A Dark Secret, a Systemic Failure at LSU and the Les Miles I Thought I Knew

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We’ve had fun with Les Miles for long enough.

That includes me, a person who reported on him for three years as a beat writer in Baton Rouge, a person who grew close to him after his firing from LSU in 2016, a person who even visited him once he was hired at Kansas in 2019.

I thought I knew Les. Maybe most of us thought we knew Les. We were drawn to his quirky, kooky nature. The way he botched the English syntax. The way he launched into befuddling musings about national holidays. The way he smirked, his goofy gestures, the odd staring.

He was different. He felt fun. He ate grass. He dressed up in costumes. He kissed a pig. Heck, the man once scaled a downtown Baton Rouge skyscraper. He even dabbled in stage acting, something for which he opened up to me about in a dimly lit casino ballroom some three years ago.

Kansas football coach Les Miles

This week, because of excellent investigative journalism, we learned that there is more to Les Miles—and LSU.

We learned that two LSU student workers filed sexual misconduct complaints against him, including an allegation that, on at least one occasion, he kissed a student after taking them to his condo alone. We also learned that he sexualized the football team’s staff of woman student workers, allegedly demanding that blonds with “big boobs” be hired, according to an investigative report released this week.

The complaints against Miles were serious enough that in the summer of 2013, then athletic director Joe Alleva recommended he be fired, for cause. But the university’s outside counsel concluded that the complaints would not constitute sexual harassment under the law. Basically, they’d lose in a court battle against Miles and would owe him a buyout of more than $15 million. For what it’s worth, Husch Blackwell, the law firm LSU hired to produce Friday’s 150-page investigative report into sexual misconduct at the school, disagreed—it believed LSU had grounds to fire Miles with cause.

Instead, Miles was banned from any one-on-one interaction with woman students and completed eight hours of sexual harassment counseling. Miles has denied any and all wrongdoing. His current employer, Kansas, where he’s making nearly $3 million a year as head coach, has kept mostly mum.

(Editor's note: Kansas reportedly placed Miles on administrative leave on Friday evening, hours after this story was published.)

A question looms: Will the Jayhawks keep him as their coach?

But first, back to LSU. The school itself cannot escape blame for what appears to be a sweeping, years-long cover up of both their former coach’s actions and their failures in handling sexual complaints against their football players. At least six school officials knew of Miles’s secret, including three former members of the LSU Board of Supervisors, a powerful, politicized governing body at the university. They told no one, not even their own colleagues on the board.

Contacted Friday, former board members were stewing over the news.

How were we not told? How did this happen?

One of the three former board members who knew about Miles’s reported transgressions, Stanley Jacobs, fielded a phone call Friday from Sports Illustrated. “I don’t have anything to say, but thanks for calling,” he said before ending the conversation. Alleva did not reply to a message.

Husch Blackwell’s wide-ranging report went beyond Miles, of course, though he’s mentioned 51 times. The report paints an unsavory scene within the university itself, the athletic department and the football program as it pertains to the Title IX process. One sexual assault survivor described the protocols as designed to put survivors in a position to give up because they were worn down by its hurdles.

The Title IX office was poorly staffed and was not properly involved in accounts about athletes. Athletic administrators, like deputy AD Verge Ausberry and assistant AD Miriam Segar, made poor decisions, at times at the instruction of Alleva, who was pushed out in 2019 (on Friday, they were slapped with unpaid suspensions of 30 days and 21 days, respectively).

The report details a frayed relationship between the administration and the football staff, namely Sharon Lewis, a longtime football operations staff member who, at one point, asked that the Title IX office investigate her own bosses, Ausberry and Segar. She told investigators that she encountered “great resistance from Segar and Ausberry” about the Title IX incidents. The report says the issues grew so bad that Lewis had a “mental breakdown.”

The investigation uncovered a football program that, under Miles, normalized covering up sexual harassment and assault accounts about its members. In fact, one longtime staff member gave investigators a jarring and damning description of the place, which you can read in full here.

“It just baffles me, though, that for so long, this went on and that kinda became the normal, right?” the staff member said. “And you just don’t talk about it and you don’t say anything, you just kinda go, ‘cuz we’re protecting LSU, we’re protecting our brand, we’re protecting our head coach, we’re protecting this, we love LSU so we’re gonna be loyal to LSU so we’re gonna do what we can to help it and try to fix it.”

The football staff members aren’t the only ones at fault here. The university administrators aren’t the only ones at fault here. The head coach isn’t the only one at fault here.

I am at fault here, too. I was as close to the LSU football program as any media member for at least four years in Baton Rouge, from 2014 to 2017. I thought I was digging enough. I filed public records requests on a near-monthly basis back then. I broke negative news fairly consistently. I was dog-cussed by LSU administrators more than once, was barred from one-on-one interviews for several months and received multiple threats to revoke my credentials.

And still, I sit here ashamed.

The sentiment within the LSU football building, the former staff member told investigators, was, “Well, I can keep doing that because nobody gets in trouble around here. Even the head coach didn’t get in trouble for doing it.”

That brings us back to Les. He will no longer be viewed in our eyes as the quirky character we gravitate toward. His reputation is forever tarnished. And though he denies the allegations, he obviously lorded over a dysfunctional program with deep problems.

His future is unclear. Sources in Lawrence, Kans., say he took the day off Friday, staying away from the office.

Either way, one thing is certain: We’ve had fun with Les Miles for long enough.