As optimistic as Les Miles has professed to be regarding the talent level of his first team at the University of Kansas, the one-time national championship winning coach undoubtedly is undertaking as massive of a rebuilding project as exists in college football.
In Miles’ 15 full seasons as a head coach — four at Oklahoma State and 11 at LSU — he averaged 9.3 wins a year and 3.5 losses. The KU football program has experienced nine or more wins in a season six times since its inception in 1890.
Every year administrators who run some Power Five programs attempt to reboot by firing the current head football coach and finding a replacement they envision turning the team’s fortunes around. Among the men hired to do so since the end of the 2018 season, Miles’ task might be more daunting than most.
While discussing recently on the “AP Top 25 College Football” podcast which head coaches entering their first year in new situations have their work cut out for them, Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports and The Athletic painted a darker picture of what may await the Jayhawks this coming fall than many of the program’s supporters would like to see.
“David Beaty won three games last year,” Feldman began, referencing KU’s 3-9 finish in 2018, its best mark in four years. “I think Les Miles is going to struggle to win three games.”
Why the pessimism for Miles in Year 1 of what The Mad Hatter hopes will be a successful longterm renovation?
“He’s not working with anything close to what he’s used to from his LSU days,” Feldman said. “I mean, it’s the complete opposite.”
Outside of KU’s nine Big 12 games on the schedule the Jayhawks will face Indiana State (Aug. 31) and Coastal Carolina (Sept. 7) at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium before playing their nonconference finale at Boston College (Sept. 13) on a short week.
“I think they’re going to beat Indiana State and Coastal Carolina,” Feldman predicted. “But then they’ve got to go to BC, who’s not great, but they’re not terrible. And it’s on the road, so I think they’ll probably struggle.”
This past season, Boston College finished 7-5 and spent four weeks ranked in the AP Top 25. The Eagles went 5-2 at Alumni Stadium, in Chestnut Hill, Mass., with their home defeats coming to eventual national champion Clemson and a nationally ranked Syracuse team.
So if KU were to open Miles’ debut season 2-1, there must be some victory for the Jayhawks in Big 12 play if they’re going to add a third win. Who might they beat?
“To me probably their best bet to get to three wins is probably their opener in the Big 12,” Feldman projected. “They have West Virginia visiting.”
The way Feldman sees it, new head coach Neal Brown’s first year at WVU won’t be easy, either. While the Mountaineers won seven or more games in eight of the nine seasons that Dana Holgorsen was in charge, Feldman pointed out Holgorsen left for Houston just when the WVU program was losing some of its most talented players.
Other than KU and WVU, Feldman went on, he doesn’t think there will be any other teams in the Big 12 this year that are “really, really bad.”
Feldman and the podcast’s host, Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press, speculated that Scott Satterfield at Louisville and Mike Locksley at Maryland have challenging rebuilds on their hands, as well.
Though while discussing the Terrapins’ situation, Feldman opined that Locksley is inheriting better players than Brown at WVU and “way better” players than what Miles has inherited at KU.
2019 KU Football Schedule
Aug. 31 — Indiana State
Sept. 7 — Coastal Carolina
Sept. 13 — at Boston College
Sept. 21 — West Virginia
Sept. 28 — at TCU
Oct. 5 — Oklahoma
Oct. 12 — bye
Oct. 19 — at Texas
Oct. 26 — Texas Tech
Nov. 2 — Kansas State
Nov. 9 — bye
Nov. 16 — at Oklahoma State
Nov. 23 — at Iowa State
Nov. 30 — Baylor
Thomas MacVittie was only two-thirds of the way through spring football when he plopped down in one of Mrkonic Auditorium’s numerous seats inside Anderson Family Football Complex.
The University of Kansas quarterback and his teammates had just wrapped up their 10th practice and MacVittie had yet to take off the wristband he uses not to wipe sweat away from his forehead, but as a convenient reminder of the offense’s available play calls.
“These are pretty long,” MacVittie told the Journal-World at the time, glancing down at two laminated notecard-sized lists attached to his wristband, with the name of a different play call printed out on each line.
Although the Jayhawks kept much of the offensive details for Year 1 of the Les Miles era under wraps during media sessions this spring, MacVittie was glad to at least shed some light on the process of learning it all.
