Tuesday, November 27, 2018


Matt Tait: Kansas coach Les Miles doesn’t have to win big right away to make good on recent claim

Kansas running back Pooka Williams Jr. (1) and Kansas running back Khalil Herbert (10) celebrate a touchdown by Williams by bowing to each other during the fourth quarter on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas running back Pooka Williams Jr. (1) and Kansas running back Khalil Herbert (10) celebrate a touchdown by Williams by bowing to each other during the fourth quarter on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018 at Memorial Stadium.


Last week, on his final “Les Is More” podcast with his daughter, Smacker, for The Players' Tribune, new Kansas football coach Les Miles caught people’s attention with one simple sentence: “I think we will win in the first year.”

Bold plans for a bold man.

But while some Kansas fans — those no doubt still shaking from the joy of luring a man of Miles’ stature to town in the first place — immediately thought that Miles’ quote meant KU was going to win six games in Year 1, fans of KU’s rivals could be found on the internet mocking both Miles’ words and the excitement of the Kansas football fan.

Here’s the deal: Anyone who listened to the entire podcast knows that Miles was not promising a bowl game in 2019.

He’s too smart to do something like that. And the task at hand is too difficult, with far too much work still to be done, for even the most blatant optimist to be putting "Kansas" and "bowl game" in the same sentence at this juncture.

With that understanding, we’re left to decipher what exactly Miles meant when he uttered the words “win in the first year.”

During his last two head coaching stops, Miles averaged 7.5 wins per season in Year 1 at Oklahoma State and Year 1 at LSU, winning four games with the Cowboys in 2001 and 11 games with the Tigers in 2005.

He took over a much different situation in Baton Rouge, La., than he did in Stillwater, Okla., — read: loaded — so forget about the 11 wins for now.

It’s those four wins Miles managed to wrangle in Oklahoma that seem more relevant here. And even though KU fans surely would love to see Miles get to five or six wins next season, you can bet that almost all of them would take that four-win, first-year record in a heartbeat. Especially when you consider how it happened and what it looks like stacked up against Kansas football history.

First, how it happened.

Miles opened his OSU career with a road loss at Southern Miss and, two weeks later, dropped another game on the road at Texas A&M.; On each side of those losses, Miles added victories over Louisiana Tech and Northwestern State.

Now, 2-2 to open the season isn’t setting the world on fire, but what came next sort of did.

Oklahoma State lost five in a row after that 2-2 start, but three of the next four games were decided by two scores or less, including three-point losses to Missouri and Colorado.

Clearly, a trend toward more competitive football had been established.

After that, Miles closed Year 1 with a 38-22 win at Baylor and an unexpected, 16-13 upset of bitter rival No. 4 Oklahoma on the final day of the season.

Mapping that type of run onto KU’s 2019 schedule results in something like this: Wins over Coastal Carolina and Indiana State to open the season, a handful of competitive Big 12 losses after that, followed by a win at home against bitter rival Kansas State and a road win at Iowa State late in the season.

Would you take that if offered today?

You would if you’ve been paying attention.

The last Kansas football coach to win four or more games in his debut season was Terry Allen, who kick-started his 20-33 run over five seasons with a 5-6 mark in 1997. David Beaty (0-12), Charlie Weis (1-11) and Turner Gill (3-9) combined for four wins during their debut seasons.

Before Allen, you have to go back to Mike Gottfried’s 4-6-1 mark in 1983 to find a four-win Kansas football coach in Year 1, and the Jayhawks have not employed a head football coach who led the program to a winning record in his first season since Bud Moore went 7-5 in 1975.

In fact, Moore is the lone wolf on a list of 13 KU head coaches dating back to the 1950s who achieved that four-win feat in his debut season.

So, yeah, winning in Year 1 is a relative thing at Kansas, and all Miles has to do to make good on his word is finish 4-8. It won’t be easy. But it’s not impossible either.

Not only would that make him the first Kansas coach since Mark Mangino to hit that elusive four-win plateau in a single season, but it also would set the Jayhawks up in better shape at the start of a new head coach’s tenure than the program has seen in more than two decades.


