With mere days remaining in their season, University of Kansas football players are most concerned right now with preparing for Friday’s finale against No. 11 Texas.
Nevertheless, as the Jayhawks spent a portion of their Tuesday afternoon fielding questions from the media, conversations inevitably turned to the program’s future — one that will be led by incoming head coach Les Miles.
It’s safe to say the excitement and buzz that accompanied this past weekend’s news of Miles taking over was prominent throughout Anderson Family Football Complex, as well.
When Kansas Athletic Director Jeff Long entered the team’s meeting room Sunday and Miles walked in behind him, it proved momentous for players who grew up watching Miles lead LSU teams to two SEC titles and a national championship.
“It’s like a dream come true,” said sophomore safety Ricky Thomas, a New Orleans native who once upon a time viewed LSU as his “dream school,” and a place where he hoped to play for Miles. “I’ve been watching him since I was younger. Just to see him in person and wearing Kansas gear, it’s, like, kind of weird.”
Moments after Kansas introduced Les Miles as the program's 40th head coach in team history, the KU Sports staff did an emergency podcast at Allen Fieldhouse. KU football reporter Benton Smith is joined by Matt Tait and Shane Jackson to discuss Miles' introductory press conference and where the Jayhawks go ...
But the good kind of weird. When Thomas posted a short video of Miles at KU to his Instagram account, his friends back at LSU couldn’t wait to reply.
“They were like, ‘You all got a good one. You’re going to love him,’” Thomas shared.
Just one night earlier, while Thomas was on KU's team bus traveling to the airport in Oklahoma, the defensive back had friends back in Louisiana calling and asking him if the Miles rumors were true. At the time, he didn’t think so.
It made Miles’ five-minute address to the Jayhawks on Sunday, with his “beat Texas” message, all the more surreal for Thomas, who played at Dutchtown High (La.) as a prep.
“I felt like I was in a dream when I was hearing him talk,” Thomas said. “I was staring at him like, this is crazy. This is Les Miles in the building. A legend. Like he’s real big in Louisiana. Real big. It’s crazy.”
KU, of course, has four important regular starters who call the southeastern state home: freshman running back Pooka Williams Jr., freshman cornerback Coe Harris, junior safety Mike Lee and redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Malik Clark. Thomas, junior receiver Daylon Charlot, redshirt freshman receiver Takulve Williams, freshman running back Ryan Malbrough and junior long snapper Logan Klusman hail from “The Boot,” too.
Lee explained how he thought having a nationally known coach could be important for KU.
“He knows his game. He’s been through the stages. He’s been through the losing stages,” Lee said, referencing Miles’ rebuild at Oklahoma State, before the coach moved on to LSU. “He’s been through the winning stages — winning the national championship, winning the SEC championships. … He knows what this team needs.”
Lee, who revealed he planned on retuning for his senior season at Kansas even before Miles’ arrival, said he wasn’t sure how — if Long’s plan hadn’t panned out — KU hiring a coach lacking Miles’ notoriety would have influenced players’ thoughts toward transferring.
“I can’t speak for everyone. But when I’m committed, I’m committed. I’m not going anywhere,” Lee said. “And I don’t want the fans thinking I’m leaving them. So after the last game of the season, I’m going to shoot a message to them and let them know that they’re going to have me for another year.”
Recruited by Miles and LSU when he was a standout prep receiver at Patterson High (La.), Charlot chose Alabama over the Tigers.
That didn’t dampen his excitement, though, when Miles walked into KU’s football complex earlier this week.
“Everybody was quiet,” Charlot recalled. “But I could see the excitement on their faces, like holding it inside. It was great. I can’t wait until everything’s turned.”
Year 1 of Miles’ five-year contract with KU will begin without this season’s seniors, of course. But the Jayhawks’ 2018 leaders expect Miles’ arrival to help the long-struggling program.
“I don’t know, obviously, what he’ll bring in terms of X’s and O’s,” redshirt senior linebacker Joe Dineen Jr. said. “But I know he’ll bring a lot of excitement from the outside in. And I think he’ll recruit really well and I’m excited to see what he can do at this place.”
Likewise, redshirt senior defensive tackle Daniel Wise felt encouraged by the weekend’s news.
“It’s promising. We know Les Miles. We know what he can do,” Wise said. “With the guys like Pooka, obviously, we know he loves Pooka already, that’s a Louisianimal. I’m just happy for the future and the direction they’re headed.”
And it’s likely no Jayhawk is as adrenalized by Miles’ arrival as Thomas.
“I’m ready for next year, see what he brings,” the sophomore safety said. “I know he’s definitely going to change the culture around here. So I’m ready.”