University of Kansas

Shhh! Here are the secrets KU’s football coaches are trying hard to keep

Kansas offensive coordinator Les Koenning was not going to allow himself to be led down an uncomfortable path.

He’d said a few months ago that KU’s offense this year was going to cater to its best pieces. So what, he was asked Friday, has been his offense’s greatest strength so far?

“It’s a good question,” Koenning said, before smiling. “But I think one of the big things for us is, with these interviews here going through it, it’s mainly about the kids. It’s not about scheme. I know you’re coming into here asking me about scheme.”

OK, fine. Level with us, Les. Is a response like that more about keeping the offense a secret before Aug. 31’s season opener against Indiana State?

“It’s an advantage for us,” Koenning said. “You gotta think people are wondering, ‘What are they doing? Are they practicing?’ You know? Stuff like that. That’s an advantage for us and our kids, and I’d like to keep that really, really private until we get on the field.”

Friday’s KU football media day, then, only continued a pattern of coaches intentionally keeping things vague — especially in regards to what the team’s offense might look like in the fall.

KU coach Les Miles, for a second straight interview session, spoke some serious words about the quarterback position before ... well, becoming a bit goofy. The coach said juco transfer Thomas MacVittie and senior Carter Stanley remained the frontrunners, and even commented that he might not announce the starter before the first game.

“I’ve always waited till the end,” Miles said. “As an example, if somebody gets nicked and you have just announced all of your confidence in, ‘This is the guy,’ and, ‘Let me pat him on the back one more time,’ and suddenly, he comes up a little lame, and you’re playing the guy that you did not give a vote of encouragement.

“My opinion is these guys are real close. They both know they’re close. We’ll let it play out.”

Miles also came with jokes, saying he made it clear to his quarterbacks that either being taller or having the name Miles would not factor into the QB decision; MacVittie and Stanley are listed at 6-2 or taller, while three others (Manny Miles, Miles Kendrick, Miles Fallin) have “Miles” in their names.

Koenning, for his part, didn’t reveal much more about the competition other than to say the most important quality for KU’s quarterbacks would be decision-making.

“It’s not so much the ability that you put on the field; it’s how you manage the game at the quarterback position,” Koenning said. “You’ve seen players go out there with tremendous amount of ability, and before you know it, they’ve lost the game for you. And then you see that guy that doesn’t have any ability, and he just moves it down the field the whole time and everybody’s playing (hard) for him.”

Friday’s responses only further solidified a likely reality for KU fans: They’ll have to wait until the first game to know what kind of offense the Jayhawks are going to run.

That’s because there’s been an intentional effort to keep things on the down-low; all but two practices have been closed this fall camp, and this year’s Fan Day — in the past it’s been open for spectators — was changed to strictly an autograph session.

Miles, too, has limited his words on what might happen offensively. He has talked frequently about desiring physical football and also has said that KU will be huddling and going under center this season — something that hasn’t happened consistently at the school in nearly a decade.

The details other than that remain fuzzy. Will KU be a run-first team that tries to reduce the number of plays in each game? Will the Jayhawks frequently use multiple backs, fullbacks or tight ends? How much run-pass option will the team go to after bringing in RPO specialist Brent Dearmon as a senior offensive analyst in the offseason?

Koenning’s background doesn’t provide much more clarity. He’s been a versatile offensive coordinator, experiencing success in the past with both pass- and run-oriented teams.

Perhaps this is all necessary. KU, for all the offseason excitement, has opened in various sportsbooks as only a 3 1/2-point home favorite over FCS opponent Indiana State, meaning that Vegas believes the two teams would be roughly equal on a neutral field.

There might be something to be said, then, for remaining tight-lipped about the offensive details ... and also the team’s first-string quarterback.

“I think it’s an advantage for our football team to keep working in the direction to name a starter,” Koenning said. “That will help us game day. That will also help us in competition in the room.”

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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.