Warning: all of this is a work of fiction. And strange. All you need know is that we joke about Les Miles loving taffy, and that no one can figure out whether he's a fool or a genius or a bit of both. There. You're armed. Proceed.
All illustrations by the incomparable Mr. 2Cents. Bow down in his presence.
You may wonder how a clean-cut, law-abiding Michigan man like Les Miles squares up with the free-wheeling, risk-friendly cowboy who went for it on fourth down five times during the Florida game. We asked the same question, and with a bit of flexing of the investigative muscles, we unearthed documents and conducted interviews with those who knew a younger, reckless Miles: a Miles of multiple identities, and a love for fast women, danger...and of course, salt-water taffy.
It's a tale of excess, youthful ambition, and danger detailed in Emmet Richardson's new book covering Miles' early life entitled Hatspotting: The Savage Youth of Les Miles. Richardson said he became intrigued with Miles after reading Jim Carty's column on why Miles wasn't going to be the coach at Michigan next year. "One quote in particular intrigued me," said Richardson from his home on Thursday.
"'One of the drawbacks to basically growing up at Ann Arbor is that there are plenty of folks around town who remember Les Miles as a wild 20-something. That will work against him.'"
Richardson, piqued by the aside, put his investigative skills to use. And what he unearthed paints a picture of a man bent on success and thrills...no matter the cost. "He wasn't just a man--he became an animal, controlled by his insatiable desire for more, more, more. For a few years, he truly was one of the most feared men in the nation, on par with Pablo Escobar, John Gotti, and Albert Belle."
Exclusive excerpts follow. A warning to our readers: the following contains shocking situations and adult language.
Part One: Hatspotting.
Les, as a young man, coaches in Ann Arbor. Stifled professionally and bored during the offseason, Miles turns to other means to get the adrenaline fix he unwittingly craves.
"Miles got into the scene, and when he did, he slammed into it with the force of a car made of bricks hitting a brick wall or something. You ever put a chihuahua in one of those gallon zip-loc bags and filled it with Vienna Sausages?
That's what Les was like: shirt open down to his navel, pants so tight you could see his dinner digesting through them, and just into, you know...everything. He was a madman. Once, at the Speckled Ottoman, he just licked the side of a girl's face. Like, the whole thing. He'd just walk right up to a girl and do that.
He was into taffy. Oh god, was he crazy for taffy."
--James Toobin, grad assistant at Michigan 1979-81.
"Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a program. Choose a family. Choose a blocking scheme, choose a defense, choose a whistle. Choose sitting on that couch watching spirit- crushing game film, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing you last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up brats you have spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life... But why would I want to do a thing like that?
I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who need reasons when you've got...taffy."
--Les Miles, writing in his diary in 1980.
"I mean, man, it all started out so innocently. Just me and Les and Mickey flying the goods in. We didn't even start out with taffy, man--we were running caramel, because we were so close to Canada, where caramel is just...you know, hippies loved it. But all of a sudden, here we are getting more orders for taffy. And Les and me just, you know, stepped in. We were making money, yeah, but not for serious. It all seemed so innocent at the time, and it kept us from working 9 to 5's, you know? Coaching was a nice cover, and it left us free to run the pipeline in the afternoon."
Part 2: Hatface Rising.
"We kept getting taffy from the Cubans, and the freight was killing us. But the taffy was so good--just pure, not cut with any shit or anything--that Les suggested setting up in Miami to be closer to our sources. So we went down in the offseason, bought a house, and starting moving the taffy with boats right through the Haulover Slip.
"Miami was there for the taking, man, and we just took. At first we were only moving around a hundred pounds a week, but then things just exploded. Taffy was everywhere: at the clubs, at parties, you couldn't turn around without seeing a little white wrapper and someone downing a stick of the stuff. We had doctors; we had lawyers; we had the Oakland Raiders getting shipments of the stuff though a stewardess we had on the payroll. There's John Matuszak, sitting there poppin' taffy in our freakin' living room."
--Ed Reynolds, taffy cartel co-founder.
"Les was stone cold. Back in Ann Arbor, we thought he was a lightweight, just a fuckup kid with a taffy thing. But the kid turned into an animal: you'd underestimate him, and there he would be, running a freighter loaded with the stuff right past a Coast Guard cutter. He was a beast.
He bought a mansion. He bought cars. He had mistresses. He had the entire Miami PD on the payroll. He called himself "Lester Milagros" when he was down there, and his name alone would get you into any club in town. He bought three live tigers and just let 'em run on his property. They'd eat people every now and then, and he'd just laugh and pop another stick of taffy.
We didn't know the heat was just around the corner, man. That's when the Colombians got involved."
--Andrew Steinman, accountant for Miles.
"I had money. My god, I had money. I'd get people to do crazy things for money. Once, I bought a salt-water aquarium and stocked it with baby sharks, zebrafish, all kinds of fish. Then I paid Andrew to drink the whole thing and eat everything in it. He was like, 'No." So I said 500 grand. He thought about it, and then still said, 'No.' I paid him 2.5 mil, and he did it. Ate it all, right down to the little bastard in diver's helmet and the lighthouse.
I had an airplane made of glass. Do you know how impractical that is? But I wanted to have Wonder Woman's invisible plane, so I had it made. I had a nine hole golf course in my house. I had twelve mistresses and a guy on staff whose sole job was to buy me hats.
For a while, I thought I was a god."
Part Three: Les Than Zero
"The feds got curious. The Colombians muscled in. Les was strung out on taffy and barely slept, just walking around like a zombie and firing his gun into the walls whenever he felt like it. He was trapped, and the strain started to show. His relationship with Linda Carter fell apart when she realized what he did for a living, and that he was having an affair with Farah. It was bad times, and he started to think about getting out. Taffy was just too dangerous, but he really couldn't give it up."
--Miguel Torres, confidant and former taffy smuggler.
"One night, he just sat there talking to himself. 'In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the taffy.' That's when I knew it was over. The Colombians tried to knock him off the next day, and he left the business forever."
--Ed Gregory, personal assistant.
"Miles was different. He was huge. If you tasted a speck of taffy, it came under his orders. We wanted to nail Miles, but he kept faking it when you thought he was going to run. He just stayed clean and stayed put. We all underestimated him. If he hadn't flipped out, sold the tigers and glass airplane...we would have never gotten him. To this day, when I see a white hat, a little chill goes up my spine. To this day."
--Special Agent Hal Morrison, FBI Agent and former liason to the United States DEA.
Read more about the amazing life of Les Miles in Hatspotting: The Savage Youth of Les Miles by esteemed journalist Emmet Richardson, coming out this fall from Random House Publishing in hardback.