Immediate reactions from the news of Tyrann Mathieu being dismissed from the team, in order of occurrence.
1) Unsurprising Disappointment
Really, anyone could have seen this coming. Mathieu has been in trouble before and has seemingly, publicly, adopted the “Honey Badger Don’t Care” mentality the world has attributed to him. You come to expect behavior trends sometime, so instead of total shock and awe at hearing about the press conference today, it was not a bombshell of news. Still, you’re disappointed and upset. I know Charles Barkley said he wasn’t meant to be a role model, but we’re not just talking about impressionable kids here. True, devoted fans of a team or school come to revere the culture, reputation and spirit that comes with that fandom, and it’s disappointing when they don’t. And in the end, it was this clashing with rules and culture that sent Mathieu packing.
2) Fighting Tigers Will Fight All the Way
LSU is going to be FINE. Tyrann Mathieu benefited a great deal from having Morris Claiborne in the secondary with him and even showed some weaknesses at times last season, notably in the “championship” game (yeah, still bitter). Sure, Mathieu is a fantastically talented player, and we’re better with him than without him, but in reality there would probably have been a bit of a dropoff from last year’s cornerback performance. A bit, even if miniscule. Mathieu made his name on big, capitalistic plays because the ball came at him often, though to his great credit he made some insanely awesome plays on his own, creating turnovers and killing it on returns.
It’s time for Craig Loston to come into his own at strong safety, and the human highlight reel Eric Reid is still back there, ready to do some damage. The LSU defensive front threatens to be elite and will put additional pressure on opposing quarterbacks, so that helps, but throwing teams like Arkansas may in fact pose problems down the stretch. Tharold Simon is thrust into the limelight as LSU’s most experienced corner, with two freshmen Jalens taking on added roles at DB as well, though redshirt freshman Jalen Collins is larger and has been with the team longer than Jalen Mills. O’Dell Beckham is a breakout player waiting to happen, and we’ll probably see him more on returns.
But regardless of losing a star player, the team largely remains intact, with new hope at the quarterback position, a pummeling running attack and strong playmakers on defense, and should be right up there with the best of them. But really, what matters most is…
3) The Player is a Person
It actually saddens me that this was not the very first reaction I had, as I’m sure was the case for most people who are following this story. We all think about the outlook of our fall and the success of our team, what bowl game we’ll be playing in, but we don’t think about the personal lives of these players.
If the rumors are true that this was a third failed drug test, then that’s sad. I’m not saying he made great decisions, or that he shouldn’t be criticized for not honoring the responsibilities asked of him, but the bulk of us have no inkling of an idea what’s going on with his personal life. It’s really none of my business whether or not Mathieu has a drug problem, but I have first-hand experience witnessing people grapple with addictions, and it is a lifelong, daily and taxing struggle. Mathieu has exhibited signs of not being willing to, or being unable to, comply with rules required of him. You have to hope and pray for him and his family to overcome these struggles, because we all endure struggles in our own times, and you always have to hope to be able to overcome them.
But we have to remember this is a person’s life, a life that impacts many people on greater levels than it impacts our enjoyment of a game or ability to brag about our school.
4) Miles Flexes Disciplinary Muscle
I think Coach Miles has been struggling with being known as a player’s coach, conforming with the community and establishing a solid disciplinary culture within the team. Granted, LSU is not the bad boys of the old “U” Miami days, not by a long shot, but last offseason’s Shady’s incident was very troubling. As much as we revere our favorite players and star athletes, we also envy them, and it’s naive to think people don’t have a target on them when they see them in public. Being at a crappy bar late at night – at a time when fights are known to occur in Tigerland – was not a smart decision on the part of the players last year, so they put themselves in a certain situation. Whether that’s just naturally poor decision-making or it’s lackadaisical life coaching by the coaching staff, I’m unsure.
I truly don’t think Les Miles is failing his players or the community, but I think he did struggle with the desire to win last season by having Jordan Jefferson in the fold and the need for discipline after the incident, but consider that there were also legal ramifications going on that made the nature of the incident more vague. But the ongoing situation was indeed a distraction and a lot of people still have issue with the light punishments. Then there were other drug violations. It seemed at times the team was reeling its way through a classic season.
But at some point Miles had to get control of the team, so whatever rule Mathieu broke, enough was enough. Miles laid down the law, but did so in a calm, fatherly manner. He didn’t want to see Mathieu go but knew that the integrity of the program and the school was more important than one player. To propose cutting a former Heisman finalist is downright ballsy, and I applaud Coach for doing it shamelessly.