There's a lot of smoke billowing from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and it's casting a dark shadow on Les Miles' future at LSU. A number of unnamed sources and informed hunches from reporters are expecting the school to cut bait on its head football coach.
And why? Because boosters don't feel that the school is competing at the level it should. After a 7-0 start this season, the Tigers have lost three straight, including respectable road losses to Alabama and Ole Miss, as well as a cringe-worthy one to Arkansas at home.
Fans are frustrated. Many feel Miles' offense is too conservative and predictable, that the coach isn't doing enough to put the team in position to win. 7-3 would go over fine at plenty of schools, but LSU's fans have high expectations. They look east and see their former coach, Nick Saban, running a consistent playoff contender at Alabama. They're looking around the rest of the SEC and watching down-and-out programs like Ole Miss rebuild and ascend to greater heights than what LSU has enjoyed of late.
Mind you, "of late" is a relative term -- Miles did lead the program to a BCS national championship after the 2007 season, and the 2011 squad lost to Alabama in the title game -- a disappointing shutout, but a title game appearance nonetheless, and in a year when Miles won every major national coach of the year award. In his 11 seasons running the ship, Miles is an impressive 110-32.
And according to the rumors, LSU boosters are about to pay more than $15 million to stop him from coaching their football team. Ignoring the material grossness of that figure -- all the problems in the world, all the academic needs at a major institution, and $15 million are being poured into one person's firing? -- LSU and its wealthy supporters are overlooking one critical consideration.
Money can fire a football coach, but it can't guarantee a good replacement. And it's even less likely to yield a better pick than Miles, whose year-to-year success would be embraced by almost any university. By firing Miles, of course, LSU is distinguishing itself: It isn't like those other universities. The bar is higher.
Fair enough. But LSU isn't the first school to say that, and it wouldn't be the first to fall flat on its face in the aftermath. Look at Nebraska in 2003: The school fired Frank Solich after a 9-3 regular season that improved upon a 7-7 campaign the year before. Nebraska made the same bold declarations: It wasn't enough to be merely good. Nebraska expected excellence.
So they pulled the plug on Solich, and ventured upon a harsh reality: Coaches weren't interested in coming to Lincoln. Be it the poor treatment of Solich by new athletic director Steve Pederson, and/or the discomfort in working at a school where a 9-3 season was a fireable offense, the Huskers struggled to find a replacement.
The search for a head coach lasted 40 days, and resulted in Bill Callahan -- himself a bottom-feeder on Nebraska's wish list, and a coach whose performance justified his ranking. In four seasons, he turned in two losing seasons. In the latter, 2007, his team set the school record for most points allowed in a season. Nebraska still hasn't had a season with three or fewer losses.
Then there's Tennessee, which forced Philip Fulmer to step down in 2008 after a 5-7 season, despite his 152 career wins and a national championship in 1998. Tennessee had high expectations. What it got instead: Three different head coaches since 2008, three losing seasons, and an average of six wins per year.
And bear in mind, both Solich and Fulmer were fired with, many would agree, a number of potential upgrades on the market. Not so with Miles. Miles has the resume that teams would throw a lot of money at -- if we're being honest, he's exactly the coach Tigers fans would be screaming for if he were on the open market, instead of already employed at LSU.
This looks like a classic case of the grass being greener on the other side. And why? What does LSU and its boosters see that make it so eager to dump Miles? Florida State's Jimbo Fisher has been named. A former LSU assistant, he's one of the few coaches who represents a possible upgrade, albeit a minor one.
But there's no guarantee Fisher would leave the Seminoles for LSU. He's got reasons to stay where he is: An easier conference that still paves the way to the College Football Playoff, and a more supportive fan base. Fisher has built up credit by winning a national championship so quickly at Florida State. If he goes to LSU and merely matches Miles' performance, he'll be run out of town.
And after Fisher, what's LSU's gameplan? Where is this crowd of compelling coaches that would offer a clear upgrade? And are the boosters really so confident in acquiring Fisher that they're willing to pony up $15 million, plus another $5 million to cover Fisher's FSU buyout?
I wouldn't put it past involved football boosters to believe their money can bulldoze their way to better results. But we've seen this play out before, and they're more likely facing a fall from relevance.
And good riddance. The way they're treating Les Miles, they're in need of a reality check.
-- Follow Jonathan Crowl on Twitter @jonathancrowl.