KU quarterbacks, MacVittie explained, often reference their wristbands when they’re lined up under center. But the usefulness of the uniform accessory isn’t limited to that situation. The wristbands are most useful for what MacVittie, a junior who joined the program this year as a transfer, described as “the long plays.”
In some situations, the KU offense has two possible plays to run when they line up and the one they choose before the snap depends on what they see from the defense in front of them.
“And we’ve got to check to the right play,” MacVittie explained. “That is what the wristband is for. Those are pretty long.”
How many plays were on there at the moment, with 10 of KU’s 15 spring practices completed?
MacVittie flipped the top flap of plays out of the way and eyed the second card beneath it.
“Umm. Let’s see. We’ve got 34,” the QB replied. “Adding to it every day.”
Throughout the spring, KU’s offensive coaches installed new plays for every practice. And for the Jayhawks who relay those calls to the rest of their teammates before every single snap, that meant huddling up in the QBs room before each of those practices to learn the details.
“This is what we’re gonna go do on the field in an hour,” MacVittie related of offensive coordinator and QBs coach Les Koenning’s typical message during those pre-practice meetings.
“It makes you learn fast, adapt fast and really kind of play on your feet,” MacVittie said of why he appreciated the process. “You can’t be back there thinking. You’ve just kind of got to do. And that comes with preparation, as well.”
Of course, MacVittie took other necessary steps to familiarize himself with the offense, through reviewing practice footage and other measures.
“Every day I come in,” the 6-foot-5, 215-pound QB shared of his spring football study routine. “I think I’m at the facility for probably five hours outside of needing to be. Asking coach to quiz me. Pulling up the film from practice. Kind of getting an edge on any new plays coming in.”
According to MacVittie, quizzes proved to be a valuable factor in his progress. What felt like almost every day throughout the spring, he said, Koenning provided the quarterbacks with brief tests of their playbook knowledge, with the help of senior offensive consultant Brent Dearmon.
Every KU quarterback would be handed a sheet of paper with specific play calls listed. The QBs then had to show off their X’s and O’s abilities by drawing up the plays correctly.
A former reserve QB at Pittsburgh and a starter in 2018 at Mesa Community College (Ariz.), the potential KU starter for Miles’ first season with the Jayhawks, MacVittie said he took pride in doing well on the quizzes, preparing for them by studying the playbook every night.
“They’re random,” MacVittie said of the plays that would show up at test time. “They could be from Day 1, they could be from Day 6. So you’ve really got to know it all.”
By the time the Jayhawks finished up spring football, Miles said they had gone through “at minimum” 50 percent of the offensive playbook. Obviously much more will be installed during preseason camp in August.
Just as he did throughout March and April, MacVittie expects to memorize it all, and prove his knowledge on quizzes and the practice fields. The expectation, he said, is to master the assignments for all 11 offensive players on every play call.
“The reads, the steps, what everybody’s doing,” he said, “to a ’T.’”
What a difference a year makes. Or more specifically, in the case of the University of Kansas football program, what a difference two leadership shakeups seem to have made.
A year ago at this time, when CBS Sports rolled out its rankings of Power Five college football coaches, the man in charge of KU football, David Beaty, finished dead last.
In the 12 months since then, KU chancellor Douglas Girod fired Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger, the man responsible for hiring Beaty. After observing what proved to be Beaty’s final season with the Jayhawks, KU’s new AD, Jeff Long, fired Beaty and replaced him with a reputable name and face (and hat) in the college football universe.
The presence of Les Miles didn’t propel Kansas from worst to first in the coach rankings. Far from it. But given how low the program has been, worst to 38th doesn’t look or sound that bad.
It’s not the kind of accomplishment that will inspire commemorative T-shirts, or even a social media hashtag, but seeing KU’s football coach ranked ahead of 27 other men in charge of Power Five programs seems like progress, even if the legitimate signs of growth will have to be proven in, you know, actual college football games this coming fall.
In the meantime, we have this list as one reminder that Miles’ presence alone has more people paying attention to KU, even at the national level.
Clearly the college football writers at CBS Sports who voted on these rankings don’t envision Miles’ arrival meaning the Jayhawks are ready to conquer and leapfrog a number of Big 12 programs. It just means Miles’ 142-55 combined record during his 15-plus seasons in charge of the football programs at Oklahoma State and LSU still carries some weight — even though when Miles makes his KU coaching debut this fall it will mark his first time on a sideline since September of 2016, when LSU fired him four games into the season.
