I've exercised my brain enough, and I'm sure someone more knowledgeable than I could cook me up a better answer, but I cannot recall a time when a National-Championship-caliber team booted both their best and most renowned player on the eve of the football season... for "violating team rules." Details remain scarce, even now. We don't know the drug; we don't know the extent of usage; we don't even really know the history. Here is what we know:
- Les Miles suspended Tyrann Mathieu for a single game in 2011 (along with Tharold Simon and Spencer Ware) for synthetic marijuana use.
- Les Miles booted Tyrann Mathieu off the team in 2012 for "violating team rules."
- Tyrann Mathieu enrolled in rehab shortly thereafter.
We can draw logical assumptions from these three events, but the likelihood that we ever know the full extent is next to zero. There were rumors that Mathieu failed three drug tests. However probable this seems, there is no actual evidence to support this claim. Miles remains mum on the subject. The entire event remains termed a "violation of team rules," with Miles vaguely suggesting we have standards and expectations that Mathieu did not match.
Which raises an interesting question in the cynical, everyone's a cheater side of my brain: What really happened? I do not mean to make light of drug abuse, but since when has ANY coach EVER dismissed a player for a private violation of drug policies? Mathieu did not get caught in a drug ring. He did not get caught selling or distributing (at least not by legal authorities... to our knowledge).
Could Mathieu's drug of choice be worse than marijuana (I'm not attempting to start a political debate on the criminality of marijuana, but your neighbor and my neighbor and you and me and probably a hundred people you know have, will or do currently smoke weed)?
Could it simply be that it began to affect his performance/focus/dedication? Mathieu certainly looks to be in the best shape of his life. If this was an ongoing issue, it certainly didn't affect his performance on the field. What happens in private, we do not know.
Could it really just be a three strikes you're out rule and Miles exhibiting his iron fist of control, sending a message to all in the program: NO ONE IS BIGGER THAN LSU. NOT EVEN THE BEST.
It's impossible to know. I'd lean toward the last scenario, but then, what kind of balls does it take for a coach in position to challenge for a National Title to dismiss his best player for something he likely could have kept under wraps? Coaches like to win. Winning gets them raises. Winning gets them promotions. Winning gets them acclaim. Winning gets them legendary status. Winning gets them contract extensions. Winning covers a multitude of sins (something we've painfully seen play out in the Paterno/Sandusky scandal).
Miles as a riverboat gamblin', risk takin', clock denyin' SOB is well established narrative at this point. But booting your best player on the eve of the season for something relatively minor and private in scope? Well, that may be his biggest gamble of all. To my eye, it's unprecedented.
But, the story doesn't end there. As referenced earlier, Mathieu enrolled in rehab. He's since completed his time and is now back in Baton Rouge and enrolled in classes. He's being mentored by John Lucas. He's on the road to recovery. He's not saying much of anything about football. He's let it be known through social media that he'll always be an LSU Tiger. To his credit, he seems to have the want to return to the football program.
But, will Les Miles budge? How deep is the line drawn in the sand? Perhaps Miles felt the need to send a message to his players and will stick to his guns? Perhaps he shares genuine concern for Mathieu as a person (he's said as much, but you know... coach speak and all), and he felt this was the only way to get through to him? Perhaps it's a little of both, but he's open to allowing Mathieu to work back into his good graces? Miles is completely mum on the subject. "I've got other things to worry about." Yet, so long as Mathieu is there, hovering around Baton Rouge, taking classes, the question will remain.
Regardless of the "Will he?" question, the "Should he?" question remains. When the news broke regarding Mathieu enrolling at rehab, I shared the following texts with a buddy and fellow LSU fan:
Me: "Mathieu going to rehab."
Him: "I hope the best for him. But he's not an LSU guy."
Me: "I think Les will let him back if he gets his shit straight."
Him: Don't want him. LSU is better off without TM, Larry Foster, Cecil Collins, Kenny Mixon."
Me: "I dunno if I'd group him with those guys. Hard to know."
Perhaps it is the optimist in me that believes in the reformation/redemption storyline? Perhaps I'm a blinded LSU fan who simply wants one of the most dominant defensive players in college football history back on the field?
It's hard to make sense of a story that is so scant on detail. It's hard to make sense of a story that is so rife with rumors. It's hard to make sense of a story that is so... Les Miles. Which, should it really surprise us that Les Miles hasn't and wont answer the question? Even if Mathieu is allowed back onto the team, it will likely be done with little spectacle. Maybe he'll show up at practice some day. Maybe it'll be mentioned in passing in another press conference. Miles takes flak for his goofy mannerisms and idioms, but in many ways it's all a carefully designed ploy to... say nothing of substance... ever.
Such is the way of Les Miles... unprecedented decisions followed by huge blocks of silence... followed by continued success. Is any of this surprising?
For more on LSU football, check out And The Valley Shook, Team Speed Kills and SB Nation's college football page.