No matter who else is hired to a college football head coaching job over the next several weeks, none will come with more fascination than the one introduced by Kansas on Sunday.
Relevancy followed Les Miles to Lawrence and into his news conference. For the first time in a few KU football hires, nobody was asking, “Who’s he?” or “Why him?”
Miles brings the credibility built on a national championship and 13 of 15 full seasons at LSU and Oklahoma State that ended with a conference record of .500 or better. Kansas owns one winning conference season in 23 Big 12 years.
“The national profile of our football program has improved immediately and dramatically today,” Long said.
Actually that started about two weeks ago when Long announced David Beaty would finish this season but wouldn’t begin another. Speculation immediately turned to Miles, the “Mad Hatter” known for his white ball caps on the sideline, his quirks — recall his grass chewing — and sometimes unconventional play calling. He’d been out of a job since losing at Auburn and falling to 2-2 in 2016.
Would Miles actually consider getting back in the game at age 65?
“The further I got away from it, the more I desired it,” Miles said, and added he was surprised it took this long to land a job. “I was prepared for a lifetime to be a coach.”
So why Kansas? Other schools with more recent football success or better history are or will come open. Colorado, where Miles once served as an assistant; Maryland, which would get the Michigan grad back into the Big Ten, might have had appeal.
It comes back to Long.
Their paths crossed on the Michigan coaching staff, and Long got in touch with Miles soon after the Beaty announcement for an initial lengthy conversation.
They chatted again several times before reaching an agreement in the past couple of days to wrap a quick process that became a national story because KU’s job opened before the end of the season and there was the possibility of a brand-name hire.
During those conversations, Miles learned about Kansas’ low scholarships numbers, a parting gift from Charlie Weis, who went junior-college heavy on his way out. Beaty was saddled with the numbers burden and Miles recognized it as he was watching the Jayhawks gamely battle Oklahoma on Saturday night.
KU fell 55-40 but rolled up 524 total yards, including 252 rushing from freshman running back Pooka Williams.
“After they got into the second half they got tired,” Miles said. “Kansas needs to be bolstered by quality backups.”
How Kansas will approach offense under Miles is the biggest mystery of the hire. His LSU tenure ended largely because his offensive philosophy didn’t evolve. College football had become more spread out and uptempo, even in the SEC. But Miles’ teams did not and the Tigers lost eight of their final 18 SEC games under his watch.
Developing quarterbacks always seemed to be a problem. LSU stocked NFL rosters with players at all positions except quarterback. It didn’t matter in 2007 when a solid game-manager in Matt Flynn helped the Tigers to the national title.
But in other years, and especially toward the end, LSU couldn’t come up with the right answer. Quarterback has been an issue for Kansas since the days of Todd Reesing. Over the last decade, the Jayhawks haven’t had a quarterback recognized as even an honorable mention all-conference performer.
Now in a conference with an uptempo offense calling card, Miles said he used time away from the game to consider alternatives in his approach.
“I did very much look to myself and what I needed to change to be more successful as an offensive coach,” Miles said.
He was asked several times in various ways about offense without committing to a style, so check out recruiting targets and the spring game to see what Miles is cooking.
But one custom may have followed Miles to Lawrence from Baton Rouge. Before stepping to the podium, Miles slipped on a white KU ball cap, the same style hat he wore on the LSU sideline. He kept it on throughout the introduction and afterwards.
“How do you think it looks?” Miles asked a reporter.
The Mad Hatter was back in business, and nobody was unsure about the credentials of the next Kansas coach.