University of Kansas

How KU’s new coordinators for Les Miles are looking to improve Jayhawks football

KU’s Les Miles on what his team accomplished in the spring

Kansas Jayhawks football coach Les Miles explains what his team gained from its 15 spring practices. Miles spoke on April 15, 2019.
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Kansas Jayhawks football coach Les Miles explains what his team gained from its 15 spring practices. Miles spoke on April 15, 2019.

Les Koenning’s interview with Les Miles was not a quick one.

Before Koenning — Kansas’ new offensive coordinator — was hired in January, he first was asked to come to Lawrence for a sitdown with Miles.

“We got on the (whiteboard) in the morning, and we finished late at night,” Koenning said during an interview before spring practices. “That’s about how it ended and started.”

During that time, Koenning was able to share different ideas he’d gathered from his nearly 40 years of coaching experience.

That versatility, he believes, helped when it came to getting this particular position with KU.

“We’ll have the ability to line up under center. We’ll have the ability to line up in the gun. I think that’s one of the things that got me hired — it was a multiplicity of things,” Koenning said. “When you become one-(dimensional), you either fit one guy or you don’t. So it was easy for me when talking to coach: ‘Coach, we can get those things arranged. It fits right into what we do.’”

Increasing the probability

Koenning sees the pathway to success at KU as molding his offense and what he does around the team’s best pieces. When asked specifically for his preference of offensive style, he went back to that principle.

“It depends what your personnel is,” Koenning said. “I don’t mean to say that rudely. Everybody says, ‘Well, he’s copping out.’ Look, if we need to throw it every down, we’re going to throw it every down. If we need to run it, we’ll run it.”

In short, Koenning has seen college football teams be successful in different ways. The main key, though, will be figuring out which strategies give this particular KU team its highest ceiling.

“I think when you have multiplicity it increases your probability,” Koenning said. “Any time you can be diverse, get in multiple formations and create different personnel groupings and add and take away from the box, it creates a lot of things defenses have to work on.”

Five defensive principles

For D.J. Eliot — KU’s new defensive coordinator — the transition has come with a bit more structure in place.

Eliot is moving the Jayhawks to a primary 3-4 defensive scheme with hopes of increasing confusion for offenses.

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Jesse Newell

“With that, you never know who the fourth rusher is, whether it’s an outside backer, inside backer or DB,” Eliot said. “We want to pressure the quarterback, but we want to do that by disguising our looks. We don’t want him to have a pre-snap key on where he can put the football.”

Eliot, who previously was defensive coordinator at Kentucky (2013-16) and Colorado (2017-18), also believes defense comes down to five pillars. He believes all schemes are successful if the players execute, play hard, tackle well, create turnovers and win one-on-one matchups.

“Those five things are going to be the principles of our program that we’re going to harp on,” Eliot said.

He’ll definitely have experience with him in meeting rooms. KU retained Clint Bowen as safeties coach after he served the previous four years as the team’s defensive coordinator.

Eliot and Bowen have been friends for a while through links in the coaching community. Bowen, who will be in his 21st year as an assistant with KU, even vacationed at Eliot’s Colorado house in 2018 when the two were on different staffs.

“I don’t know that we could have found a secondary coach as qualified as him,” Eliot said. “And I believe the main reason we have Clint is because he loves KU.”

Room to grow

Both coordinators will be charged with improving units that ranked at the bottom of the Big 12 last season.

According to Bill Connelly’s all-encompassing S&P+ advanced rankings, KU finished 114th in offense and 94th in defense in 2018.

For Koenning, some of the work has already been done, as he’s been able to evaluate KU’s players through 15 spring practices.

That means he can start to mold the blueprint around his specific players.

“The ones that prove to us in the spring they can make plays, they’re going to touch the ball,” Koenning said. “That’s good coaching.”

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Jesse Newell — he’s won an EPPY for best sports blog and previously has been named top beat writer in his circulation by AP’s Sports Editors — has covered KU sports since 2008. His interest in sports analytics comes from his math teacher father, who handed out rulers to Trick-or-Treaters each year.
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