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Thursday, December 5, 2019

Jeff Long: KU football ‘far closer’ now to meeting expectations

AD offers evaluation of Year 1 under Les Miles

Kansas athletic director Jeff Long stands along the sidelines before kickoff with chancellor Douglas Girod on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas athletic director Jeff Long stands along the sidelines before kickoff with chancellor Douglas Girod on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018 at Memorial Stadium.

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In evaluating the first season of the Les Miles era at the University of Kansas, the man who hired Miles, Athletic Director Jeff Long, hesitated to call the 2019 season an outright success.

And even though Long might be openly overzealous with his verbalized expectations that KU win every game, he described the just completed 3-9 year as a step in the right direction.

“I think we saw improvement,” Long replied Thursday, when asked during an interview session with reporters how KU’s win-loss record measured up to his expectations. “We only saw three wins. I think we saw other games that, wow, we competed in. You look at the Texas game, I mean we were one minute and 10 seconds away from a victory there, and that that would have been huge for our program. But we're closer. We’re far closer than we have been.”

Long hired Miles in November of 2018 to replace David Beaty as KU’s head coach. When Miles officially returned to the sidelines this fall, it marked his first time coaching in a college game since 2016, when LSU fired him four games into the season.

Speaking with reporters for the first time since KU’s season came to a close this past Saturday, Long offered his evaluation of the job Miles has done.

“Coach Miles did a good job of leading a team who had challenges in the team,” Long said. “I think he did a great job of getting them to play together. I think they did a great job of getting them to buy into a new coach and a new program and a new style and a new way of doing things. And, again, I applaud those student-athletes because they did that.”

Long said Miles “did what he does” in the past year, calling the football program’s leader “a player’s coach” who “develops young people.”

Long thinks Miles is an “excellent” recruiter and added he thinks people will see that play out in the weeks ahead.

“So I think we're getting the experienced, national championship-winning coach that we expected to get,” Long said. “It's a tough bill, and we've made strides. So do I wish we were further along? Yes. Am I disappointed with where we are? No. I think we've taken the first step.”

KU, of course, has won three or fewer games for 10 consecutive years. Long spent a portion of his media appearance offering his thanks to fans, who have “had a decade of football that has not been the best.”

After going 3-9 in Beaty’s fourth and final season, in 2018, the Jayhawks posted the same mark — and same 1-8 Big 12 record — in Miles’ first year.

Long emphasized that he and the athletic department as a whole are “not satisfied” with three victories.

“But again, I think we made progress. I think if you watched our football team compete, I think you would say we've made progress. We have to continue to make progress,” Long said.

A part of that, Long noted, involves the work Miles and his assistants are in the midst of now, recruiting players for 2020 and beyond.

“We've got to recruit our way out of the situation we're in,” Long said, “and I think we're making a good start on that.”

As of Thursday, less than two weeks from college football’s December early signing period, KU has 24 non-binding verbal commitments in place for the class of 2020. Rivals currently ranks KU’s class 30th in the country and third in the Big 12 — though KU has more commitments than any other program in the conference at this point, helping the Jayhawks in that cause. Meanwhile, 247Sports has KU’s 2020 group of recruits ranked 40th nationally and fifth in the Big 12.

Despite those positive factors he referenced, Long said he wouldn’t consider this year successful, “because we didn’t win every game.”

He reiterated his stance that 2019 was a “positive” step forward for the program.

“And we’re getting better,” Long said.

Attendance improvements

During his opening remarks with media members on Thursday inside Allen Fieldhouse, Long noted KU football attendance dwindled through the years, before numbers improved during Miles’ first year as head coach.

“They came back this year, and they came back in a big way,” Long said, pointing out attendance increased by 74.3% from the previous year. “When we have more success, we expect to have more fans.”

In total, KU announced 237,122 fans attended the program’s seven home games this season (about 33,875 per game). In 2018, with the Jayhawks playing just six home games, KU announced 116,544 people attended home games (on average, 19,424).

As Long pointed out, KU football enjoyed its best season attendance total since 2013, when 265,187 people came out for seven home games.

Long said he was encouraged by the sellout (47,233) for KU’s home rivalry matchup with Kansas State this year, as well.

Asked what he made of KU’s season finale, when only 22,531 showed up to watch the Jayhawks’ Senior Day versus Baylor, Long argued that playing during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend influenced that number, but he also referenced other factors in the significant dip.

“And it has an impact when your team's not highly successful,” Long said. “If you look across the country, those last Thanksgiving weekends, if your team's not in competition for the championship or if it's not a rivalry game that draws people and attracts people, you have challenges. But, again, I think if you look at the entire season you look at the fans and the way they came back, we're very pleased with the impact that we've made in reaching out to our fan base and them coming back to support.”

Long thanked KU students for their assistance on that front and said about 3,000 students per game were in the bleachers for home games.

“And that was three times what we did a year ago and double what we did the year before that,” Long added.

Fundraising for stadium renovations

Eventually, Long hopes to bring further renovations to David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.

