Let's play Would You Rather...

Publish date:

Imagine you are the athletic director at a football factory that prints money and sits atop a goldmine of five-star talent. Your fans expect you to compete for the conference title -- if not the national title -- every season, and rightfully so. Imagine you have an opening for a football coach. Now, imagine the two résumés to the right sit on your desk. You must hire one of these men. Which will you choose?

Sounds like a can't-lose, doesn't it? Well, prepare to have your brain broken.

Coach No. 1 is Georgia's Mark Richt. Coach No. 2 is LSU's Les Miles.

So which one is it, Mr. or Mrs. AD?

I know what you're thinking: "Andy, didn't you lead a column two months ago with the blind résumés of Richt and Miles?" Indeed I did, dear reader, but when I wrote that column, I had no idea its co-stars would present such a fascinating case study after five games.

Richt may be the most beloved 1-4 coach in America. Sure, Georgia fans are upset about the record, and many have called for Richt's job, but even the ones who want Richt red-and-black-slipped think he's a great guy and -- under other circumstances -- a great coach.

Miles, meanwhile, is the nation's most despised 5-0 coach. His staff's bungling of the clock at the end of Saturday's game against Tennessee defied logic, common sense and basic arithmetic. But guess what? He won. Except for last year's Ole Miss debacle, Miles usually pulls these wins out of his -- ahem -- hat. Still, LSU fans have such little faith in Miles that some are content to spend the final, critical seconds of conference games in Port-a-Pottys that might also be wormholes.

So which guy would you rather have coaching your team? Richt or Miles?

Not since Odysseus interviewed Scylla and Charybdis to be Greece's nude wrestling coach has an AD faced such a tight spot. I went with my gut and made my selection. Then, to see if I was crazy, I posed the same question to a few colleagues who also make their living following college football.

Before we discuss the choices of the SI crew, let's examine the pros and cons of each coach.

Mark Richt Pros:

• Seems like the kind of guy you'd trust coaching your kid.

• Has never gone consecutive seasons with single-digit wins. (Sadly, that streak will end unless Georgia wins its next seven games, somehow wins the SEC East, wins the SEC title game and wins its bowl game.)

• Seems like the kind of guy you'd trust to recommend a store where one can buy large quantities of carpet.

Mark Richt Cons:

• Seems unable to diagnose and treat the issues that have caused Georgia to lose eight of its last 12 games against BCS-conference opponents.

• Is proof that Florida's Urban Meyer isn't the only SEC coach who recruits scofflaws; Georgia has had 10 players arrested this year.

• Speaking of the archrival Gators, Richt is 2-7 against them.

Les Miles Pros:

• Has won a national title.

• Says things like this after nearly costing his team a win: "I think this team will force out some of the fat and get to the lean meat."

• Doesn't believe the laws of space and time apply to him or to his team.

Les Miles Cons:

• Told Jordan Jefferson to spike the ball at the end of last year's Ole Miss game.

• Says things like this after nearly costing his team a win: "I think this team will force out some of the fat and get to the lean meat."

• Didn't tell Jordan Jefferson to spike the ball at the end of this year's Tennessee game.

I presume the participants in my informal poll considered these pros and cons carefully before they chose. Their answers came quickly, and they were nearly unanimous.

Before I thought to e-mail anyone, I asked SI.com college football producer Mallory Rubin the question in a phone conversation. "Mark Richt," she said without hesitation. A few minutes later, SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel responded to the question via e-mail. "Richt," Mandel wrote. "He's demonstrated consistency over a longer period without the drama. He even had a better record (13-1 in 2002) than Les has ever had."

My boss, SI.com assistant managing editor B.J. Schecter, chimed in soon after. "Richt, no question," Schecter wrote. "The guy is a winner, and every coach is going to have a rough patch. And most athletic directors would gladly take Richt's rough patches. Miles is a loose cannon who has been very lucky." My other boss, Sports Illustrated college football editor Gene Menez, agreed with the others. "Easy, Richt," Menez wrote. "It would be hard to sell Les Miles to any hardcore fanbase at this point. ... Richt's biggest crime is that 10-win seasons are not enough."

