Why Former College Football Coach Les Miles Eats Grass

Cows are specially equipped to graze on large quantities of grass. According to the FDA, cows have fewer teeth than most other animals. This includes incisors only on the bottom of their mouth, while on the top row they have what's called a dental pad. Cows grab the grass with their tongue and then grind it up using a side-to-side motion. While those anatomical adaptations help them eat the grass, digesting it is another matter. They have multiple stomachs full of enzymes to break down grass and then regurgitate it to chew again repeatedly. This is referred to as chewing cud, per the University of Tennessee Beef & Forage Center. This process is necessary because of the difficult-to-digest materials in grass, most notably cellulose, a material that makes up plant cell walls.

All of that is to say that the few organisms — like cows — that can properly digest grass, are only able to do it because of these adaptations. It's why you have to plead with your dog to stop eating grass because dogs aren't cut out for the grass-eating lifestyle. So then why on Earth would a college football coach eat grass during a game? Is it superstition, is it a zen-like way of becoming one with the turf, or is former LSU head coach Les Miles simply built differently from the rest of humanity?

Who is Les Miles?

Les Miles hails from Elyria, Ohio where he attended Elyria High School which, according to NOLA.com, produced a handful of notable sports stars including 1950 Heisman trophy-winner Vic Janowicz, NFL player Walt Rock, and 2005 long jump champion Tianna Madison. While Les Miles was a good enough football player in high school to go on to be an offensive lineman at the University of Michigan in the early 1970s, he wasn't quite at the level to make the jump to the NFL (via The Detroit News).

Miles instead turned to coaching, first becoming a graduate assistant with the Wolverines in 1980, and was on the coaching staff from 1987 to 1994. He spent a few years as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, and by 2001 the Cowboys head coaching gig was his. According to Sports Reference, Miles spent four seasons at OSU before taking the head coaching job at LSU, the school with which he became synonymous for the next decade. Miles spent 12 seasons leading the LSU Tigers and managed to win two BCS Championships before the school let him go part of the way through the 2016 season. He then spent the 2019 and 2020 seasons as the head coach at the University of Kansas.

Les Miles' grazing history

According to Sports Illustrated, the first recorded instance of Les Miles sampling some blades of grass happened in 2010, when cameras caught him doing it during a meeting with the Alabama Crimson Tide. He was seen doing it once again several years later, during another game against Alabama in 2014.

He has given several different explanations over the years as to why he likes to sample the turf during games. "I have a little tradition that humbles me as a man, that lets me know that I'm a part of the field, a part of the game and it's the very bottom as well as the very top and it could be all over the Internet, but, you know what? You should have seen some games before this," Miles said. "I tell you one thing. The grass at Tiger Stadium tastes best."

In a 2018 interview on The Dan Le Batard Show, Miles states that he had started eating grass while playing baseball and football as a kid, simply as a way to change the flavor in his mouth.