrenching. Too much. For others, they'll re-watch and allow their own assumptions color the picture in. Others still will be genuinely analytical, allowing the sober game tape to tell the story. It's a mindset we should all hope for. Yet, for most LSU fans, the reactions never reach this point.
It seems, with stunning consistency, that each time LSU loses, the overwhelming reaction (even beyond your general pain, heart break and anger) is summarized in three words: Fire Les Miles. It's remarkable. It's unbelievable, really. But it's there... every time. Every. Single. Time. Not from every fan. But from a large enough portion of the fan base as to be heard.
I had a brief conversation with a friend (a Florida fan) over the weekend, where he continued to express his frustration with Florida's performance and his general disappointment in Muschamp (whom he has never exactly been thrilled with). We bantered back and forth a bit via text and finally he made a statement that stuck with me:
Winning isn't everything.
I laughed. I replied with something snarky. "What an asinine thing to say!!!" I thought to myself. Haven't you ever heard of Vince Lombardi? Well, I guess you agree with him. It's not everything. It's the only thing. That and a bunch of other rah-rah thoughts.
But here's the thing. My friend isn't a moron. And while he said that in a bit of passion, I understood what he meant. And really, it all comes back to one of the biggest buzz words in all of college football right now: process. It's what Nick Saban preaches and will likely be anthologized for. People stick the word "the" on the front of it and suddenly it's some brilliant plan Saban invented. But really, as great as Nick Saban is (and he's really great), he's not the architect of process. The perfector, perhaps, but not the architect.
See, there's a maxim (of sorts) that I try to model my own life after. It's pretty simple and my first encounter with it came in Jonah Keri's excellent book, The Extra 2%. In it, the Tampa Bay Rays General Manager espouses the very simple quote, paraphrased here:
Good processes yield good results.
That's it. That's what Nick Saban teaches. That's what Andrew Friedman practices. That's what most anyone who is consistently successful should strive for. Rather than focusing on large, often unattainable games, focus on perfecting the small steps that lead to success. If we know that to reach 100 we must first reach 1, 2, 3 and so forth, then focus not on getting to 100, but getting from 1 to 2, then from 2 to 3, then from 3 to 4. Eventually, hopefully, you will reach 100 (it should also be noted that in real life there is no 100% certainty so even having the right process can still lead to failure).
Saban provides a very task-oriented framework for his coaches and players. It's, obviously, proven successful. The results speak to the success of the process.
At some point, everything must point to results. Saban's "process" is no doubt the years of tinkering, failure, trial and error until he arrived (or continues to arrive) at a formula that works. In time, that formula too will need tweaking. Such is the evolution of human condition. But the point is, the only reason now that anyone cares about the "process" is because the results are there.
Quite curiously the same benefit is rarely, if ever, extended to Les Miles. This is not to say Les is as successful as Saban. He's not. But at what point does 80.3% (Les Miles' winning percentage at LSU) deserve to not be questioned any longer?
It's a question I don't have an answer for. After this weekend, cruising message boards, it's there again. Thoughts such as this:
"Maybe everyone is just now catching on to the fact that he's been so lucky at LSU."
Oh that word again. Luck. Branch Rickey, a certified baseball genius, coined the phrase "Luck is the residue of design." It could not be more apt.
It's been seven seasons now. The explanations for this "luck" have shifted over time. First it was "winning with Saban's players." Then it was "first two-loss champion." Now, who knows why anyone (a lot of anyones) would continue to say this.
So we return to that whole question of process. It's quite clear that for many LSU fans, they simply don't buy in. Whether it's offensive game planning, recruiting, coaching hires, in-game decisions, timeouts, whatever, the process is severely in question.
At what point does 80.3% become real?
That's good for around 30th all-time in college football history. No, not just Division 1 college football, either. ALL of college football... ever. Toss out the non-Division 1 coaches, and Les is more like fringe top 10...playing in the toughest conference at the very apex of its history. Les Miles hasn't just been successful at LSU, he's flat out dominated from a historical perspective. Yet, so many LSU fans, after every loss, still go back to the well: Fire Les.
It's not just LSU fans, either. The media, at large supports a less absolute, but still wonky perspective. For the most part they treat Les like an affable goofball, fun to interview and be around, fun to watch, but not to be admired and respected as a head coach. Damn the accomplishments, let's talk about the failed trick plays!
You see, I can understand this mentality a year, even two or three, into a coach's tenure. That's a small enough sample for a coach to survive off a previous coach's talent surplus or well institutionalized system. But, we've seen it time and again. Bad coaches come into good situations and fail, miserably. Oftentimes, quickly. Many expected (and continue to expect) the same of Les. It's been 7 years, and this is still a question? 7 years of winning 80% of the time, and people still think there's something wrong/lucky with the Miles process. It's mind-numbing, really. It defies explanation. It defies reason.
However, this is also not to say we should be shrouded in blind homerism, never questioning, always trusting. But LSU fans are smart, smart enough to be able to rationally discuss things in non-absolutes. I can question Les Miles' clock management without questioning whether he even deserves to be the head coach. I can question the decision to run a fake field goal on 4th and 12 without attempting to undermine all of his career accomplishments. I can question his recruiting tactics without suggesting he's eroding the very talent base that is our very foundation.
Largely though, this points back to our own errors of human reasoning. These are attempts to make the true story fit our own narratives and presumptions. "Les Miles is not a good coach. Let me show you why." If it doesn't fit our paradigm, we will warp it until it does.
Perhaps, maybe, just maybe, the process is good and we don't understand it. The process may not be your preference or style, but can the results really be argued?
Andrew Friedman and Nick Saban are right. A good process will yield good results. But at some point, you have to begin working backward from results to understand what makes a good process. At some point, enough good results are no longer "luck" or "fortune," and if they are, it's the type of luck and fortune you made for yourself. 80.3% over 7 years doesn't happen often and it doesn't happen by accident.
Les Miles keeps on winning.
And for some reason, a lot of LSU fans hate winning.