It’s time for action to match optimism for Kansas football and head coach Les Miles

Kansas wide receiver Steven McBride (19) is tackled by a group of Kansas State defenders during the second half of an NCAA football game Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Manhattan, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The old saying surrounding Kansas football and the coach who is in charge went something like this: Find a way to win five or six games a year and they’ll build a statue for you.

This, of course, was what people said long before the decade of despair that has tested the patience of even the most loyal Kansas football fans and brought the program to near-historic lows.

Today, after KU’s latest lopsided loss to Sunflower State rival Kansas State, the saying should probably be amended: Just put a competitive and respectable product on the field and they’ll keep you around.

That’s where we’re at these days.

And second-year head coach Les Miles continues to believe that’s what the future holds for him and the Jayhawks.

“This team is going to be a good football team,” Miles said after a 55-14 loss to K-State in Manhattan on Saturday afternoon. “… This is going to make them work harder.”

Therein lies the problem, though. The issues facing this Kansas team through its 0-5 start have nothing to do with how hard the Jayhawks work.

It’s all about execution. And on Saturday, KU’s inability to execute — from the sideline to the playing field — not only hurt the Jayhawks but also helped the Wildcats.

That’s something that cannot happen for a program in KU’s position. It’s one thing to lose a game to a top-20 team. There’s no shame in that. It’s another to help them blow you out.

All of the optimism in the world isn’t going to correct that. But, right now, that appears to be all Miles and the Jayhawks have. Optimism that better days are ahead. Hope for the future. The belief that all of these young guys playing today are going to be better for it years down the road.

Time will tell if that proves true. It certainly might. But just saying it over and over doesn’t will it into existence.

At some point, if you want the fans and the community to remain supportive and buy into to your vision, there has to be something they can get behind.

Whether that’s production on the field, decent numbers on the scoreboard or the head coach standing up and saying “This ain’t good enough,” you have to give them something.

No one’s asking for Miles to flip over a table or break a white board with his fist. But something other than the same old song and dance that this is a good football team and it’s going to be even better in the very near future needs to surface.

Miles saying he’s had enough is a start. Putting starters on special teams is another tangible act. Even communicating a clear and detailed plan for improvement, though still just words, qualifies as action considering the current state of the program.

Don’t get me wrong, there were a couple of good moments on Saturday. There always are.

17-year-old freshman Jalon Daniels getting the start at quarterback and playing the full game — therein getting another opportunity to learn and lead — was a terrific sight.

Daniels really has a chance to be this team’s QB of the future, and there’s a lot to like about his game. Beyond his physical skills, Daniels has what it takes, mentally, to keep grinding through the kind of adversity he has faced and will continue to face the rest of this season.

In addition, several other young players on both sides of the ball played a significant number of snaps along with him.

And the coaching staff, perhaps prodded by injuries at the punter position, showed early in the game its willingness to set the tone with the aggressive mindset of going for it on fourth down a couple of times.

Those are all good things that can help lay the foundation for the future.

In many ways, KU may actually have had more individual talent than its opponent on Saturday. But the Wildcats have a clear and established culture. It was born under Bill Snyder, and current coach Chris Klieman has done well to maintain it while bringing his own flare to it.

Kansas doesn’t have that and may not for a long time.

More important than choosing who to start at QB or deciding what to do on fourth-and-one, building that is the biggest challenge of Miles’ job from here on out. And it will take more than optimism to construct.

We’ll see if he can do it.

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