Miles’ time away from the game likely hurt him in these rankings, which CBS’ Tom Fornelli points out involve “no strict guidelines.” Miles only ranks seventh among Big 12 coaches on the list. He’s ahead of Texas Tech’s Matt Wells (No. 43) and Kansas State’s Chris Klieman (No. 56), but the national championship ring Miles won at LSU to cap the Tigers’ 2007 campaign wasn’t enough to land him ahead of the Big 12’s seven other coaches more than a decade later.
Here’s a portion of what Fornelli wrote about Miles for the rankings, which counted down Nos. 65 through 26, ahead of the yet to be released top 25:
“I think there's been an overall tendency to underestimate Miles' ability as a coach, as people had a penchant for ascribing his success at LSU to it being LSU. Still, I think this is probably a little too low for Miles (I only had him at 33 myself) considering he has won a national title.”
The poll ranked Baylor’s Matt Rhule (No. 31) and West Virginia’s Neal Brown (No. 36) ahead of Miles, and when the rest of the list is published, TCU’s Gary Patterson, Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, Texas’ Tom Herman and Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley will be ahead of KU’s coach, too.
And if that fact ruffles your crimson and blue colored feathers, just remember: It could be worse. KU could have the 65th-ranked coach on this list.
The Kansas football fans who showed up Saturday for the Jayhawks’ spring game at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium got a bit of a surprise during one of the breaks in the action.
And for that matter, so did the man responsible for drawing so many of them there.
Les Miles admitted Monday he was caught a bit off guard when a skit he and KU basketball coach Bill Self teamed up for began playing on the giant video board at the south end of the stadium.
“I was walking off. I had no idea. I was oblivious to where they were going to play that,” Miles said. “I mean, if somebody would have asked me before. … No, obviously they’re not gonna play it at the spring game.”
The KU-produced video featured the athletic department’s two biggest names reenacting a scene from the Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly comedy, “Step Brothers.”
“So I’m walking off the sideline, I go, ‘I’m hearing my voice. What am I doing?’ And I look over there,” Miles described of his reaction when it began playing, “and I go, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me.’ I bet I waited three to five minutes before I said, ‘What a terrible waste of a jumbotron.’ And off I went.”
The two don’t build a bunk bed together, but the video opens with Self asking Miles a simple question, once the football coach enters the room: “Who are you? And why are you in my office?”
Before long, Self and Miles are in staredown mode, both claiming to be “the Kansas ball coach.”
After some namedropping boasts about players each has coached in the past — Self shows off a photo of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid before Miles lets him know he coached Odell Beckham Jr. — the two compare national championship rings, as well as pictures from each of their team’s trips to the White House.
The scene culminates with Self asking, “What is your favorite rapper from Florida?”
In unison, the coaches answer: “Rick Ross!”
That, of course, prompts Miles to deliver one of Ferrell’s memorable lines from the movie, “Did we just become best friends?” before the two high five.
Between the “Step Brothers” parody and Miles’ recent video announcing the Rick Ross performance for KU’s spring game, the 65-year-old who led LSU to a national title has proven open to embracing his less serious side at KU — even if there is some slight hesitation.
“What goes through my mind,” Miles said of when such ideas have been pitched his way, “is ‘I hope that my wife and kids don’t see this.’ That’s the first thing that I think. I enjoy the challenge. I really enjoyed the Bill Self thing. That was great fun.”
The way Miles sees it, “you only get to go around one time. There’s no do-overs. You might want to have some fun.”
If Kansas football coach Les Miles and his assistants currently have a depth chart they feel good about during the final stage of spring practices, they’re certainly not making it public.
However, during the Jayhawks’ open practice on Thursday — a light, pads-free warmup for Saturday’s spring game — the 11-on-11 session provided a glimpse of what KU’s two-deep just might look like right about now.
The first-string units that were in place for the 13th practice of the spring may not even look exactly the same when the Jayhawks reconvene under the lights for No. 14, when fans will get to watch KU scrimmage at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
Still, this particular practice was the first prolonged opportunity those outside of the program have had this spring to watch the offense and defense go toe-to-toe.
More players will join the roster in the summer, and some undoubtedly will factor into the two-deep at preseason camp. So it’s safe to describe the current state of the various position battles as fluid.
For Thursday at least, here’s who started on each side of the ball when the team period began inside KU’s new indoor practice facility.
