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Elite program brings new kind of pressure

After rebuilding job, Les Miles takes on LSU team with lofty goals.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published July 30, 2005


HOOVER, Ala. - When Les Miles took over at Oklahoma State in 2001, his job was to rebuild a struggling program. His newest assignment is much, much different.

In January, Miles inherited an LSU program that is among the nation's elite.

Over the past four years, the Tigers have won 40 games, two SEC titles and a BCS national championship. They'll enter camp in two weeks with 18 returning starters (10 on offense), including four experienced tailbacks and five or six deep at receiver.

The buzzword around Baton Rouge is "loaded."

No wonder Miles isn't concerned about Nick Saban's legacy.

"One of the reasons that I enjoy the opportunity at LSU is because of the success that coach Saban had," Miles said Friday while making his debut at SEC Media Days. "The program is in great shape. ... That's what we would like to continue at LSU."

Actually, it's what is expected.

LSU was picked to win the Western Division by the league's media writers and is ranked in the Top 10 in every major preseason publication.

"I know expectations are high, but there's no pressure that the fans, the LSU community, the media or anybody can put on us that we don't expect of ourselves," senior defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. "Our expectations of ourselves are higher than anybody else. We expect to win every game, we expect to win the SEC championship, we expect to win the national championship. But everybody that has (attended media days) this week expects the same thing. It's all about who's going to put the work in to get to that spot. We're in a position where we can for sure."

A two-year letterman at Michigan, Miles said his biggest influences were former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler and former Colorado coach Bill McCartney. As for Miles and Saban, the LSU players say the similarities are greater than the differences.

"Coach Miles is more of an offensive guy, and coach Saban was more a defensive guy, but they both have the same goals and strategies," running back Joseph Addai said. "Mostly he is building on what coach Saban taught us."

The transition from the hard-nosed, intense Saban to a more "laid-back" Miles has been smooth, the players said.

"Everybody sees that some things are different between the two, but I think if you've got older guys who've been there and they know how to win, then it doesn't really matter what your approach is as long as you're getting it done," Williams said. "If you've got guys who understand what it takes to win and are willing to do whatever it takes, as long as your system is sound, I don't think it matters what kind of intensity you carry."

For Miles, the biggest differences between his first season at Oklahoma State and his first few months in Baton Rouge are talent and desire.

"The fact that we have some talent, the fact that this football team comes in expecting to achieve, certainly that's what we want," he said. "I don't have to convince anybody. We understand that if we do the things that we're capable of doing we have a chance to have a special season."

The kind of season LSU fans became accustomed to under Saban.