Giving an update Thursday, Long said the goal was to raise $25 million over a five-year period, and he reported the athletic department already has surpassed $16 million toward that cause before the end of the campaign’s second year.

At this point, Long said KU is working with the architectural firm Populous to determine what the renovated venue “could and should” look like. He also said the athletic department is at the beginning of developing the financing plans for that project.

“But it depends on success in the program and the interest in our major supporters to contributing to that stadium build,” Long said. “It is a needed project, but it's one that needs to be strategically timed for and executed.”

More ‘Miles to Go’?

Now that all 18 episodes of the ESPN+ streaming series “Miles to Go” have been made available online, Long was asked whether more might be in the works for the future.

Long said no such discussions have taken place at this point.

KU’s AD noted he was informed that during the time span from which the behind the scenes show began airing, it has been the third-most viewed series on ESPN+.

Comments

Brett McCabe 1 month, 3 weeks ago

A lot of good stuff in there. In Miles’ firs year, attendance skyrockets, he wins as many games in his first year as Beaty did in his fourth and we have what looks to be a full, solid recruiting class. There were definitely some missteps and missed opportunities but I believe we’ll see far fewer of those in year two as the staff establishes itself, as the returning players enjoy a second look at the playbook and the expanded support staff helps to get us prepared for what lies ahead.

Kit Duncan 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Beaty's departure didn't leave the cupboard as bare as previous coaches left it for him. Unfortunately for Beaty, he not only had to recruit from scratch, he had to coach those recruits to a winning record in just a few seasons in order to keep his job. If fan support had not been abysmal, Beaty might have survived another season.

Is it possible he would have won more than three games this season and been competitive in several other games? Not likely. I find it hard to believe Beaty and staff would have been any more competitive with this team than Miles and staff. Miles recruited some additional players in the time he had that may have actually had more of an impact on the season's outcome than those Beaty would have recruited or who chose to transfer after he was fired.

If recruiting goes as well as expected, KU next season should be competitive enough to win six games or more. Whether they will, remains to be seen. Jayhawk fans should stay positive and show up in droves to every home game! RCJH!!!

Joe Joseph 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Can we stop the fan shaming?

My God. People will show up when the on-field product is worth paying hard-earned money to watch. Would it be nice to have larger crowds? Sure. But stop blaming the fans for the shortcomings of the athletic department...

Chris Condren 1 month, 3 weeks ago

I have no complaints with AD Long or Coach Miles. Both seem to be working hard to dig out from the wreckage of the past. As for Beaty it is hard to be so charitable. He took over a bad situation and made it worse. He played games with the roster and could not coach a lick. Heavy blame falls BGL who mandated restrictions leading to Beaty’s hiring.

Titus Canby 1 month, 3 weeks ago

I'm with you Chris. It's my understanding that BGL also mandated restrictions leading to Gill's hiring. Otherwise we would have had a shot at Harbaugh.

Brian Hosfelt 1 month, 3 weeks ago

the one thing Coach Miles did over Beaty was be committed to one QB and let him know he was the guy...it seems we have a good top 30 class coming in and that's what it takes over a couple years with good coaching...got to find a good QB for next season.

Dane Pratt 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Good point. Gill and Weis made the same mistake. Too much musical chairs with the QB.

John Strayer 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Economic impact on the "Fayetteville community"???? WTF...Jeff Long doesn't remember where he is?

Doug Wallace 1 month, 2 weeks ago

So far so good! I think he did as good as it could get this season.He impressed me more in his first year than Gil,Beaty or Weis ever did.We shal see!Time will tell

Bville Hawk 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Is the AD going to hold a press conference evaluating our volleyball program? He needs to and the press needs to ask some hard questions.

Jeff Foster 1 month, 2 weeks ago

My opinion is still out on Miles. I think the "increased" attendance (we all know every sport's attendance numbers are made up) was the curiosity factor to see Miles, who was the most hyped football related story of the last decade at KU. His record was nearly identical to Beaty's last season, with big flops against weaker teams and competitive games against some good ones. My feeling is, if Miles can't get to 5 wins next season, well, we're just in for more of the same. With New Hampshire and BC at home and Baylor and revenge game Coastal Carolina on the road, you're either 2-2 or 3-1, the rest will be the same as this year.

My jury is out on Long, and I think he's a tool. "The Booth?" Horrible nickname, just awful. Playing mu again? This guy wasn't around when that rivalry became one of the nastiest, most hateful rivalries in sports. His deal with buddy Jim Sterk is a self-serving deal that doesn't benefit KU at all. All his talk is spin. I love KU, sports and university, but this guy's a clown show.

Randy Bombardier 1 month, 1 week ago

We win three games, one p5 on the road, come within a whisker of winning at Texas for another historic first and lose three other games by one score. With a little more luck and consistency we could have won 7 games.

WVA, CCU, ISU, Texas were all competitive games. I think we made solid progress. The recruiting is looking better than ever. We will be building with 4 and 5 year players. What's not to like?

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