Former Kansas coach Les Miles the first to go from an intriguing group of 2018 Big 12 football hires

Kansas head coach Les Miles congratulates Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman following the Wildcats' 38-10 win over the Jayhawks on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019 at Memorial Stadium.

In 2018, four Big 12 football programs were searching for new head coaches at the same time.

Kansas was one of them.

The Jayhawks were the first to start looking and also became the first to make a hire, as Jeff Long snagged Les Miles in November of that year before KU’s 2018 season had officially even ended.

Shortly after KU hired Miles, Texas Tech moved quickly to bring in Matt Wells to replace the fired Kliff Kingsbury.

Kansas State was up next, and while there were some people around here who thought North Dakota State coach Chris Klieman would be a good pick for Kansas, the fit for him in Manhattan seemed to be tailor made. Kansas passing on him was not overly concerning.

West Virginia completed the Big 12 hiring cycle by naming Neal Brown its next head coach after Brown’s 35-16 stint at Troy made him a hot candidate around the country. Brown was another name that, at least momentarily and in some circles, appeared on the KU radar. But he, too, never seemed like a very likely fit for Kansas or the region.

Three of the four still have their jobs. Two of the four have coached their team to bowl games in their first two seasons — Klieman to a Liberty Bowl loss in 2019 and Brown to a Liberty Bowl win in 2020.

Give me Liberty or give me Les!

I remember thinking at the time how wild it was that, of those four programs, it was Kansas that landed the shiniest, biggest name. I also remember wondering if, some years down the road, Kansas would finish fourth on the list that ranked which program made the best hire during that particular coaching search cycle.

And here we are.

This is not meant to pile on the current situation at Kansas. It’s more of a cautionary tale.

Who would’ve ever thought then that of three schools in the same conference hiring for the same job, the one that picked the man with a national championship ring would be the first to be thrust into another coaching search in the not too distant future?

Given people’s doubts about Miles at the time, it’s not a total surprise it came to this. But, on the surface, a school hiring a coach with a ring needing to find its next coach barely two years later is a pretty wild development.

Kansas has to get it right this time. And in order to do that, whoever’s doing the hiring this time around needs to forget the name, the jewelry or the past stops and focus solely on picking the best football coach he or she can find.

It’s not easy. But it’s also not that hard.

How These Coaches Have Fared

• Chris Klieman: 12-11 overall, 9-9 Big 12

• Neal Brown: 11-11 overall, 7-10 Big 12

• Matt Wells: 8-14 overall, 5-13 Big 12

• Les Miles, 3-18 overall, 1-16 Big 12


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