Les Miles was a carefree 13-year-old growing up in Ohio when his dad came home with frightening news.
Hope Miles worked his way from blue-collar jobs up into the leadership of a transportation company's operations team. He'd been passed up for a promotion to vice president and, shortly after, the company decided to let him go entirely. He delivered the news to his family in the kitchen, and Les Miles was scared. The questions swirled through his mind.
What's going to happen? Who's going to help us? Are we going to have to move?
Les Miles certainly didn't have the answers, and neither did his dad. But Hope Miles was calm. He laid his hand on his young son's shoulder, sighed and smiled.
"This is the best time," Hope Miles told Les. "This is when you have the most to gain. Life will always deliver you challenges. You have to be able to put your hands on them, make great decisions and change the course."
Hope Miles opened his son's eyes to two truths that haven't left him in the half century since that conversation: A man is more than a job, and when that job is in jeopardy, it's a lot rougher on families than the man inside fighting to stay employed.
That time and those lessons came to mind when Miles spent most of his final two-plus seasons at LSU coaching amid voices telling him he shouldn't be allowed to do it anymore. It's a reality every head coach encounters eventually.
It's an old adage of the profession: There are two types of coaches: Those who have been fired and those who will be.
In the center of that sentence, in coaching purgatory, lies the hot seat. It can make life hard, but the profession demands a coach prepare himself for it. This year, names like Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M, Butch Jones at Tennessee and Mike Riley at Nebraska occupy that space.
Publicly, they have little choice but to put on a brave face, keep their head down and focus on their job. But they're still human beings. Going to work every day while much of the outside world argues you shouldn't be allowed to do so weighs heavily in a hurry.
"It's not easy," said former coach Dan McCarney, who resigned from Iowa State in 2006, was fired from North Texas in 2015 and won a national title as an assistant to Urban Meyer in between, "or anything I'd wish someone to go through."
Coaches can ignore the calls for their job, but they can't ignore the far-reaching ramifications losing it would have, like a stone thrown in a placid lake.
"I can't possibly turn my back on my team, my room, the people I care most about to squander moments on some jackass," Miles said.
They know they'll be taken care of via buyout checks, and their services will be sought after for a variety of new jobs if they want them. But there are not always buyouts for the assistant coaches they spend every day with, position coaches with young kids who might not have the same job prospects.
For most head coaches, that's the heaviest weight on their shoulders when pressure mounts.
"It's hard. We're not robots. Coaches are not machines. We're people, with families, and you take the responsibility for your assistants and their families," McCarney said, adding that thinking about it too long literally gave him stomach pains and headaches. "And in today's game, those staffs are bigger than ever. If you get fired, you throw a dozen-plus families into chaos."
Losing games means subjecting those closest to a coach -- family -- to unavoidable criticism.
"It's pretty tough. Kids hear it at school," said Tommy Tuberville, who resigned from Auburn in 2008 and Cincinnati after the 2016 season. "Coaches' wives mostly just hang out together, but it's there. They hear it in the tailgating areas and in the stands. But I always brought coaches wives in at beginning of the year and said, 'This is the profession we chose. You can help. Do as little talk in public as possible. That's only going to hurt things."
Even when the criticism hasn't heated up, it's part of life for coaches families. Les Miles' daughter, Smacker Miles, had been in Baton Rouge only a couple seasons when a boy in her class tapped her on the shoulder and told her his dad could call plays better than hers. She didn't bother to argue the point.
"Well, I can shake you like a rag doll," she said.
Miles dramatically survived being fired at the end of the 2015 season, but after losing to Wisconsin in the 2016 opener, he brought his family together to explain what might happen soon, just like his dad did to him decades earlier.
"There's going to be people that would like to judge your dad poorly," Miles told them, "but understand this: 'They're allowed to have their opinion. They just uniformly don't know. They've never been in the building. 'We're going to be the Miles family, stick together and lock elbows and we're going to be fine."
Miles was fired a few weeks later -- a year ago Monday -- after losing to Auburn.
While they wait to learn their fate, coaches like Miles, Tuberville and McCarney do the only thing they can do -- keep working -- and say the only things they can say: "We're working on it."
"You know when you get off the radio, they'll bad talk you or say, 'He's not going to make it,'" Tuberville said. "It's all entertainment. I was on [Paul Finebaum's show] many times. I knew what he'd say. You still have to go sell your program."
On the hot seat, recruiting gets more difficult but loses zero importance. Prospects hear what's being said about the man sitting in their living room, and if they don't pay enough attention, other coaches are more than willing to remind them. It's part of the game.
"That's your lifeblood," Tuberville said. "You can't let a bad year affect recruiting for the next year. You just say, 'This is what's happening. This is what we're trying. This is why you need you.'"
But coaches can't make them listen, and even a so-called "vote of confidence" from an athletic director only underscores the fact that one was needed.
There is more impatience than ever with coaches, and more willingness than ever to try a new route when the new coach doesn't win right away or hits a downturn in a successful tenure.
"I've never felt anything quite like it," McCarney said. "People think they know, but they don't know. Not everybody thinks they can be a sportswriter or a banker or a doctor or an investment broker. But everybody thinks they can coach. When you walk in these shoes, everybody will evaluate you. Many don't have a clue, but they think they do. And loyalty is a dying trait. Win, win big, win fast and do it the right way or we'll run you out of town. Here's your check and let's go find the next young superstar in the profession."
Most often, the skyrocketing salaries and growing media world get the blame, but some coaches point to the changes in how athletic departments are built. Old-school coaches like Tom Osborne and Frank Broyles used to retire and move into administrative roles. Now, fundraisers and budget balancers with no coaching backgrounds are more commonly in charge of their millionaire employees. It's led to coaches feeling misunderstood.
"They're bean counters. They don't know and don't know how to build a program and what it takes," Tuberville said. "Most ADs aren't coaches. That's why I think two of the best hires in the last couple years were Steve Spurrier [at Florida] and [Phil] Fulmer [at Tennessee] to be consultants. Those coaches are struggling, and if [the ADs] don't lean on those guys, that's their fault."
The lack of knowledge and high turnover for powerful programs run by the so-called "bean counters" is never more evident, Tuberville says, than when it's actually time to pull the trigger and hire a new coach.
"Barry Alvarez, you think he uses a search firm?" Tuberville said.
Alvarez, the former head coach and current athletic director at Wisconsin, notably said in 2012 that the reverse is, in fact true. Most search firms use him.
"He knows who to hire, how to interview, the right questions to ask and what's going to make a coach successful there," Tuberville said. "Some ADs just want to win the press conference. They hire the flavor of the year. Fans say, 'Look, he hired that guy!' and then he has to fire him because it didn't work. There's a lot of money being spent and wasted on search firms and buyouts these days."
Coaches might not be affected by the hot seat chatter, but athletic directors deal with the outside noise in a more direct manner. They have to answer to boosters and fans, and almost all can do little to affect wins on the field after a coach has been hired.
"There's going to be administrators who are swayed by national or local/regional media or people who have never set foot on your practice field or inside your building," Miles said. "They wouldn't know an unbalanced formation from a no-back formation, what we were trying to accomplish and did or did not accomplish."
Nobody takes a coaching job without also understanding it's a results-based business, and no one cares about the difficulties along the path to getting the results a coach was hired to produce. The less a coach produces, the harder it gets to turn it around. Forgiveness in an already unforgiving business is never in shorter supply than when losses begin piling up.
Life on the hot seat? It's as uncomfortable as it sounds, but for coaches, it's inevitable.