From toast to toast of the town; Les Miles brings the crazy

Two weekends ago, after fumbling twice in the waning minutes of a loss to Auburn, Stephen Garcia found himself in the eye of a familiar storm: South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier was furious with the junior quarterback. We’re talking visor- and clipboard-throwing angry . . . the kind of livid that has left many a college player shaking in his cleats.

Just 14 days later, after his near-perfect performance in USC‘s decisive victory over then No.1-Alabama (let’s just overlook that bizarre into-the-end-zone toss that resulted in a safety), Garcia has what he’s long wanted: The admiration of the Head Ball Coach.

“He played sensational,” said Spurrier, who’s never been much of a gusher.

For three seasons, Spurrier has been pounding Garcia — publicly and often. Garcia, he said, made poor decisions, had a poor work ethic, didn’t protect the ball, ran with his head down and risked injury . . . the list went on and on.

As often as I inwardly — and sometimes outwardly — cursed Garcia for costly on-field blunders, I felt sorry for the guy. After all, college football players are just kids; many aren’t old enough to legally order a drink.

Perhaps, though, there was a method to Spurrier’s madness. Garcia seemed to take his coach’s slings and arrows in stride. After the victory over the Crimson Tide, he told reporters that since he’d been at Carolina, he’d “developed some pretty thick skin.”

You have to hand it to Garcia; he hung in there, handled Spurrier’s brand of tough love with dignity and gave embattled USC fans the greatest football win in school history.

And he received something else for his efforts: Garcia was just named SEC offensive player of the week. It’s a great honor, but in all likelihood the praise from Spurrier — himself a former Heisman-winning quarterback — had even more meaning.

Les Miles: bringing the crazy

Spurrier may sometimes get mad on the field, but the real madman of the SEC is LSU Coach Les Miles. He’s earned his reputation as “The Mad Hatter” — although it’s a nickname he doesn’t seem to appreciate.

The truth is, though, that Miles brings the crazy, or at least the crazy game endings.

Let the clock expire and appear to lose before the home crowd? No big deal; you’ll get into the end zone and win because your opponent had too many men on the field. Down by three as the clock winds down? So what? Line up for a 53-yard field goal attempt to send the game into overtime, call a bizarre fake featuring a bouncing lateral requiring a four-minute review, then muscle your way into the end zone for the win.

Call him crazy, but it’s working for Miles — and for LSU. The coach’s seemingly mad calls have paid off in a perfectly sane 6-0 record.

The Tide has turned

Carolina’s upset of the Crimson Tide made waves throughout the SEC and on a national scale. What once seemed almost a foregone conclusion — that Alabama would repeat as national champion — is now not such a sure bet.

A lot of SEC fans are moaning and groaning that the league might not be represented in the title game, but they’re getting way ahead of themselves. LSU won the BCS championship in 2007 with a 12-2 record, and there is still a lot of football left to play. USC’s win over Alabama shows that any team — on any Saturday — could fall. Ohio State, Boise State, LSU, Auburn . . . none is impervious to upset.

That said, the SEC still has two unbeaten teams in Auburn and LSU, and Alabama’s not completely out of the picture. Heck, some folks are even suggesting that South Carolina has an outside chance at taking the SEC and going on the to championship game.

Yeah, it’s a pretty crazy idea. But crazier things have happened. Just ask Les Miles.



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