Oregon ReDux? Les Miles Denied Knowing Lyles

During a radio interview with PORTLAND OREGONIAN columnist John Canzano of 750 the Game in Portland Tuesday, Houston-based recruiting services operator Willie Lyles said, “I know Les Miles and he knows me.

Les Miles Claims He Didn't Know Who Willie Lyles Was Until December 9

Lyles’ claim to Canzano jibes with a March 14 report by Jim Kleinpeter of the NEW ORLEANS TIMES-PICAUYUNE in which LSU senior associate athletic director Herb Vincent confirmed that the school had three months earlier paid Lyles for recruiting services.

In a story first reported by FOXsports.com senior writer Thayer Evans, Vincent said the money was paid to Lyles business in December, and was one of several recruitng services LSU used. LSU no longer employs Complete Scouting Services.

LSU paid $6,000 for the JUCO Per State Package which includes game films from California and Kansas Junior Colleges and costs $3,000 per state.

But three weeks after Vincent confirmed LSU football’s formal connection to Lyles, Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com reported on April 9, 2011, “LSU coach Les Miles told CBSSports.com Friday he didn’t know who Willie Lyles was until he saw him in December at the college football awards show in Orlando, Fla.

Stranger yet, thanks to the LSU football coach’s association with an ill-fated entertainment venture attempted by Lyles’ former employer, MSL Sports & Entertainment, Miles was presented as a longtime friend of Lyles.

On April 1, 2008, the following story was published on ESPN.com via the ASSOCIATED PRESS:

It was supposed to be huge: A New York producer planned to lure 1 million people to 16 major college campuses and bring in at least $15 million with big-name acts on the eve of spring football scrimmages starting this week.

The plan for “Gridiron Bash” went bust instead, and questions swirled Monday over who was to blame.

The producer faulted a late rules interpretation by the NCAA for forcing a postponement of the shows planned at Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Arizona State, Utah, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas State, Penn State, West Virginia, Maryland, Rutgers and Army.

The sanctioning organization, meanwhile, said the company waited until last week to even ask whether the for-profit shows created a potential rules minefield for schools by including football players.

New York-based MSL Sports & Entertainment planned to bring top musical acts to campuses and promote the 2008 fall season with Fox Television coverage and scholarship offers from USA Today. The plan called for stadium pep rallies featuring coaches, players and cheerleaders followed by shows with the likes of Fergie, the Goo Goo Dolls and Alan Jackson.

The first show featuring country singer Sara Evans and Kid Rock was planned for this coming Friday at LSU, and Jackson was to perform a week later at Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Miles talked about the aforementioned MSL Sports & Entertainment event to the media on March 27, 2008 at a press conference on the LSU campus:

“Friday night before the game there will be a concert in our stadium and the two performers are Kid Rock and Sara Evans. They certainly have a following and are very talented groups. I have been invited and sought the opportunity to sing a song with either of the artists.

“Sara Evans said it would be possible that I could sing a song with her. I certainly have great enthusiasm for this event. I’m just not certain that I’m up to the ability to sing. I promise you that I will participate as best I can and that only good taste and lack of talent would keep me from going up on the stage. I think it’s going to be a great weekend. “

To market the LSU-hosted Kid Rock & Sara Evans concert, MSL Sports & Entertainment set up a promotional Facebook page. In the weeks preceding the MSL event at LSU, Lyles and other football-centric reps from MSL visited the LSU campus to familiarize Miles with the event.

On March 8, 2008, the following entry was posted on the official MSL promotional Facebook page:

Our next stop of the day was Coach Les Miles’ office. Coach and Willie Lyles (MSL Scouting and Recruiting) have been friends for years so Coach was happy to have Willie, Chuck, Shawn, and myself in for a sitdown. 

The same MSL promotional page features visits in 2008 to Alabama, Penn State, Kentucky, Tennessee, Colorado, Rutgers and other schools.

Similar to Miles, Canzano reported in the PORTLAND OREGONIAN on March 3 that Oregon football coach Chip Kelly also denied knowing “Willie Lyles when the Portland columnist first asked Kelly about his relationship to the Houston recruiting service operator.

Lyles is now central to a current NCAA investigaton involving recruiting impropriety by Kelly’s Oregon football program.

Also during his conversation with Canzano yesterday on Portland radio, Lyles confirmed that he personally escorted current Oregon running back Lache Seastrunk and Seastrunk’s mother Evelyn to Baton Rouge in 2009 to attend a Miles-coached LSU football camp.