So am I insane because I'd hire Miles?

Sure, Miles is non-traditional. But he's always entertaining. Sure, typically rational voices such as ESPN.com's Pat Forde have suggested Miles' success may actually be the result of a Faustian bargain. But it's the SEC. Isn't that one of the few places where the end always justifies the means?

Suggesting Miles sold his soul is a bit harsh. More likely, Miles' mother dipped him in the river Styx as a child, making him impervious to the slings and arrows of coaching misfortune in all but the spot where he was held during the dipping. Achilles' mother held her son by the heel. Miles' mother probably gripped her son by the very top of the crown of his head, which could explain why Miles tries to cover only that specific area with his hat.

Put simply, Miles is the football equivalent of these people. He is touched by something we can't possibly understand, and I want that something leading my damn strong football team.

Have you considered for a moment that maybe Miles didn't make a mistake against Tennessee when he called for new personnel as the clock careened toward zero? Maybe he was thinking on a higher level than everyone else in Tiger Stadium. Maybe Miles knew the move would throw Tennessee's coaches into hysterics. They expected Miles to do the sensible thing. When he went Britney Spears-in-the-barber-shop on them, they didn't know how to react. They sent more players onto the field without considering the fact that they needed to remove a player for each one they added.

Maybe Miles is a student of Chinese general Sun Tzu, who wrote this in The Art of War: "All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him."

We've seen a side-by-side comparison of Richt and Miles at the height of their powers. In 2007, LSU and Georgia had the two best teams in the country. They didn't face off in the SEC championship game because Richt's team lost to South Carolina in Week 2 and then got annihilated in Knoxville on the same day LSU knocked off Florida. They didn't face off during the regular season for one of two reasons. Either that's just how the schedule fell that year, or the same unspeakable force that commanded Miles to call an end-zone shot in the closing seconds of the 2007 Auburn game also guided the hands of SEC schedule makers years earlier.

That year, Georgia lost two games and failed to win the SEC East. LSU lost two games and won the BCS championship. You may call that fate or simple random chance. I call it destiny. Given the choice between steady, drama-free consistency that leads to a ho-hum Sugar Bowl win against Hawaii and manic, dramatic chaos that leads to a crystal football, I'll take the crystal football and all the metaphysical Port-a-Potty stories I can tell years later.

I choose to believe that my choice of coach says something about me. While those other SI folks want years of boring wins broken by a once-or-twice-a-decade rough patch, I'm willing to accept the occasional (semi-regular?) last-second brain cramp if it means I can celebrate the last-second touchdown passes and toss beads on Bourbon Street after my team wins a title. They want the calm Sherpa who leads his charges nine-tenths of the way up the mountain on all the safest paths. I want the guy who dangles from the precipice on his way to the summit.

Still, everyone else picked Richt. Maybe, just maybe, I was wrong to hire Miles as my latex salesman. Then, just as I began to doubt myself, an e-mail popped in from esteemed Sports Illustrated senior college football writer Austin Murphy. Murphy also covers professional cycling, so no one writes more about men in Spandex who may or may not be using performance-enhancing drugs. I value Murphy's opinion above all the others. Murphy donned his athletic director's hat and totally redeemed me.

"Les Miles has already used up several lifetimes' worth of good luck, so it would be foolish to think that his outrageously good fortune will follow him to these hallowed halls," AD Murphy wrote. "And yet, and yet ... for all his issues with clock management and ... syntax, I'll take a 5-0 Hat ahead of 1-4 Richt, whose team has lost seven of its last nine SEC games; whose program has become synonymous with underachievement. ... But before I make the call, I'm going to think long and hard about a THIRD résumé my secretary just dropped in my inbox. Tell me more about this Mike Leach..."