OSU football: Why Les Miles is most divisive character in Cowboy football history
STILLWATER — Ask Oklahoma State fans what they think about Les Miles, and the reactions are as varied as the Cowboys’ uniform combinations.
“My dad, an OSU alum, calls him ‘that traitor Les Miles,’” one fan said on Twitter.
“He is a jerk,” another wrote in an email.
There are equally impassioned responses on the opposite side of the spectrum.
“I will keep cheering him on anywhere he goes! Love that guy!!!”
On the day Miles returns to the sidelines of Boone Pickens Stadium for the first time since he was coaching the Cowboys, it’s anyone’s guess how he will be received. Cheers? Boos? Both? Now the Kansas coach, Miles is as divisive a character as you'll find in the history of OSU football.
And that’s saying something in a program that has had colorful characters such as Boone Pickens, Mike Holder and Mike Gundy.
But the way Cowboy fans see Miles spans the gamut.
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The way he left.
After a seven-win regular season in 2004, OSU went to the Alamo Bowl. A couple days before the game against Ohio State, Miles was asked by media members about reports he’d met with officials from LSU. The Tigers were without a coach after Nick Saban left for the NFL, and Miles was a rising star.
“I’m not looking around,” he flatly told reporters.
A couple days after the bowl, though, Miles was gone.
That dishonesty didn’t sit well with OSU fans.
Neither did the way the Cowboys played in a 33-7 loss to the Buckeyes. The Cowboys looked uninspired, falling behind 23-0 at halftime and eventually trailing 33-0 before finally scoring with less than 8 minutes left in the game.
Conspiracy theories about the Alamo Bowl persist to this day.
When I asked fans via social media about Miles earlier this week, I got an email from one who said, “Gundy had to give the halftime speech because Les was on the phone with LSU at the time. LSU said OSU was not running the ball enough and they wanted a coach that could run the ball more. We came out and lost the game second half because we ran the ball and failed at it. First half, we threw it all around and we were up big. He basically threw the game.”
In the words of another Cowboy coach, that ain’t true.
Or at least, not all of it.
The Cowboys were never up big in that game. They were never up period. But the way Miles left has so colored the way some OSU fans see him that their memories of the facts have been skewed.
So, here are some facts.
Miles and his Cowboys won Bedlam twice in his four years at OSU. In the modern era, no other OSU coach has had a better winning percentage against OU. Miles' success includes that stunning 16-13 victory over the defending national champion Sooners in 2001. Miles said earlier this week he enjoyed that victory and the Cowboys’ win over the Sooners the following season as much as any in his career.
And remember, Miles won a national championship game at LSU.
Miles’ teams at OSU also laid the foundation for the unprecedented successes that the program has enjoyed under Gundy. No, Miles’ Cowboys never won as much as Gundy’s have, but Miles influence was pivotal.
Gundy said so himself.
“Guys started to believe in winning,” he said, “which made it an easier transition.”
Miles instilled belief in OSU football. He told the players they could win, then went out and professed that belief to the media, to the fans, to anyone who would listen.
“Though he left in such a controversial way, I think Cowboy fans should be grateful for the swagger that he brought to the program,” said Jody White, a Cowboy fan since childhood and a 2011 OSU alum. “Oklahoma State football was a complete mess when he came in. Almost overnight he injected a confidence and swagger that had been missing for years.
“I see that short stint as the jolt that the program needed to take off like it did.”
Love him or loathe him, Cowboy fans, but Les Miles was and always will be an important figure in the history of OSU football.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.