Three years before Louisiana State University fired him, head football coach Les Miles weathered an internal investigation into allegations he sexually harassed and made sexist comments about student workers, USA TODAY has learned.
At the time of the 2013 investigation, done quietly by an outside law firm, Miles was one of the nation’s most successful and beloved coaches in college football, one of an exclusive club to win a national championship. Though his actions were deemed to be improper, Miles appears to have faced no public repercussions from LSU.
It wasn’t until 2016, after LSU got off to a 2-2 start, that the school fired him. He now is the head football coach at the University of Kansas.
USA TODAY sued LSU in January for a copy of the investigation report after LSU refused to release it. East Baton Rouge District Court Judge Chip Moore has indicated that the bulk of it should be made public and has shown the document to the lawyers in the case. But Moore also ordered Tuesday that it remain sealed until a March 30 trial to hear Miles and LSU’s objections to the release.
USA TODAY learned about the investigation from interviews with three people who were in a position to know about it and who spoke on the condition of anonymity, for fear of retribution. The people described the nature of the allegations and the investigation’s conclusions.
The Miles investigation is the latest discovery by USA TODAY, which has revealed widespread mishandling of sexual misconduct allegations by LSU’s athletic department and broader administration. The news organization’s reporting has prompted LSU to hire another outside law firm, Husch Blackwell, to audit its handling of roughly 60 sexual misconduct cases from 2016 to 2018.
Read the USA TODAY investigation:LSU mishandled sexual misconduct complaints against students, including top athletes
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education also launched a far-reaching investigation into the school’s compliance with campus safety laws, citing media reports and numerous complaints.
The sexual misconduct allegations against Miles have never been reported publicly, and raise questions about whether the school turned a blind eye to sexual misconduct by a coach who was Louisiana’s highest-paid, and arguably its most influential, employee. Miles made almost $4.4 million in 2015, according to the USA TODAY Sports coaches database.
USA TODAY attempted to contact the women who alleged the misconduct. The one who responded declined to comment.
Miles did not return a phone call Wednesday seeking comment. His attorney, Peter Ginsberg, did not give a direct response when asked about the 2013 investigation by USA TODAY. He also said that, “Given the Louisiana Court’s order yesterday, I am not at liberty substantively to respond to your inquiry.”
LSU spokesman Jim Sabourin said in a statement: “We are not in a position to comment on these allegations, as there is currently a court order prohibiting the disclosure of any related information.”
Kansas spokesman Dan Beckler said the school did not know about the allegations when Miles was hired. It has spoken with Miles, and is gathering more information.
“Because this involves Coach Miles’ former employer and pre-dates his time at KU, and because we do not have factual knowledge about details of these allegations, it is not appropriate for us to comment further,” Beckler said.
On Wednesday, The Advocate in Baton Rouge reported that Miles had reached a settlement with an LSU student who accused Miles of “hitting on her.” The Advocate, which cited multiple sources with direct knowledge of the situation, did not provide any other details of the settlement or what led to it, other than to say it occurred about a decade ago.
Reporters requested records related to the internal investigation in December. LSU had refused to release them, citing Miles’ right to privacy and, later, the attorney-client privilege.
USA TODAY has argued that, as a public figure and the highest-earning state employee at the time, the public’s right to know about the probe outweighed Miles’ privacy interests. It also argued that the hiring of an outside law firm does not make an internal investigation confidential.
In court documents, Miles’ attorneys claimed that the records should remain completely private because the allegations “were found to be without corroborative evidence.” The investigation, they said, “did not result in any discipline or finding of wrongdoing” and that it “exonerated” Miles.
At the same time, his attorneys said the records contain information of “a highly personal nature,” the disclosure of which would cause Miles to “immediately suffer serious injury to his reputation and personal life” and “irreparable loss.”
The investigation did not, in fact, absolve Miles of wrongdoing, USA TODAY has learned from independent sources. Nor did it conclude that the allegations were baseless. Rather, investigators determined that Miles’ conduct did not rise to the level of breaking the law.
LSU hired Miles as its head coach in 2005. Nicknamed the “Mad Hatter,” he was known for his gutsy fourth-down calls, eccentric press conferences and goofy antics, including eating pieces of grass during games.
His tenure at LSU was full of on-field field successes. He led the Tigers to the national championship game twice, winning it in 2007. In 2011, several organizations, including The Associated Press, named him the National Coach of the Year.
Miles, who led the Tigers to 114 wins and lost just 34 games, was fired a month into the 2016 season, after LSU lost two of its first four games. Current coach Ed Orgeron replaced him. Miles’ attorneys say his firing was “wholly unrelated” to the allegations in the report.
The University of Kansas, the state’s flagship public college, hired Miles in November 2018. He was paid $3.3 million in 2020, making him the highest-paid public employee in the state, according to 24/7 Wall Street.
Miles’ career has not been without off-field controversy, however. He has been repeatedly criticized for taking soft stances on players accused of violence against women, including allowing players to return to competition while criminal charges against them were pending.
In 2013, he was implicated in a scandal at his previous school, Oklahoma State University, where female student “hostesses” reportedly lured football recruits to the school by having sex with them during campus visits.
Thirty former OSU players and 14 former female students detailed OSU’s hostess program — known as “Orange Pride” — to Sports Illustrated in 2013, as part of the magazine’s multi-part investigation into the school. While the athletes and students said they were not specifically aware of coaches instructing hostesses to have sex with recruits, they said that some staff members knew about it, and that coaches sometimes personally selected which Pride members to pair with certain recruits.
Other schools, including LSU, had hostess programs at the time. But Miles, who coached at OSU from 2001 to 2004, played an unusually central role with Orange Pride, Sports Illustrated reported, personally vetting the student applicants. In addition, OSU expanded Orange Pride in 2004, the same year the NCAA took steps to discourage such programs, the article said. Membership in the group more than tripled, and there was “a greater emphasis on attracting prettier and more outgoing girls.”
Miles said in a statement to Sports Illustrated that he was “not aware of this ever happening and am quite sure that no staff member was aware of recruits sleeping with this group of students or any other students.”
Asked about his own involvement in the hostess program, Miles said:
“The volunteers’ role in our program was important and I wanted to stress how seriously we took their duties and responsibilities and the manner in which we expected those students to conduct themselves if they were selected for Orange Pride.”
Days before the first scheduled hearing in USA TODAY’s lawsuit, Miles’ attorneys filed paperwork to intervene in the case as an interested party. Moore granted Miles’ request for a temporary restraining order barring the records’ release until a decision is made.
Reporters were not allowed into the private conference held Tuesday between Moore and lead counsel for the news organization, LSU and Miles.
At that status conference Tuesday, the parties were informed of the judge’s opinions on redaction and shown copies of the documents. USA TODAY, Miles and LSU will now brief the matter and the judge will make a final decision after a hearing March 30.
Moore also barred the attorney representing USA TODAY, Scott Sternberg, from revealing any information contained in the document to any third party, including the authors of this story or anyone at USA TODAY, under penalty of being held in contempt of court, which could be punishable by fines or jail time.