In a report about Seastrunk’s recruitment by Scout.com’s Sonny Shipp published on July 22, 2009, the Louisiana Recruiting Analyst wrote of Lache and Evelyn Seastrunk visiting LSU:

One way that Lache and his mother sort through all of the schools that are courting them both is by taking unofficial visits to see what some have to offer. Those trips have taken them to the University of Texas, Auburn, and LSU, to name a few.

Their latest trip took them to Baton Rouge, which Lache estimated that this was his fourth or fifth visit to LSU in the past year. He attended LSU’s camp last July and returned to Baton Rouge when the Tigers hosted Georgia last October. He made a return trip in April for a weekend, and then there was his latest stay – a six-day trip that started last Friday.

Thanks to the below photo of Lyles and Seastrunk on the sideline for the Florida-LSU football game in Baton Rouge on Oct. 6, 2009, you can add at least one more Seastrunk visit to LSU before his eventual committment to Oregon in early 2010.

Willie Lyles on Sideline at LSU with Lache Seastrunk 2009 LSU-Florida game

(Lyles, Seastrunk on right - via Yahoo Sports)

The recruiting services company Lyles was working for at the time of the Seastrunk visits to LSU, Elite Scouting Services, reportedly received a $10,000 payment from LSU in 2009. As reported here earlier today, on at least one of Seastrunk’s visits to LSU he was accompanied by Lyles and then-high school football prospects Toney Hurd and  Shaun Lewis.

In a July 1, 2011, Yahoo Sports report by Charles Robinson and Dan Wetzel, Lyles said of Seastrunk spurning LSU and going with the Ducks, “Indirectly I played a pivotal role in [Seastrunk signing with Oregon].

Part of that “pivotal role” was, according to Lyles, blocking Evelyn Seastrunk from influencing her son to attend LSU. From Yahoo:

By the time Oregon began seriously recruiting Seastrunk during his junior year, Lyles said he had grown close to both Lache and Evelyn, even spending the night at the Seastrunk home on two occasions after Lache’s games.

Lyles said Oregon seized upon his ties with the Seastrunk family during the recruiting process. He said he became the primary conduit of Oregon’s recruitment, guiding the efforts of multiple coaches – including Kelly – along the process by providing personal details about Lache and advice on how to handle various family members.

In December 2009, with Seastrunk being pursued by numerous top programs including USC, Oregon, Auburn and LSU, Lyles told Kelly he was planning on starting his own recruiting service. He asked if Oregon would sign on for a national recruiting package (NCAA rules limit the number of scouting services a school can purchase). Lyles said Kelly said yes. The fee was not discussed.

At no point was Lyles’ influence more apparent than in the next few weeks when it came to Seastrunk signing the national letter of intent. The NLI requires a prospect under the age of 21 to have a parent or legal guardian co-sign the binding document. An NLI provision allows a recruit to petition for a non-legal guardian to assume signing power, generally in the case of death or incarceration.

Lyles said the issue became problematic when Seastrunk’s mother said she wanted him to attend LSU.

With an agreement in place for Oregon to now pay Lyles directly for his recruiting service - and not LSU - it appears Lyles may have stood to gain financially if Seastrunk signed with the Ducks. More from Yahoo on July 1:

At the time, in early January 2010, Lyles thought Seastrunk would sign with USC. That changed when word leaked that Trojans coach Pete Carroll would take a job with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. Within days, Lyles and Seastrunk reevaluated his choices, ranking each school based on predetermined categories such as coaching, academics and lifestyle. Seastrunk settled on Oregon and became a so-called “silent commit,” choosing the Ducks without making a public announcement, according to Lyles.

The final hurdle was Evelyn Seastrunk’s stated opposition to Oregon, Lyles said.

“Lache came to me and said his mother was threatening him, saying she wouldn’t sign his letter of intent unless he went to the school she told him to go to,” Lyles said. “He was worried about it because he wasn’t of age to sign the letter of intent himself. He wanted to find out how he could get his grandmother to sign the letter of intent instead of his mother, because his grandmother is the one that raised him in the first place.”

Lyles, as documented by emails, text messages and phone records in Yahoo’s report, with direct assistance from Oregon football and compliance officials, was able to circumvent Evelyn Seastrunk to ensure her son would sign with the Ducks.

Two months later, Lyles received a $25,000 check from Oregon after submitting an invoice to the school that indicated the Houston recruiting services company owner would provide videos of high school football prospects from 22 states.

To this day, Lyles nor Oregon has produced any of the videos described in the invoiced, $25,000 transaction.

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