QB - Thomas MacVittie
RB - Dom Williams
WRs - Daylon Charlot, Andrew Parchment, Kwamie Lassiter II
TE - Jack Luavasa
LT - Hakeem Adeniji
LG - Malik Clark
C - Api Mane
RG - Chris Hughes
RT - Clyde McCauley III
DE - Cody Cole
NT - Jelani Brown
DE - Darrius Moragne
Hawk - Azur Kamara
LB - Drew Harvey
LB - Dru Prox
CB - Hasan Defense
S - Bryce Torneden
S - Mike Lee
S - Davon Ferguson
CB - Corione Harris
After all of those presumed current starters took a fair amount of reps, coaches rotated in other Jayhawks.
Here are the players who showed up most often in reserve roles as KU spent most of its afternoon session pitting the offense against the defense.
QB - Carter Stanley
RB - Khalil Herbert
WRs - Takulve Williams, Ezra Naylor, Stephon Robinson Jr.
TE - James Sosinski
LT - Earl Bostick Jr.
LG - Jacobi Lott
C - Andru Tovi
RG - Adagio Lopeti
RT - Antione Frazier
DE - Willie McCaleb
NT - Sam Burt
DE - Jelani Arnold
Hawk - Najee Stevens-McKenzie
LB - Kyron Johnson
LB - Cooper Root
CB - Kyle Mayberry
S - Ricky Thomas
S - Jeremiah McCullough
S - Shaquille Richmond
CB - Elijah Jones and Elmore Hempstead Jr.
Other reserves got their fair share of reps at the practice, as well. These are the other backups who participated during the 11-on-11 work.
QBs - Miles Kendrick and Torry Locklin
RB - Donovan Franklin
WRs - Kameron McQueen and Evan Fairs
FBs - Sam Schroeder and Mac Copeland
OL - Joey Gilbertson and Kevin Feder
DL - Jalan Robinson
LB - Robert Topps III
S - DeAnte Ford and Julian Chandler
Again, there were no pads involved, so there wasn’t any real hitting or tackling. But there were some players who stood out as the KU football program opened its practice up to both the student population and members of the media.
A senior safety, Mike Lee, intercepted two passes on the afternoon. Another defensive back from New Orleans, junior safety Ricky Thomas, made another pick.
Although several receivers had a crack or two at some deep shots, it was junior Stephon Robinson Jr. who hauled one in successfully, despite solid coverage.
What was the most impressive catch of the day? Quarterback Thomas MacVittie gave that honor to one of the tight ends.
“I think our tight end, Sosa, had a one-handed, kind of behind him,” MacVittie recalled of a snag by senior James Sosinski that drew oohs and ahhs from his teammates nearby on the sideline.
“That just shows how athletic he is,” MacVittie added of the grab.
KU’s spring game is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Saturday. It will be available to stream on ESPN+ and broadcast locally and throughout the state on various cable platforms.
Don’t bring up the Kansas football team’s offseason conditioning sessions around Thomas MacVittie if you don’t want an honest response.
And if for some reason there happen to be children nearby when you do broach the subject with the junior quarterback, just tell the kids to earmuff it before MacVittie is reminded of those pre-sunrise sprints.
“(Expletive),” was MacVittie’s instant and visceral reaction when those workouts were mentioned.
Head coach Les Miles, his assistants and KU’s strength and conditioning staff made a point in February and early March, before the team’s spring football practices began, to push the players with intense conditioning work that doubled as a wake-up call — and an early one at that.
“It’s hard to kind of put into words, because there’s so many pieces that went into that puzzle,” MacVittie elaborated a few weeks back, when asked about how challenging that form of training was for the players. “First of all, waking up at 5 in the morning was a struggle, knowing the stuff that you were about to go through.”
The conditioning began promptly at 5:55 a.m. And even Miles admitted the workouts were not exactly designed to bring joy to the players’ lives.
“It tests you,” the KU football coach said. “It’s painful.”
However, as MacVittie would explain, the players understood how important it was to experience those mental and physical demands. A 6-foot-5, 215-pound QB from Cincinnati, Ohio, MacVittie said even though he’s no early riser, he appreciated the discipline instilled in the Jayhawks through the process.
