KU football’s 1-1 start not in sync with high bar of hope, expectations

photo by: Mike Gunnoe

Kansas head coach Les Miles talks to his team during a timeout against Coastal Carolina Saturday night at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium on Sept. 7, 2019.

Kansas football head coach Les Miles said all the right things after Saturday’s disheartening, haven’t-we-seen-this-before 12-7 home loss to Coastal Carolina.

From calling the setback painful to making it clear he was “unhappy” and even explaining that the rough result was an obvious sign that he and his program still had serious work to do, everything Miles said was both right and reasonable.

That is, for a coach who had not set the bar too high before he said it.

I sympathize with Miles and the position in which he finds himself. This job isn’t easy. And history has shown that most coaches don’t realize that until they get here and are in the teeth of the beast.

That’s why Miles should have, and easily could have, set the bar much, much lower than he did from the outset instead of letting words like “great” pass his lips far too often.

By lower, we’re talking about the kind of bar that would make the high jump in the Ant Olympics a compelling event.

Here’s how simple it could have been: From that mid-November day when he was introduced as the replacement to David Beaty, through two signing days, spring football in March and April and preseason camp in August, Miles could have uttered the following words and gotten away with it.

“This isn’t a very good football team and we have a lot of work to do. My hope is that we can find a way to improve each day and continue to get a little bit better to the point where we’re competitive more often than not. If we can do that in Year 1, win or lose, we’ll consider it a step in the right direction.”

That approach might not have sold a ton of tickets, but winning does that.

In fact, Miles could’ve said that and only that — or some variation thereof — for the past 10 months and nobody would have blamed him. Would it have been a bore? You bet. But Bill Snyder was always pretty boring over in Manhattan and that never hurt his team’s ability to play football.

The fact that Miles did not do that, and instead talked up how talented his team was and how strong specific position groups looked, is more a product of circumstance than naiveté.

Remember, this was a guy who watched football on television for the past two seasons after being fired by the school where he won a national championship.

Getting back in the game was no small moment in his life and his excitement, enthusiasm and overall joy about being back in charge of a college football team again — hearing it, seeing it, smelling it, tasting it — may have been so great that he lost sight of the reality of the situation.

Why fan the flames of expectation when nobody’s demanding that you do it?

Miles’ brand and the promise of a new direction for the long-suffering KU football program likely would have been enough to reclaim at least a good chunk of the fan interest needed to rebuild things.

I’m not saying Miles should not openly like and praise his players. That’s a great trait for a head coach to have. And I’ve now talked to a dozen or so Jayhawks who absolutely love the way he treats them, coaches them, cares about them and seems to do all of it with a genuine touch. That, too, is a necessary part of a rebuild and can do wonders in the big picture.

But in the here and now, Miles could have done most of that behind closed doors while doing his part to keep expectations in check when the cameras were rolling.

After a 1-1 start that was four minutes away from being 0-2, no one’s expecting much now. And you can’t help but wonder how many people will be around to watch the rest of the season unfold.

Kansas is an 18.5-point underdog at Boston College this week and will see betting lines in that neighborhood or higher most of the rest of the way. It seems like the only place to go is up. But it has seemed like that around here before and, well, you know the rest.

Miles and the Jayhawks still have 10 weeks of football left and should be judged on the total body of work of the season, not just the troubling start.

But the biggest question left now is not how many wins the Jayhawks will end up with this season, but where that bar will rest when the final horn sounds.


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