During his last two years away from college football, Les Miles often suffered a severe case of withdrawal after leaving a game he coached for nearly four decades.
After Miles was fired at LSU four games into the 2016 season, he still spent Saturday afternoons analyzing games that popped up on TV.
“The last few years on Saturday afternoons, my eldest daughter and I would run from room to room to see different games that were played and talking about decisions that were made,” Miles said. “It put me in touch with the game I truly love. For me, it wasn’t stay home to be with the family. It was go out there and win some games.”
So last November, the 65-year-old Miles accepted the job of pulling Kansas out of the Big 12 cellar, a place it has secured regularly since its last winning season in 2008.
Miles will try to do what Turner Gill, Charlie Weis and most recently David Beaty couldn’t do as head coaches: Prove Kansas isn’t just a basketball school.
Miles certainly has the track record at the major college level as he led Oklahoma State to a 28-21 record from 2001 to 2004 and guided LSU to a 114-34 record in 12 years, including the 2007 national championship.
“I think we have a better talent base here at Kansas than I had when I went to Oklahoma State,” Miles said. “We recruited very well at Oklahoma State at the start, and I think that’s the same thing here. I think we will recruit well and I think over time you will see this Kansas team is much more talented than its record shows.”
The returning Jayhawks were certainly impressed that Kansas landed a coach with such a pedigree to try to turn around a program that went 6-42 in four seasons under Beaty, including last year’s 3-9 record.
“I was excited,” said Kansas senior safety Mike Lee. “I just knew this year was going to be special because he’s a very experienced coach. He’ll put us in the right position to make plays on defense and put the offense in position to score points.”
During his tenure at LSU, the Tigers gained a reputation for playing tough, physical lockdown defense. But LSU’s offenses were often below par, so there are some questions whether Miles can put together an offensive scheme that can keep pace with explosive Big 12 teams.
Miles has been vague about the offense he plans to run, but he wants to develop a balanced attack with a good pass-run ratio that will eat up the clock and give his defensive players a chance to catch their breath.
“If you have quarterbacks like I think we have, I like our receiving corps, we’re going to throw the football,” Miles said. “Obviously if we have a great running back or two we’re going to run the football. So we could be a team that would be balanced. I think we will take to the field and see what we have and then make those adjustments as we go.”
The Jayhawks will feature one of the best backs in the Big 12 in Pooka Williams, who was named the league’s freshman of the year after rushing for 1,215 yards last season. Williams is suspended for the first game after he was arrested and charged with domestic battery last December.
Either senior Carter Stanley or junior college transfer Thomas MacVittie is expected to start at quarterback.
Following Bill Snyder’s retirement at Kansas State, Miles is the oldest coach in the Big 12. But that’s a title he’ll proudly wear.
“If I’m not the oldest coach what is the alternative?” Miles said. “I think I’ll take being the oldest coach.”
Head coach: Les Miles (First year at Kansas, 142-55 in 16 years overall)
2018 record: 3-9 (1-8 Big 12)
Last bowl game: 2008 Insight Bowl (beat Minnesota, 42-21)
Returning starters: 6 offense, 4 defense, 2 specialists
Stadium: Memorial Stadium
8/31 Indiana State 11 a.m.
9/7 Coastal Carolina 6 p.m.
9/13 at Boston College 6:30 p.m.
9/21 West Virginia TBA