Former LSU football coach Les Miles’ firing this weekend means the college football world is without one of its most colorful figures, at least until Miles gets another job. It means we’ll have no grass eating, no skyscraper rappelling, no Columbus Day celebrations, no dunking on his children and no WWE promos about how he wasn’t going to Michigan. It also should be noted that unlike so many other college football coaches who have repeatedly warred with the media, there have been a ton of positive stories emerging over the last few days about reporters’ unexpectedly-warm interactions with Miles. One of the most poignant comes from Brett Michael Dykes at Uproxx, who writes about how Miles treated him after Dykes was hit by a car in New Orleans ahead of meeting with Miles in Baton Rouge for a scheduled interview for a New York Times profile. Here’s the key part of what Dykes wrote:
You see, at around 6 a.m. on the day I was to spend with Miles, I was hit by a car as I rode a bike to a rental car place in New Orleans’ central business district. The car ran a red light at an intersection just as I was cruising through it. The driver slammed on his or her brakes, but I was still hit head on. What transpired was and still is kind of a blur, but what resulted was me being flipped over the car and landing on my back in the street. The driver then sped away in a classic hit-and-run, leaving me splayed out in the middle of the intersection.
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Luckily, despite the fact that I wasn’t wearing a helmet, I somehow came away with no major injuries. I was banged up pretty good, sure, but I was okay. I remember two witnesses at the scene looking mildly shocked when I picked myself up off the ground without any help as the bike I was riding lay a few feet away in a mangled mess. They insisted I go to an emergency room to be examined, but I refused.
“No, I have to get to Baton Rouge to spend the day with Les Miles,” I told them. “Today’s my last chance to do it.”
That said, I didn’t feel totally right in the head. I was dizzy, a bit wobbly, to the point where I didn’t feel like it was a good idea for me to be driving. So I went down to the bus station and hopped aboard a Greyhound bus headed to Baton Rouge.
On the way I called the LSU sports information department and let them know what had happened, but that I was still making the trip, just that I might be a little late to practice that morning. When I arrived in Baton Rouge, they had someone pick me up at the bus station to drive me to campus, and when I arrived at practice, Miles came over immediately to check on me.
“I hear you’ve had quite a morning,” he said. “Let’s have our trainers take a look at you. We’ve got some of the best in the business on staff here. They’ll take care of you.” (I was later diagnosed with a sprained wrist, a knee contusion, and a low grade concussion by LSU’s medical staff.)
I stayed a few feet away from Miles as the team spent the next couple of hours practicing. He came over often to see how I was feeling. Later, back in his office, we had a long talk about timing and chance and mortality, and he detailed — off the record — a couple of incidents from his own life that, had luck not been on his side, could have resulted in serious injury or death. Both of us even got a little choked up during the conversation, as I recall. It was an illuminating glimpse into Les Miles, the man, and I came away from the whole thing utterly charmed by him.
Dykes is far from the only one to share remarkable stories about interactions with Miles. Holly Anderson has another good one:
when I got home and listened to the tape all but about ten minutes were us talking about the zodiac (he is a Scorpio)
— Holly Anderson (@HollyAnderson) September 25, 2016
As does Emily Villere Dixon, who worked in LSU’s football office with Miles and regularly interviewed him for LSU’s website:
You, along with Sharon Lewis, gave me a job when I was 19 years old to work in the football office. It was a dream come true for me. I watched your entire family grow up from Macy as a baby, to shuffling Smacker to swim practice, tutoring Manny in 6th grade math and watching Ben grown up. LSU is family, and the Miles are family to me too. This is something that will never change.
…While you were totally my boss, you were also very much my friend. Someone I could talk to, bounce ideas off of and it never felt like I had to sensor myself around you. You were one of the most famous coaches in the whole game of college football, but to us, you were just Coach Miles.
Most LSU fans will remember you for your awkward way of clapping, tall white hat or eating grass. I will remember all of that too – it’s hard to forget! But, I will remember most when you talked to me about getting married when Shea and I got engaged, and when you gave me training advice for my races (still the best piece of racing advice I ever got was from you – ‘Turn the watch off and have fun.”) and when I was constantly laughing with you (and maybe sometimes at you!).
…I will miss your jokes (or your sometimes jokes that were trying to be jokes), your press conferences, your Les-isms (that everyone in this office still finds each other saying without even noticing it), your family (everyone, but mostly Macy braiding my hair) and, most of all, the quirkiness that made you Les Miles.
There were presumably some negatives as well over the years, and it is notable that interim coach Ed Orgeron appears to be expanding media access to practice, so Miles’ tenure wasn’t always perfect for those who had to cover him. Still, he presented countless good stories and proved willing to laugh at himself, embracing the wackiness, the grass-eating and the “Mad Hatter” label in a way many ultra-serious college football coaches wouldn’t. And he didn’t hold much of a grudge; after calling out ESPN’s incorrect reporting in 2007, he did a This Is SportsCenter commercial for them four years later:
Miles also didn’t seem to hold many grudges against all those who buried him via anonymous sources late last year, and despite his firing, he was still upbeat, optimistic, understanding and not angry in an interview with Dan Patrick Monday. The stories from Dykes and others illustrate how Miles embraced his human side in a way too few college football coaches are willing to, and showed kindness, empathy and a willingness to not always take himself so seriously. The college football media world would be much better off if more coaches were like Miles.