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Gazzolo Column: Miles was in tough spot thanks to Hill

Last Modified: Monday, August 05, 2013 9:29 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

For Les Miles, there was no easy answer.

Jeremy Hill backed the LSU head football coach into a corner.

Hill, the leading rusher last season as a redshirt freshman, found out Monday that his football career in Baton Rouge can go on. He saw his probation extended.

I think when it comes to college that might still be considered double-secret probation, but I must refer to my “Animal House” watching days to make sure.

Either way, there won’t be any more eyes watching over the often-in-trouble LSU running back, just those same eyes watching for a longer period of time.

This after Hill was caught on video punching a man outside a bar last spring, early in the morning, and yes he is under the legal drinking age.

He even celebrated his actions.

It was not the first time Hill has been in trouble with the law, proving at least he is a very slow learner.

Hill was even given curfew flexibility when it comes to football. He can play late for the Tigers and travel with the team.

So much for athletes being treated like any other college student.

They are, of course, not.

Now comes the real question. Will Miles punish Hill any further?

He sounded like a man keeping his options open Monday. He talked about looking at Hill the whole person and his entire body of work. He did say there will be future punishment but was not ready to pronounce it just yet.

He could, of course, do everything from kick Hill off the team to suspend him for any number of games. That fact that Hill practiced Monday shows he won’t be leaving Baton Rouge in the near future.

And, proving timing is everything, it seems a little funny that Hill’s probation hearing was moved up to the same day LSU was scheduled to take the field for the first time.

Tiger justice, perhaps?

For his part, Hill seems to at least be saying all the right things. He told the world he was sorry, was becoming a better person and had learned his lesson.

He is just 20 years old so I’m willing to cut him a little slack there. At least he is not like another 20-year-old from the SEC who has found himself in the spotlight this offseason.

Unlike Johnny Manziel, the Texas A&M quarterback who sinks further into the hole he dug for himself each time he opens his mouth, Hill seems to be on the right track to redemption.

His teammates said they want him back, opening their arms to him prior to opening holes for him.

But what else is a college football player going to say? Of course the kids want him back. He would have to be a real problem if players said no to one of their own.

That means it is up to Miles to decide what Hill’s role, and punishment, will be.

While Hill’s actions are another black eye to the Tigers, they are not alone in this process. Trouble follows all of college football’s elite teams.

It is sad that this is the third straight year Miles and LSU are forced to deal with some type of issue.

Two years ago, it was quarterback Jordan Jefferson finding himself in trouble after getting into a fight outside a Baton Rouge bar. Miles suspended Jefferson for a few games and brought him back as a starter.

Then there was Tyrann Mathieu last year. He was kicked off the team for failed drug tests, reportedly.

Mathieu was offered a shot at returning to LSU if he did everything right, but he didn’t. He got arrested last fall with Jefferson on drug charges.

Don’t think that is the type of teamwork Miles would be proud of.

Now comes the latest question. No doubt Miles should let Hill back on the team, but at what price?

A one-game suspension for Hill seems like a slap on the wrist, but you have to wonder what is the right amount, if at all.

This is where college football itself should step in. The NCAA could be the actual governing body it is supposed to be and make this type of punishment the same across the board.

A kid getting in trouble in Ohio, Michigan or Oregon should be treated the same as one in Alabama, Texas and Louisiana.

Yet they are not. It is up to the coaches and schools to determine punishment for off-the-field troubles.

Strange, the NCAA sticks its nose into all things college when it comes to grabbing the money and the supposed integrity of the game, but it runs from making the tough calls. Leadership is not always the best thing.

So that leaves it up to Miles.

The pressure is on the coach. There are millions of fans, millions of dollars and even a possible run at a national championship at stake with his decision.

In the end he seemed to fumble the Jefferson decision but scored a touchdown when it came to Mathieu.

Of course, lost in all this is the fact that we are talking about a kid, just 20, who may one day become a million-dollar player.

Miles can play the good cop and put his arm around him and welcome him home, or he can play the tough cop and take a hard stand.

Either way, Miles can’t win in the eyes of everyone. He must do what he feels is best for the kid, the team and the university.

Yes, Les Miles is in a tough spot and we should all remember it is Jeremy Hill who put him there.

• • •

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com

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