BATON ROUGE – In the classic 1976 car movie, “The Gumball Rally,” about a coast-to-coast hot rod race, driver Franco Bertollini, played expertly by the late Raul Julia, delivered a vintage line.
“And now my friend, the first rule of Italian driving,” he said as he broke off the rear view mirror of his Ferrari Daytona, “what’s behind me is not important.”
Apparently, for LSU football coach Les Miles, what’s above him is not that important.
In the rarest of coaching moves, Miles will not have any of his nine assistant coaches in the press box when the No. 5 Tigers open the season Saturday afternoon (2:30 p.m., ABC) against Wisconsin in Lambeau Field in Green Bay. All nine will be on the sidelines. Only graduate assistants, who are generally guys in their early 20s right out of college trying to get into the coaching business, will be manning the eye in the sky for LSU this season as of now.
In the past, most of Miles’ offensive and defensive coordinators and some of his other assistants have usually worked from the press box. But offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who was upstairs for his first three seasons at LSU, decided to move to the sidelines after quarterback Brandon Harris asked him to for up close and personal coaching before the bowl last year. And new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda has usually coached from the field, so that is where he will be. Soon, everyone joined the party on the grass.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was asked if he had ever been in such a situation on game day during the Southeastern Conference teleconference on Wednesday.
“All of the assistants? Like all nine? No,” he said incredulously, sounding as if he had never even considered such a move, or heard of it in his 22 years of coaching.
“I have not,” said Tennessee coach Butch Jones, who has been at it for 30 years, said when asked the same question.
“I have not seen a situation where all of them are down on the sidelines,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who started coaching in 1999.
“No, I have not been on a staff that has ever done that,” said Alabama coach Nick Saban, who has been coaching since 1973. “But I think every coach decides what’s best for his team.”
But none of the other 13 SEC coaches plan to have none of their nine assistants in the press box for this season. And none of the coaches asked on Wednesday had ever heard of no regular assistants working from the press box. None other than Miles, that is. He said when he was a Colorado assistant in the 1980s, it was done.
Saban does have two of his younger coaches in the press box – defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley, 34, and receivers coach Billy Napier, 36. Still, they are significantly older and more experienced than typical grad assistants.
“The advantages of being in the press box is gathering information,” said Saban, who worked from the press box as a young assistant and as a defensive coordinator. “The advantage of being on the sideline is more direct contact with the players, and you can make corrections.”
Florida coach Jim McElwain, a coaching veteran of 31 years, likes someone familiar with his coaching style being his view from the top.
“The experience of some guys being eyes in the sky is good,” he said. “If you’ve got experienced guys up there that know exactly what you want from either side of the ball, that’s a good idea.”
McElwain may be moving more coaches into the press box.
“In our case, our sidelines are so tight, that just brings extra guys down there,” he said. “We’ve got to try to clean it up a little bit.”
In Miles’ case, he may be trying to tidy up a mess, too. Maybe for him it’s a good idea. Maybe he is changing. Fans have been crying for him to not be so stubborn and open up his passing game for years now. Last season, LSU had its eyes in the sky with Cameron, receivers coach Tony Ball and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele in the press box, and the Tigers often could not pass or stop the pass. They finished 105th in the nation and 11th in the SEC in pass offense and 65th in the nation and 12th in the SEC in pass defense with “eyes in the sky.”
Maybe Miles, who began coaching in 1980, is saying to hell with it. “What’s above me is not important.”
Then again, he can always shift to a higher gear, so to speak.
“We enjoy the fact that we can coach our kids (close up),” Miles said. “The disadvantage would be if you don’t have the great view of the field. If we’re missing things in the field, then we’ll eventually go right back up. But I kind of enjoy the manpower that will be involved with our team during the games.”
Stay tuned. And since we’re in the press box, and not allowed on the field until late in games, we’ll keep an eye in the sky out for you.
OPENING WEEKEND (With USA Today Rankings)
THURSDAY APPETIZER GAMES – Appalachian State at No. 9 Tennessee, 6:30 p.m., SEC Network; South Carolina at Vanderbilt, 7 p.m., ESPN.
SUPER SATURDAY GAMES – Missouri at West Virginia, 11 a.m., Fox Sports; South Alabama at Mississippi State, 11 a.m., SEC Network; No. 6 LSU vs. Wisconsin, 2:30 p.m., ABC; No. 24 UCLA at Texas A&M, 2:30 p.m., CBS; Louisiana Tech at Arkansas, 3 p.m., SEC Network; No. 16 Georgia vs. No. 20 North Carolina, 4:30 p.m., ESPN; Southern Mississippi at Kentucky, 6:30 p.m., ESPNU; Massachusetts at No. 25 Florida, 6:30 p.m., SEC Network; No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 17 USC, 7 p.m., ABC; No. 2 Clemson at Auburn, 8 p.m., ESPN.
MONDAY NIGHT DESSERT – No. 12 Ole Miss vs. No. 4 Florida State, 7 p.m., ESPN.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I just never heard of such a thing.”
…Lake Charles American Press sports writer Scooter Hobbs, who has been covering LSU since the 1970s, during an exchange with Coach Les Miles on the fact that LSU will have none of nine assistant coaches in the press box as of now.
Hobbs, sounding as incredulous as Bielema above, had previously asked Miles, “So, who is going to be in the pressbox?”
And Miles delivered … QUOTE OF THE WEEK II:
“An empty line.”