Which coach has more to lose? Print
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Monday, 07 January 2008 00:50
NCAAF Headline News

 NEW ORLEANS (AP) -The comparisons between Ohio State's Jim Tressel and his Louisiana State counterpart, Les Miles, began the second after the national championship game was set and will continue until the opening kickoff is in the air.
Most focused on experience vs. innovation, icy vs. emotional or conservative vs. caution thrown to the wind, and concluded by trying to answer the question, ``Which coach has more to lose?''
We'll take a shot at that in a moment. First, though, for a comparison you're not likely to find anywhere else, let's go right to the video.
Miles gathered his 79 Tigers in a hotel ballroom Sunday night to watch the movie ``300.'' It's a fictionalized, phantasmagoric retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, in which King Leonidas and 300 heroic Spartans fight to the last man against Persian King Xerxes and his army of over 1 million.
Tressel, on the other hand, sent his team home for Christmas with a greatest-hits DVD. Instead of highlights, however, it featured every diss, rip, insult, smack, slight and sourpuss statement about the Buckeyes his staff could find, beginning with last January's beatdown by Florida in the BCS game and stretching back through Ohio State's 0-8 bowl record against SEC opponents.
Tressel would just as soon light his sweater vest on fire as concede an edge to any opponent on the eve of a big game. But when asked whether he thought Miles' viewing selection was an attempt to convince his players they were underdogs, and whether he planned something equally inspiring for his kids, Tressel just smiled.
``No,'' he answered the second question first. ``I don't know what '300' is. I'm not a real movie guy.
``The last movie I went to,'' Tressel added, ``was Jaws 1.''
Miles, who occupied the same podium a half-hour earlier, wasn't asked for his review of ``300.'' But there's little doubt he would love every minute of the film - except the ending. The Spartans win battle after battle by employing toughness, versatility, discipline and above all trickery.
And anybody who saw LSU escape the clutches of Florida - by going for it on fourth down five times - and Auburn - with a touchdown pass with 1 second left, when a chip-shot field would have done the trick - knows Miles is a sucker for subterfuge, or what Don King lovingly labeled ``trickeration.''
Miles seemed surprised at first when asked about his reputation as coach who likes gambles, who wouldn't hesitate to hit on 16 in a game of blackjack.
``I do not play blackjack. I play Texas Hold 'em,'' Miles chuckled, then added, ``But I don't hit (holding 16) in blackjack.''
In truth, neither coach is as one-dimensional as they're made out to be, since it would be impossible to achieve anywhere near the success each attained without being good at all of the varied skills the profession demands.
Tressel won his Division I-A national title against Miami in 2003 despite being a two-touchdown underdog. Understanding he didn't have the talent to play the Hurricanes straight up, Tressel put quarterback Craig Krenzel, hardly a passing threat, in the shotgun formation to spread the defense, then repeatedly ran the ball off tackle instead. The gamble worked to perfection as the Buckeyes ate up the clock and won in overtime.
For all talk about Ohio State being the inheritor of Woody Hayes' ``three-yards-and-a-cloud of dust'' offense, Tressel has frequently used four- and five-receiver sets. He employed one of those, in fact, just before halftime of the Florida debacle last January trailing by just 10 points and got scorched when it backfired.
Had Miles made the same move, LSU fans likely would have smiled wryly and said, ``That's just Les being Les.'' Yet the fanatical preparation that Tressel is famous for, with its emphasis on fundamentals, is the underpinning of Miles' game plan as well.
``The things we do we're going to execute. If we can't execute we're not going to call them,'' he said emphatically. ``You will not see them.''
So which coach has more to lose?
The call here is Tressel.
Miles inherited a very talented team from Nick Saban, as evidenced by the core of senior stars who willed the Tigers to this game. He has a terrific record in three seasons at LSU, but he hasn't entirely shed the notion that the Tigers faithful deserve better considering the players he was handed.
``We're going to approach this game just like we've approached all the games that we've played,'' Miles said. ``We can't play football any differently because there's some kind of a magic name at the back end of it.''
Let him lose it because of a boneheaded call, though, and he might as well pour down the drain most of whatever goodwill he's built up in his short time in Baton Rouge.
Tressel's situation is a little, well, trickier. His job security is hardly in doubt, but his reputation as the one of the two or three best big-game coaches in college football might be.
That took a huge hit against Florida because Tressel's team looked panicked and unprepared. He shared that ``big-game'' plateau with USC's Pete Carroll and Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, but that was before Stoops lost four straight BCS bowls - including two championship shots.
Fair or not, if Tressel loses his second consecutive title tilt, he slides down the same slippery slope, leaving the top of the mountain to Carroll. Then, beating Michigan every year might not be enough to silence the grumbling back in Columbus.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org

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