Is Mario Cristobal the Next Les Miles?

Darren Perkins Editorials

With all the negative vibes surrounding the Mario Cristobal offense, I couldn’t help but think back to a few years ago when a once-highly-successful coach of the LSU Tigers was run out of Baton Rouge for also being “offensively challenged.”

Les Miles, best known for being the head coach at LSU from 2005-2016, was also a lover of the “shove it down your throat” style of offense. And during the first half of his tenure, a conservative ball control offense matched with a suffocating defense was a winning formula. It was this style of play (along with Dennis Dixon’s knee injury) that led the Tigers to the 2007 national championship.

As the 2010s progressed, the entire college football world was following Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks’ lead in implementing creative, up-tempo, and spread offenses. But, Miles failed to adjust, and by 2016 his stubbornness had cost him one of the premier jobs in all of college football.

Les Miles lost his job because he was too stubborn to open up his offense.

What would cause such a highly successful football coach to ignore what was happening to the very game integrated into every fiber of his body? Alabama had adjusted. Clemson had adjusted. Ohio State had adjusted. The very best of the best had made the switch from a conservative to a wide-open offensive attack and were consistently challenging for titles.

But there was Miles, still obsessed with three yards and a cloud of dust.

Miles had played offensive guard from 1972-1975 at Michigan under legendary coach Bo Schembechler. After his playing days he made his way up the ranks as most college coaches do. He spent 12 years as an offensive line coach at Colorado and Michigan before being promoted to offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, where within a few years he became the head coach before his stint at LSU.

Hmmm… a head football coach who was once an offensive lineman in college, who then became an offensive line coach before becoming an offensive coordinator and then ultimately scoring a head coaching gig. A coach who was an excellent recruiter and who had a charismatic personality, and was obsessed — to a fault — with dominating in the trenches.

Sound familiar?

Cristobal’s offensive woes had Oregon fans salivating over what they saw from Chip Kelly’s UCLA squad last Saturday night.

Of course, unlike Miles, Cristobal has not had quite the success on the national stage. So, if a guy who has fared well in the SEC and led his team to two national championship games while having won one can get fired for failing to adjust, it would seem to reason that a guy who hasn’t had that same success could also get fired.

Also, Eugene isn’t Baton Rouge and the Ducks are not in the SEC. If Cristobal won a national title, barring a complete meltdown, he could pretty much write his own checks at Oregon for the rest of his life. But he hasn’t, and the Oregon natives are growing restless and will apply pressure. No matter how successful a coach has or hasn’t been, that is in the past, and an eye must always be kept on the present and future.

Cristobal is known for his tremendous work ethic, arriving at the office at 4 a.m. and putting in 20 hour days. This is admirable. But, at some point, the phrase “work smarter, not harder” has to come into play. Playing tough in the trenches is great, but if you’re not developing successful offensive schemes, not putting playmakers in a position to succeed, and not taking advantage of what the defense is giving you — then it is all for naught.

Time to marry the hard work with the smart work, Mario, and that time is now before you follow into the next phase of the career path of Les Miles.

Darren Perkins
Spokane, WA
Top photo credit: Twitter

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