To further their early a.m. misery, MacVittie said the coaches used what he called a “ding” system while watching the players’ runs. Any time a player failed to touch a certain line while sprinting back and forth on the turf at the indoor practice facility that player got dinged for coming up short.
“They time every rep that you have,” MacVittie added. “So if your rep is a couple of seconds (off), you’re not trying as hard, you’re dinged for that.”
According to Miles, the Jayhawks had to run “perfect sprints” at the very end of each morning workout, and they went through eight drills that were “very much like football games.”
The scrutiny didn’t end there, though. MacVittie said the whole coaching staff would watch video footage of the conditioning sessions “for two hours” after each one concluded. Each and every drill and every last Jayhawk was accounted for, thanks to the multiple cameras that captured every second of it from every feasible angle.
Even the players who were waiting in line had to be in “an athletic position,” with their wrists above their knees.
“And if you weren’t,” MacVittie said, “you would get dinged.”
As the Jayhawks endured it all, there was also a T-shirt system that measured their progress. MacVittie said everybody started off in gray KU football T-shirts. A player would receive a white one to wear if coaches deemed that particular Jayhawk was showing proper progress. What’s more, if players were what the QB described as “super-disciplined,” they got to wear a blue T-shirt.
What did that signify?
“You’re being a leader. You’re excelling in the things you need to do and you’re driving the team. Everybody was striving for the blues,” MacVittie shared. “If you got one ding you couldn’t get a blue shirt.”
Of course, all of this also made it easier for the Jayhawks to transition to spring football practice mode, once that began on March 6.
“I think it shows to the team that the details matter,” MacVittie said of the idea he took away from those demanding drills and sprints. “The details are why you win in the fourth quarter or overtime. Details are important. They’re going to be a first down or a fumble. It’s that small. It’s that small, getting your wrists above your knees. It’s that small, touching the line.
“That’s going to win games, believe it or not,” MacVittie said, “just that discipline.”
After nine months of construction time, the Kansas football program’s new indoor practice facility was finally ready to be put to use on Tuesday.
Returning players and spring enrollees were up bright and early for a 6 a.m. conditioning session on the full-length turf, sprinting and cutting as head coach Les Miles and his staff instructed and observed.
While spring practices won’t commence until March, the Jayhawks are able to work out without footballs while out of season at this time of the year. NCAA rules allow college football players 8 hours of work per week, with no more than 2 hours in a week spent reviewing game footage or walking through plays.
The other six hours are limited to conditioning and weightlifting, and Tuesday’s early morning workout was all about speed, changing directions and building the stamina the players will need for spring football. No skill instruction is allowed at this time of year, so there aren’t any footballs or blocking sleds or the types of drills one would expect to see at an in-season or spring practice.
But such workouts still hold great value for Miles and his assistants, as the staff members get a better understanding of their players’ individual abilities and how each Jayhawk approaches all that goes into playing at this level.
While there are still more bells and whistles to come for the indoor facility, with the playing turf ready to go, the Jayhawks got a sneak peek of the pristine venue on Monday, as donors Dana and Sue Anderson welcomed them to the space where the current and future players will spend countless hours in the months and years ahead.
In a video posted to KU football’s Twitter account, a number of Jayhawks offered their reactions to being inside the practice building for the first time.
“It’s a beautiful place,” senior receiver Daylon Charlot said. “We’re thankful for the opportunity for getting this. So we’re about to come in here and work hard every day.”
Junior quarterback Thomas MacVittie, one of the top signees from KU’s 2019 recruiting class, could be seen with his iPhone in hand, letting his father, Thomas Sr., get a live look of the facility via FaceTime.
“Man, this is something special,” the KU quarterback said. “This place is going up. It’s going to be fun.”
Between the social media posts provided by the football program, Jayhawks such as Najee Stevens McKenzie, Bryce Torneden, Corione Harris, Mike Lee, Hakeem Adeniji, Carter Stanley, Miles Kendrick, Quan Hampton, Evan Fairs, Elmore Hempstead Jr., Khalil Herbert, Codey Cole, MacVittie, Ezra Naylor and Andrew Parchment could be seen taking in and/or working out in the facility.
“This is beautiful right here. We love this,” redshirt junior cornerback Julian Chandler said in one of KU’s videos. “We’re ready to get some work in right here.”
Herbert, who served as the host for a live Instagram video of the players’ initial tour, enjoyed the bouncy feel to the fresh turf, as well as the prospect of staying warm and dry during workouts.
