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Retaining Miles as LSU football coach was about more than the millions of dollars at stake, Alexander says

LSU President F. King Alexander says several factors played into the university’s decision to keep football coach Les Miles—a process that dragged out for more than two weeks last month, generating endless speculation in sportscasts and blogs and criticism from the national sports media.

Alexander confirms reports that the final decision on Miles’ future did not come until after a halftime meeting during the Nov. 29 game against Texas A&M, though he says the decision had “pretty much been made” a few days earlier. Among those in the halftime meeting were Alexander, Athletic Director Joe Alleva, and several members of the LSU Board of Supervisors.

“It was a combination of factors and a decision that we made collectively,” Alexander says. “We weighed all the factors in all this and it was a joint decision between many of our board members, our AD and many of us decided this was the wrong time and wrong place (to replace Miles.)”

Alexander acknowledges that concerns over the exorbitant cost of buying out Miles’ contract—$15 million plus an additional $2 million for his coaching staff—and hiring a new coach factored heavily into the decision, though he says money was not the only determinant.

“After the type of budget battle we went through this past spring we certainly do not need to be throwing tens of millions of dollars around under certain circumstances,” he says. “We don’t need to go into the next legislative session with a black eye that we’re throwing tens of millions of dollars around on issues that aren’t associated with academic progress.”

Alexander goes on to say that “we’re focused on the university as a whole, the students as a whole, and that was a very costly direction we were headed in and under the circumstances we felt it was not the prudent decision to make.”

No university funds would have been used to buy out Miles’ contract. However, Alexander, who has been a tireless advocate of increased state support for higher education, says many in the general public—and even the Legislature—fail to understand that distinction.

“The public at large really doesn’t differentiate where the money comes from,” he says. “No matter how you explain it, it’s still a $15 million to $25 million decision that needs to be factored into the overall equation.”

But there were others factors also at play in the deliberations, he says. One was the outpouring of popular support for Miles in the final days leading up to the Texas A&M game, a groundswell that occurred as reports suggested the coach’s fate was sealed. Miles’ historical record in 11 seasons of coaching at LSU—the best in Tiger history—also had to be taken into consideration.

Decisions like that are complex and complicated and based on performance history, the direction of the program and oftentimes they don’t have easy answers,” he says. “You have to weigh everything. A lot of people out there said we had to do something. Half the people said we don’t have to do anything and emotions were all over the place. Somehow you have to not overreact to the emotions and weigh all the factors.”

Alexander says he and Alleva are on the same page with respect to the decision that was made and that the university is looking forward.

“Joe and I have a very good working relationship,” he says. “Les and I do, too.”

—Stephanie Riegel

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