Matt Tait: Les Miles methodically moving through the steps required to revive Kansas football
When Les Miles was introduced as the next Kansas football coach back in mid-November, a fairly significant portion of the story of his hiring was about a big name coach with a national championship ring returning to the college sidelines for the first time since being fired by LSU in 2016.
That November night, Miles repeatedly referenced being “back in” and spoke with great appreciation and anticipation about his next opportunity to coach the game he loves and what that meant to him and his family.
It only would make sense then for Miles, at his first signing day press conference as a Jayhawk on Wednesday afternoon, to hoot and holler, rock and chalk, roar and riot about the juice and adrenaline he felt while visiting prospects, gaining commitments and ultimately signing players in his first recruiting class at Kansas.
But he never did.
It seems Miles has moved on to the next step on his back-to-college-football agenda. Rather quickly, too.
He no longer is focusing on his part in this story — one he and countless others hope will be a rags-to-riches journey that leads to KU landing elite talent and competing for championships — and instead is all-in on building a winner.
Heck, he even used those very words — “this class will have the ability to compete for championships” — when introducing his first signing class, which included 19 players from 11 different states, 10 on defense, 8 on offense and 1 special teams player, 14 high school prospects and 5 from the junior college ranks.
But Miles never talked about himself.
His assistant coaches did. Many of them shared their version of the story of Miles being dubbed “The Closer” on the recruiting trail. And there’s little doubt that this program is being rebuilt in Miles’ image. But Miles appears to have reached the point where he’d rather keep building than continue talking. The reason?
“I’ve got to be honest with you,” Miles began. “It’s really about Kansas. It’s a special place. It’s a place where you can get revved up because the people that you serve are great people. That family environment is very obvious. I’m fired up, but I want to bring a quality athlete to a place that’s going to take care of them. This is that place.”
From the players he coaches to the coaches he has hired and the administrators he reports to, the importance of quality relationships runs deep with Miles.
In a short time, he already appears to have built some of those here in Lawrence while really taking to his initiation into the Jayhawk family.
Throughout time, hundreds, if not thousands, of coaches, at all levels of football, have emphasized the importance of creating a family atmosphere in their programs, so much so that the gesture often has bordered on being cheesy.
However, when Miles referenced it, it seemed to be more of a validation of the job he had taken than a cheap catch phrase designed to appease the success-starved Kansas fan base.
From Turner Gill to Charlie Weis and Charlie Weis to David Beaty, the past decade of Kansas football has been a disaster. But at least in the eyes of the 19 players that Miles persuaded to join the Jayhawks, those disastrous days, woeful records and forgettable seasons did not do any long term damage to KU’s — and now Miles’ — hope of getting Kansas back on the winning track.
The first step was hiring Miles. KU Athletic Director Jeff Long did that last fall.
The next step was landing the right recruits. Though off to a better start than many expected, that process will be never-ending and ultimately will determine whether Miles succeeds at Kansas.
There still is a ton of work to be done, and the process of bringing KU football back to respectability will not be easy nor take place in a single offseason.
But in a short amount of time, Miles appears to have gotten a pretty good grip on his new reality, the challenges that exist and what it’s going to take to turn things around.
Players produce. Defense wins. Recruiting revives.
“The Kansas brand helped us tremendously.” Miles said Wednesday. “It stands for academics. It stands for great athletics. It’s just tremendous for us. … It’s a place with a lot to offer and I think we sold that great.”