Sam Mellinger

Les Miles is a home-run hire for Kansas football and what ails the Jayhawks

Rules of life are silly and misleading and conveniently ignore the complexities of actual life but here’s one we should all be able to agree on:

If you run the Kansas football program, winner of six Big 12 football games in the last decade, and you have the chance to hire someone who has both a pulse and a national championship, you hire that human and ask questions later.

Therefore, the question isn’t whether hiring Les Miles is a good decision.

The question is if it’s good enough to save a program that’s been all but slaughtered by lack of support, indifferent culture, horrible coaching, and — most of all — a long history of self-destructive decisions by university administrators.

Miles is a name-brand college football success, a man who worked his way from grad assistant at Michigan to the 2007 national championship at LSU. He is quirky, passionate, occasionally hilarious, and almost without exception successful as a college head coach.

Four years ago, KU was so bereft of both money and credibility that it was stuck hiring a position coach from a historically underachieving program whose grand sum of experience as a coordinator was limited to one season at Rice (4-8, 51st nationally in scoring) and one season as a co-coordinator at Kansas (2-10, 95th in scoring).

Today, the program has enough desperation that new athletic director Jeff Long raised the money necessary to finalize a deal with perhaps the biggest name on the market.

As for credibility? More than yesterday.

This is a terrific hire in virtually every possible way. Miles beat Oklahoma in his first year as Oklahoma State’s coach, and led that school to more bowls in four years than it had been in the previous dozen.

At LSU, he won at least 10 games in seven of his 11 full seasons, including two SEC championships and the national title. Five times his team finished in the top eight nationally, and eight of his recruiting classes ranked in the top 10 according to Rivals.

OK, the downsides. He is 65 years old, and his name has been connected (sometimes laughably so) to virtually every job opening since LSU fired him in 2016. Why would he take the worst job among Power Five schools? Or, more troubling, why didn’t anyone else want him?

There are other obvious points to make against Miles. His teams at LSU were known for old-school, run-heavy schemes, that partially led to his firing. Presumably, that approach would need to be updated in the Big 12.

More to the point, recruiting at LSU is to recruiting at Kansas as drinking Dom Perignon is to drinking lighter fluid. Miles’ career is complete. He does not need this job in the way that a young up-and-comer would. Maybe that sort of desperate energy is needed.

But, one more time: this is Kansas.

Miles is not a long-term answer for Kansas, but who exactly is? Miles can be the man to stabilize the place, to lend some credibility and actual coaching chops to a program that has had neither since Mark Mangino was forced out in 2009.

Stay five years or so, drag the program from disgrace, make a bowl game, and be in better position to hire the more permanent man. That would be a resounding success.

There will be — have already been — comparisons to the brain-dead decision to hire Charlie Weis in 2012. These comparisons are lazy, and misguided.

Weis had no real previous success as a college coach. He made three bowls and bilked some $40 million from Notre Dame, achieving some initial success with the previous coach’s players, but quickly setting fire to the place. He left the program in much worse shape than he found it, and the school could not get rid of him quick enough, despite his status as an alum.

Also, Weis had shown no ability or even interest in recruiting. Actually, when he took the offensive coordinator job with the Chiefs in 2010 he said one of the draws was that he would no longer have to deal with recruits or donors.

Miles has achieved great success in both of his previous jobs, and has the history of an energetic recruiter and engaged voice with fundraising.

Critically, Weis and then-KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger had no relationship before the first interview. Weis had no ties to the area, no ins with recruiting.

Miles and Long have known each other for at least 30 years, all the way to when Miles was a line coach and Long a grad assistant at Michigan. Long has had decades to know whether Miles would cut corners, or be engaged. Long has to get this decision right. It’s why he was hired.

His relationship with Miles apparently made this a relatively simple and straightforward search.

The trick, then, becomes making this work. Miles gave up $5 million guaranteed on a buyout from LSU on Thursday, which is a terrific sign that his motivation is about more than money. The same way Long knows Miles, Miles knows Long. He must be convinced that program support and institutional competence will exist in a way that Kansas has simply lacked over the last decade.

That program is far too broken to expect one hire to make the difference. Miles would walk into a job with one — ONE — commitment for the 2019 class. Every other Power Five school has at least eight, and just for context, the coaches at Maryland have somehow convinced 10 young men to join their program despite a tragic scandal and exposed administrative incompetence.

Miles will be recruiting to the same facilities, same fans, and same daunting task as his predecessors.

He’ll need help, luck, and a lot of good decisions. It may not be enough. This may be too big a job for Miles, or for someone at the end of his career, or, frankly, for anyone.

But with Miles, at least Kansas has a chance.

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Sam Mellinger

Sam Mellinger is a Kansas City Star sports columnist.

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