Les Miles is 65, but he’s not prepared to dig into his retirement savings nor the $1.5 million buyout settlement he agreed to last week with LSU football.
Far less than what LSU had agreed to pay Miles through 2023, the buyout paved the way for him to accept a new challenge: turn around the moribund football program at the University of Kansas.
"The further I got away from it, the more I desired it,” Miles said Sunday at a news conference.
But he’ll have his work cut out for him. The Jayhawks are 3-8 overall this year and dead last in the Big 12 Conference. During the Nov. 3 home game against Iowa State, there were more Cyclones fans than Jayhawks fans in Memorial Stadium.
“You know what? I hope our fans saw that image,” new KU athletic director Jeff Long said the day after, when he fired Beaty. “I hope you show that image because they’re going to be part of this solution.”
Beaty will still call the shots during Friday’s regular-season finale. After that, it’s all in the hands of the man who went 114-34 at LSU, coached them to a national championship and two SEC titles and was the Associated Press Coach of the Year in 2011. Miles was fired in 2016 after a couple of disappointing seasons.
The last time KU football was relevant was 2007 — the same year Miles led LSU to a national title. KU at one point was ranked No. 2 in the nation and beat Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl behind coach Mark Mangino. Miles said he paid attention to that team, and starting quarterback Todd Reesing.
“The 12-1 Mangino team, what they did with that quarterback, I thought was really special,” he said Sunday. “I recognized it. I recognized that when it was happening.”
Since then, KU has been looking to revive its football program, both in staffing and upgrading indoor facilities and the stadium, which was built in 1920. Rebooting the product on the field starts, according to Miles, with recruiting and keeping the best players close.
“We’re going to work a 500-mile radius,” he said during the introductory. We’re going to get to those and we’re going to win in that group and then we’re going to pick some cities in Texas that we hit.”
That would prevent players like ISU linebacker Marcel Spears, an Olathe North grad, from going out of state. Spears said Kansas was interested in him, but ISU won out.
“My grandma, she really doesn’t have a lot to say, but when she came here on a visit with us, she said she likes Iowa State and that carried a lot with me,” he said.
CBS Sports.com senior writer Dennis Dodd covered Miles in the SEC, and believes the coach will go the extra, well, mile to attract top talent.
“(If) they see a guy they can get, they’ll go all over the country because Jeff Long, the AD, has promised to put money into the program to do just that,” Dodd said.
With more coaching positions popping up around the country, Miles’ options were apparently increasing, though Dodd mentioned that Miles “hadn’t had any nibbles these last two years.” Long was adamant about avoiding a candidate who would use the Jayhawks’ opening as leverage.
“When you’re out and you want back in, you can feel the passion in the conversation,” Long said of his conversations with Miles. “You can feel the want-to and we certainly did that as we talked about this opportunity.”
But there’s no guarantee that a big-name coach will do the trick.
Look at Oklahoma in 1995: The Sooners hired Howard Schnellenberger, who coached the Miami Hurricanes to a national championship in 1983 but only had one season at OU.
And there’s even the Jayhawks themselves. Remember Charlie Weis, the former Notre Dame coach whom ex-KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger hired when he “set out to find the best”? Both of them are long gone, and the Jayhawks haven’t had a winning season since 2008.
Greg Echlin is a freelance sports reporter for KCUR 89.3.