Has LSU created a culture without upperclassmen’s leadership?

High-caliber recruits coming, but not staying in Tiger Town

Like a cat chasing the red dot of a laser pointer, Les Miles has been all over the country trying to recruit the nation’s best football players to his program at LSU. With two recent national championships, several New Year’s Day bowl appearances and regular national television coverage, LSU has been a magnet for blue-chip football recruits, like current freshman running back Leonard Fournette, who was considered the No. 1 overall player in the nation in this year’s recruiting class.

But a troubling trend is developing in Tiger Town. Miles can land the recruits, but he can’t hold on to them.

In the last two years, 17 players left school early to declare for the NFL Draft. Last year, more underclassmen left LSU than any other program. While NFL success has come to some former Tigers – Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Odell Beckham, Jr. – it has eluded most who surrendered their collegiate eligibility. 

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            On the surface, Tiger fan looks at it and says, “Next man up. One five-star player leaves, we’ve got another to take his place. What’s the problem?”

            The problem is experience, especially in a conference as demanding as the Southeastern. With more senior leadership would things have been different against Mississippi State, a program many consider to be significantly beneath LSU’s? Same for the game against Ole Miss last year? It seems the experience of the Mississippi school’s two and three-star juniors and seniors matched and even bested the talent of LSU’s five-star freshmen and sophomores.

            With two losses before the end of the first week of October, the Tigers were humbled early. Gone was talk about climbing the ladder to another SEC Championship, a place in the new college playoff and a possible fourth national championship. Rebuilding has even been muttered in some corners.

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            The truth is LSU has an amazing fan base and facilities that are on par or better than the best programs in the nation. The resources at the football team’s disposal should make it a beacon that attracts the best players in the country. But in order to be the best, LSU not only needs to seal off the state’s borders to other college programs, but also needs to warn and ensure their best athletes are at their peak when they turn professional. And the best way to do that is to hone their skills in college, and maybe even get a degree that will benefit them when their playing days are over. Earning that parchment may be more valuable than a pay day from an NFL franchise.

According to the NFL Players Association the average career length is about 3.3 years. The average NFL salary is about $2 million annually, so the average player earns more than $6.5 million during their career. Yet 78 percent of NFL players file bankruptcy within five years of retirement, according to Ross Crooks, author of “From Stoked to Broke: Why Are So Many Professional Athletes Going Bankrupt?”

As a coach, Les Miles’ job is to put the best team on the field as possible. His success is based on his players’ success. But he also has a responsibility to put these young men in a position to succeed off of the field, to succeed in life. It’s truly sophomoric to believe these kids are ready for the demands of the real world at 20 years old, much less the lifestyle of a professional athlete. While the money is tempting, it’s proven to be fleeting.

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Top-tier talent will continue to funnel in to Baton Rouge. The challenge now is to stop overhauling the team every few years so that consistency may be established, experience may grow, and wins may pile up again.

 

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