Jim Baker 2 years, 3 months ago

Let's all please remember, he said "I THINK we will win in the first year" read as: there is reason to have optimism in the personnel/program as is and we should be able to improve upon that. Nowhere did I take that statement to mean that he was guaranteeing any measure of wins.

Brian Hosfelt 2 years, 3 months ago

He might win more in his first year then the second...offence should be good with a good OC...3 good running backs, Carter Stanley at QB, lots of returning linmen, and a couple good wideouts....D has lots of holes to fill

Doug Merrill 2 years, 3 months ago

With the coaching change, I wonder if Carter Stanley will stay. He likely would have a fairer shot at playing now.

Dirk Medema 2 years, 3 months ago

What non-con team are we losing to?

A 1 W improvement over this year doesn't sound like much improvement and really isn't any improvement at all if you listen to many MPBFS commenters. Beaty singlehandedly cost us both the KSU and NSU games that any competent coach would have won.

Regardless of the number though, the point that he seemed to make IMO was the win against OU and mindset change. It would seem to me that Coach Miles also recognizes that Coach Beaty has left him with as much to work with as work on.

Jack Hoff 2 years, 3 months ago

I keep hearing people say Beaty singlehandedly cost us the KSTATE game by being an "incompetent coach." Okay then Dirk give me a few specific examples in that game that of what he should have done as a coach to change the outcome? I seem to remember two great calls by the OC to run the ball deep into KSTATE territory that were called back by terrible holding penalties, would have sealed the game. Then I remember KU driving the ball on the last possession of the game when the OC made a great call to throw a screen pass to Pooka when KSTATE was blitzing on every possession. Nobody was within 10 yards of Pooka and he would have scored. Bender found a way to fumble. Seems like people just want to blame Beaty for everything. They did enough to win that game and the coaches called a great game. Can't control terrible officiating and a terrible play by a QB.

Mike Hart 2 years, 3 months ago

Dirk, here we go again. So Beaty "cost" us the win at K-State. I guess he shouldn't have called the play that resulted in Kwamie Lassiter Jr dropping the wide-open TD. I guess he didn't coach Bender to hold on to the football when he brought his arm back to pass on the last drive and had the ball slip out of his hands. I guess the 64 and 70 yard rushing plays called back due to offensive holding ... weren't player mistakes... they were coaching ones... ok, got it now. Thanks for the clarification...

Jack Hoff: Spot on...

Armen Kurdian 2 years, 3 months ago

Maybe look at it this way. Too many mistakes resulting from a lack of discipline. Too many drops or other mental errors that other teams do not suffer from.

We have good players, even Bender has shown he can be a decent, though not top-tier quarterback. But it's the mistakes we make that other teams do not that have cost us some games. Tightening that up alone will probably result in at least one or two more wins per year.

I'm not a coach, nor do I play one on TV, but that's my perception.

Steven Haag 2 years, 3 months ago

Dirk, we play at Boston College, BC next year. They have 7 wins this year. Nobody is expecting them to win up there, except hopefully the coach and the players

Robert Brock 2 years, 3 months ago

Miles is going to have a LOUSY roster next season. Don’t expect many Ws.

Mike Hart 2 years, 3 months ago

Yeah... lousy. We return the entire defensive backfield... 7/11 starters on defense. On offense, we return all our RBs... all but one offensive lineman... 2/3 of our we have Les Miles ability to recruit. Just lousy... 1/2 of the people posting here said Beaty wouldn't win 1 game this year (after losing to Nicholls)... instead he won 3. Then the criticism was that a good coach would have won 5 with our roster. And here we are now with such a great coach in Les Miles.. and great recruiter.. with such a great track record... you guys are now saying "don't expect many W's"... Not a very logical argument.

Dane Pratt 2 years, 3 months ago

Should have said we will be competitive in the first year.

Freddie Garza 2 years, 3 months ago

Now that Les Miles took the job, let the grossly unrealistic expectations begin!

Dirk Medema 2 years, 3 months ago

Jack and Mike- The key words imo are the end of the previous sentence. "If you listen to some commenters ".

I completely agree with you and have previously made the exact point you have made here.

I certainly can't defend all of his game management but also am not so calloused as to realize that many of the games could have been flipped if any number of plays were executed as coached.

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