“It’s about to snow tomorrow, but that doesn’t matter to us,” Herbert said. “We’re fixing to be inside.”
Lee, who will be a senior safety this coming season, said it felt good to finally be inside the structure.
“We worked hard for this,” Lee said. “It’s about time we change this program around and get some dubs, and turn rock chalk nation to extreme.”
After two years as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Auburn, a historically successful SEC football program that routinely plays in the postseason, Chip Lindsey arrived Tuesday at Kansas, where the Jayhawks haven’t been to a bowl game since 2008 and have won three or fewer games each of the past nine seasons.
So how did Les Miles sell Lindsey on the idea of coming to KU?
A Journal-World request to interview Lindsey has not yet been granted, but the team’s newly hired offensive coordinator answered that question and more during a one-on-one interview with KU director of broadcasting and play-by-play voice of the Jayhawks Brian Hanni.
During conversations with his new boss, Lindsey shared, he learned why Miles is a “great recruiter,” as KU’s head coach laid out his vision for the program, one that involves the Jayhawks competing for “championships” in the future.
“I think he’s the guy to take us to the next level,” Lindsey said, “and just the opportunity to work with him hand in hand, I think, was too attractive and really made it an easy decision for me.”
Of course, now that Lindsey, the former offensive coordinator at Auburn, Arizona State and Southern Miss, is at KU, he will play a significant role in how the Jayhawks’ fare under Miles.
While Lindsey didn’t paint a vivid picture of what his offense will look like in 2019, the first coordinator to sign on with Miles plans to build the Jayhawks’ attack around their playmakers. He said, in the spring, he will get a better sense of who those players are and what they’re capable of bringing to the field.
“We want to create an exciting brand of football,” Lindsey said, “exciting brand of offense, try to create explosive plays and make us an offense that’s fun and exciting to watch — one that recruits want to come play for — and really put our identity in this league and on this university.”
Although at this point Lindsey said he only has watched “a little” footage from the Jayhawks’ 3-9 2018 season, he obviously signed on knowing what kind of weapon KU has in running back Pooka Williams, who rushed for 1,125 yards and seven touchdowns in his freshman season.
“I know about Pooka for sure,” Lindsey said of the All-Big 12 back from Louisiana. “Everybody in the country seems to know about him.”
In the days, weeks and months ahead, KU’s OC plans to get acquainted with the rest of the roster and identify the four or five best playmakers so that he can design creative ways to get them the ball.
At this point it is hard to predict who will be KU’s starting quarterback in 2019. Carter Stanley and Miles Kendrick both have eligibility remaining, while 2018 starter Peyton Bender’s college football career is over.
Given that Lindsey coached current San Francisco 49ers starting QB Nick Mullens at both Spain Park High (Ala.) and Southern Miss, Hanni asked KU’s newest assistant how he would go about getting a “great” QB to Kansas.
“Obviously. quarterbacks are special people, because they’re going to get too much credit, they’re going to get too much blame,” Lindsey began. “They’ve got to be guys that are tough-minded, and those guys that I’ve had in the past, that’s what those guys are. They’re very tough mentally. I think we’re going to create a product here that I think quarterbacks will want to come play in our system, a quarterback-friendly system that I think will be an exciting brand of football to watch. We’re looking forward to finding guys that want to be here at Kansas and do something special.”
On the same day Lindsey said those words, during his first day on the job no less, he extended a scholarship offer to dual-threat QB Robby Ashford, a four-star prospect in the Class of 2020 from Hoover, Ala. — where Lindsey was the head coach in 2007.
The past two years at Auburn, Lindsey coached Jarrett Stidham, who was a four-star dual-threat QB in his high school days. Lindsey said he likely will be on the lookout for mobile quarterbacks he can recruit to KU.
“I think, the way the game’s played today, the defenses are so good, so talented, you’ve got to have a guy that can escape, you know, and make plays in and out of the pocket. I think that’s important,” Lindsey said. “But the number one thing for me is, we want guys that are tough, that are smart, that are intelligent, accurate throwers and, obviously, be able to bring something with their feet, as well.”
The Les Miles brand grew to the height of its powers in Louisiana.
It’s where Miles coached the football team at the state’s flagship university, LSU, from 2005 to 2016. And it’s a place that he continued to call home for the past two years, during his hiatus from the sidelines.
