BATON ROUGE, La. — Over more than a decade here, Les Miles gave LSU plenty. He won this program a national championship in 2007, led the Tigers to another title game appearance four years later and delivered two SEC crowns. He averaged 10 wins a year over 11 full seasons, kissed a damn pig at an annual student event on campus and rappelled from a downtown skyscraper. But on Thursday, Miles gave the university the biggest gift one could: money.
Miles let LSU off the hook to the tune of $5 million, agreeing to take a $1.5 million lump sum to settle the remaining $6.5 million buyout the school contractually owed the 65-year-old. Five million dollars? That’s enough to hire two more Dave Arandas. The school could buy a Manhattan penthouse apartment and decorate it with Mardi Gras beads and Cajun cookbooks. It could own a 145-foot yacht and sail around the world to teach the rest of this planet the lyrics of "Callin’ Baton Rouge." Heck, LSU could buy a small island in Belize.
What LSU will use this excess money for isn’t really the focus of this story (after all, $5 million is only about 4% of LSU's yearly athletic budget). Explaining why Miles would leave $5 million on the table is. Miles has received a monthly check of about $133,000 from the university as part of a buyout clause in his contract that paid him about $9.5 million over a six-year period starting after his firing in September of 2016. He put a stop to those checks and took one big one. But why? Because he wants another job, and his attachment to his former employer was a hindrance in him landing something good. That is, at least, what people close to him will tell you.
This move by the coach seems like an announcement to the college football world: I’m open for business, fellas. He’s ready to work again, prepared to run out of some tunnel and win some damn games with a dern strong team, as he might say. LSU was on the hook for, roughly, $1.6 million a year for the next four years. That would have been offset with any new salary. If Miles took a job for a $1 million salary, LSU would pay $500,000. If a new job paid him $2 million a year, LSU would owe him nothing.
In a way, the buyout prevented Miles from pursuing jobs that would pay him less than $1.6 million. He’s making that amount while sitting on the couch anyhow. And if he did take a job that paid him more than $1.6 million, well, the university that canned him would get off scot-free the rest of the way. So, Miles took the $1.5 million check, and the school quickly wrote it, because this is a good thing for them, of course. In the end, LSU paid a total buyout of about $4.5 million to fire the coach—instead of $9.5 million.
On the job front, Miles has communicated with Kansas representatives about its head coach opening, and that relationship is a serious one, but he has taken no job, according to those close to him. But it’s never seemed more likely to happen than now. There is no rush. There are more jobs to pop up. Colorado could be an option if the Buffs do fire Mike MacIntyr (Miles has ties there having served for five years as offensive line coach in the 1980s and he would be very interested, those close to him say). Louisville is open already too. Some even expect a big gig like Ohio State to have a change at the top, and USC coach Clay Helton is feeling pressure.
For Miles, there is only one problem with leaving that $5 million on the table: What if he doesn’t get another job? That’s why this move is so Les Miles. This is a coach, remember, who attempted five fourth downs in a single game one night. He’s called for more fake field goals than you’ve got fingers. In the 2016 season opener against Wisconsin, after an offseason spent promising to overhaul his old-school offense, he ran a toss dive behind center—a figurative middle finger to his athletic director watching from a suite above Lambeau Field. Les Miles is bold and on Thursday he proved it more than ever, giving his former employer—of all people—an early Christmas present.
This is a roll of the dice, a push-all-your-chips-to-the-middle move, but this is Les Miles, the way he always has been and the way he'll always be. He's a gambler, and he just bet heavy on himself.