During the most successful year of Les Miles’ career as a head football coach, another program with a far less stellar reputation than LSU experienced the most prosperous season in its history.
While Miles plugged away in Baton Rouge, La., in 2007, eventually leading the Tigers to a national championship, LSU’s coach couldn’t help but notice what was transpiring in Lawrence.
More than a decade before Miles would become the coach at the University of Kansas, Mark Mangino directed the Jayhawks to a 12-1 season and an Orange Bowl victory.
Of course, that year proved to be the height of KU football’s rise to prominence. Only one more winning season would follow it, in 2008. Every year since then KU has failed to reach .500 — a stretch that currently includes nine consecutive seasons with three or fewer wins.
Now it’s Miles’ job to try and resurrect KU football. So is it possible for him to draw upon what Mangino and his assistants and players pulled off in 2007?
“It was just exactly what you want to do,” Miles said recently of KU’s pinnacle year.
That blueprint to follow includes one crucial component, according to Miles.
“And what they did was they hit on a quarterback who was not necessarily everybody’s recruit,” Miles noted, referencing Todd Reesing, a three-star prospect who went on to break numerous KU passing records.
“And they played as a team,” Miles added. “Personally, that’s just what we want to do.”
In his previous stop as a head coach, Miles led a football powerhouse, operating in the limelight as LSU’s most prominent program.
That isn’t the case anymore, now that Miles works at KU, where the basketball program is the one with history and trophies and clout.
At Big 12 Football Media Days earlier this month, Miles was asked what feels different about coaching at a school where basketball comes first for much of the fan base.
“I have enjoyed watching the basketball team,” said Miles, who attended some games inside Allen Fieldhouse this past season. “I enjoy Coach (Bill) Self. I think what he’s done is certainly proof that it can be done at Kansas in football.”
In the two-plus years since LSU fired Miles four games into the 2016 season, his replacement Ed Orgeron, has won 25 games and lost just nine.
Although Miles didn’t offer much insight on his former defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator at LSU, Miles admitted he has been impressed with what Orgeron has accomplished since Miles left.
“I think he’s on path,” KU’s head coach said.
LSU finished 2016 with an 8-4 record. Orgeron’s Tigers improved their win total each of the following two years, going 9-4 in 2017 and 10-3 in 2018.
With one of Miles’ sons, Manny, joining KU as a graduate transfer this summer, the head coach explained recently what he expects from the one player on the roster that he has known for years.
“Manny’s role with the team is third quarterback — let me change the word — backup quarterback,” Miles said, emphasizing that KU has many other QB options ahead of his son. “And put himself in a position to compete and help every way he can and be a great teammate.”
A 6-foot, 215-pound reserve QB, Miles played a similar role at North Carolina, where he completed three of his five career passing attempts and spent much of his final season with the Tar Heels as the team’s holder.
“He can hold and he can throw and he can think,” the coach said of his son. “So there’s going to be some fun for Manny at some point.”
This past year, before Miles became the head coach at KU, he was able to visit both of his sons during their college football seasons and watch them play a little in person.
While he will see plenty of Manny this coming fall, the now much busier coach won’t have that same opportunity when it comes to the season ahead for his other son, Ben, a sophomore fullback at Texas A & M.
Though Ben appeared in just one game in 2018, his father is looking forward to what’s ahead for him with the Aggies.
“I think he’s a heck of a player and I think he’s a good person ultimately — that’s the most important piece to me,” Les Miles said. “And I think he’ll have success at A & M.”