Matt Tait: Strong bond between Les Miles, Jeff Long could benefit Kansas football in ways never before seen
photo by: Mike Gunnoe
The fake flights were real, there actually was a little deception and it all led to Sunday evening, when KU Athletic Director Jeff Long stood at a podium inside Hadl Auditorium and introduced his good friend, Les Miles, as his newest co-worker.
Kansas football coach Les Miles, to be exact.
Yes, KU fans, it really happened. Miles is really here to coach your football team. And his relationship with Long is, without question, the biggest reason why.
Already well known before Sunday night, the connection and deep friendship between Long and Miles was easy to spot and entertaining to watch as the two sat together for a 40-minute meeting with the local media.
As Long answered a question about the twists and turns he created via Twitter and other means during the two-week search to hire the most accomplished football coach Kansas has ever employed, Miles had no problem interrupting briefly to share his side of the story.
“I was impressed with the people that were interested in this position,” Long began. “And it is difficult to tell whether they’re really honestly would take this job if offered. So, again, Coach Miles and I have known each other a very long time…”
Miles interjected: “And he would say, just occasionally, that I’m going to go talk to this guy and I’m going to go talk to this guy and I’m going to talk to that guy. And I said, ‘Hey, hey, I’m right here. Come on and talk to me.'”
Laughter ensued. Smiles beamed across their faces. Like a couple of old college buddies talking about the good old days, Long and Miles clearly have one of those relationships that does not need constant attention to work. Ten months between phone calls? No problem. Say hello and pick right up where you left off.
It’s not hard to see Sunday night dinners at the Miles and Long households quickly becoming a regular thing.
That comfort and familiarity should do wonders for the Kansas football program. Remember, these two guys are in this together. And it’s clear they’re both hellbent on building something of substance.
Coaching searches are always intense. This one was no different.
Long said Sunday night, at a special “Hawk Talk” with Les Miles at Johnny’s Tavern West, that he did not fully feel like KU had Miles until the coach and his family boarded a plane bound for Kansas on Sunday morning.
“You don’t know until you know, right,” Long said Sunday night. “And he got on and (is) here, so I think we got him.”
While Long might not have rested until that point, the intensity of the search that started and always figured to end with Miles was not without its lighthearted moments.
Those were a must, according to Long, who said he hopped onto Twitter with a fake photo or two and lined up a “fictitious flight plan,” to “relieve a little pressure, a little stress,” during the search.
“You have to have a little bit of fun in this,” Long explained. “But the process is not fun. It’s an important, serious process. You have to arrive with somebody who fits the culture, the one that can help bring this program back to where we want it to be. So a lot of stress involved in it. But, yeah, I had some fun.”
While these two figure to grow their friendship to a level it has never seen in years past, neither will let the fun and games of it all interfere with the job they’re here to do.
For Long, only half of the job is complete. He landed Miles. That’s big time and says a lot about KU’s new athletic director. Who else can you think of who could have pulled this off?
But now the real work begins. At “Hawk Talk,” Long discussed what that meant.
“You have to look at the program and look where we make an investment and, at Kansas, we haven’t made that investment,” Long began. “We’re last in the Big 12 in the amount of money we spend on our football program. What does that mean? It means we don’t have that recruiting operation that our competitors do, five and six people who are doing nothing but focusing on recruiting.”
He continued: “You look around at the analysts. Every program has analysts now. And it’s really the NFL model, every assistant has an assistant. So we want to have a team behind the team that has these analysts. And what they do is, they’re looking out two, three games ahead, they’re doing all the breakdowns, they’re finding out all the information on the team so on Sunday morning, when Les and his staff comes back in after the Saturday night victory, they’ve got basically a draft of the game plan right on the desk (for) the next opponent.”
That philosophy, which Long called the “Break the Cycle Fund,” explains a lot about the $2.77 million price tag for a head coach that could have commanded close to double that.
“That was my biggest challenge with Coach Miles. And it should’ve been,” Long explained. “He said, ‘Well, what’s the commitment of Kansas? Are you going to give me a salary pool for my staff?’ He was far less worried about what we were going to pay him, but were we going to have the money for his staff. Because he knows it’s not one man. It’s a team of coaches. So we’re going to give (him) that pool so he can go out and hire great coordinators and fill out his staff. And, you know what, if we weren’t going to do that, and Chancellor (Doug) Girod made that commitment to me when I was looking at the (AD) job. And I want to mention him because, without your chancellor understanding the importance of your program, the impact that a football program can have on a university community, you don’t have a chance.”
Long concluded with: “Les is going to have those resources. We’re going to build those resources and we’re going to equip him with all he needs to go out and compete and win in the Big 12 Conference.”
For Miles, the job is simple. Do what he’s always done, do it well and make Long and Girod look good for providing the football coach at Kansas with advantages that the program has never enjoyed.
It took Miles more time to put on his brand new, bright white KU hat than it did to show he gets that.
“First, I would like to thank Chancellor Douglas Girod and Athletic Director, Jeff Long,” said Miles to open his introductory remarks. “Those guys have made a choice that will make it possible for me to step back in front of a team room of young players and coach college football again. I can tell you that I will promise to give you my sincerest efforts.”