His accomplishments there — see: Miles’ 114-34 record in 11-plus seasons at LSU, including two SEC titles and a 2007 national championship — are what made his arrival at Kansas this week so buzzworthy on the national college football landscape.
The hope among the suddenly energized KU football fan base is that the coach’s ties to the state affectionally referred to as “The Boot” will reinforce a recruiting pipeline from Louisiana that the program already has in place.
The Jayhawks’ current roster includes nine players from Louisiana: freshman running back Pooka Williams Jr., junior receiver Daylon Charlot, freshman cornerback Corione Harris, junior safety Mike Lee, redshirt freshman receiver Takulve Williams, sophomore safety Ricky Thomas, freshman running back Ryan Malbrough, redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Malik Clark and junior long snapper Logan Klusman.
Most of them relocated to Lawrence because of the connection they felt with KU’s third-year running backs coach, Tony Hull, a New Orleans native with immeasurable recruiting connections down south, in The Pelican State.
Since signing his five-year contract with KU, Miles has appeared open to the idea of retaining members of David Beaty’s current staff.
“When I took the job at both Oklahoma State and at LSU, I kept guys because I wanted to work with them and I wanted to see what their conversation would be about their room, the guys that they coached,” Miles said at his introductory press conference. “I wanted to see how the recruiting end was going.”
Miles plans to sit down and “interview” every current assistant, presumably early next week, after KU finishes its season.
Although Miles told the Journal-World he never directly crossed paths with Hull while at LSU, he definitely heard about the head coach at New Orleans’ Warren Easton High, where Hull’s reputation blossomed.
“I know Tony Hull — not necessarily so much him, but I know guys that know him and I did research on him,” Miles told the Journal-World. “He’s a very quality person.”
Hull, also currently KU’s associate head coach, was the lead recruiter for three of the team’s most heralded signings from the past few years: Williams, Harris and Lee.
According to Miles, he didn’t have any prior relationship with those talented Louisiana prospects when he was at LSU.
“No, I think that they got recruited when I was disposed,” Miles said. “But I can tell you that I watched those guys and they're quality men, and the corner, Corione? Yeah, he's, in my opinion, he's going to grow up to be a really good player.”
During the past several months, Miles repeatedly was spotted at high school games in Louisiana.
And Lee, who remains in touch with those he knows back in his home state, thinks KU’s coaching move created some excitement there, as well.
“Coach Miles, he’s caught a lot of Louisiana guys’ attention. And most of them are going to either commit here or they’ll be thinking about committing here just because Coach Les Miles got the head coaching job,” Lee said, speaking generally on the new KU coach’s name recognition in “The Boot.”
Norman, Okla. — It’s rare to find Kansas safety Mike Lee in a bad mood.
The junior from New Orleans loves to talk, and that makes him all the more affable in a postgame interview setting. Unless you’ve just asked Lee about a specific mistake he made on the field he’ll respond to most inquires with an honest answer and a smile.
Even though the Jayhawks lost at No. 6 Oklahoma, 55-40, Saturday night at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, Lee’s mood perked in the interview area near KU’s locker room because he got to spend a chunk of it discussing the exploits of fellow Louisianan Pooka Williams.
“That guy is tough. I ain’t even gonna lie to you,” Lee said after Williams, KU’s true freshman running back, rushed for 252 yards and two touchdowns, averaged 16.8 yards per carry and even threw a TD pass to Jeremiah Booker.
Naturally, I thought Lee might have an opinion on another prominent man with Louisiana ties. So I asked him what he thought of the growing speculation that Les Miles will become KU’s next head coach.
“I don’t know,” a grinning Lee replied. “I ain’t worried about it. If he come, he come. If he not, he not.”
With contract negotiations between KU and the former LSU head coach reportedly in the final stages as of Friday, speculation only increased Saturday, with the help of Miles’ pal, Tim Brando, who was on the call for FOX’s OU-KU broadcast.
Nothing is official. But it sure seems as if Miles could soon be in charge of KU football. Is that good news?
“We’ll see,” Lee responded, this time laughing.
As much as he wanted to play it off, and surely had been instructed not to talk about the Miles-to-KU smoke, Lee’s face beamed during his answers. Read into his body language what you will.
As for Joe Dineen, KU’s redshirt senior hometown linebacker, who grew up watching winning football in Memorial Stadium, when Mark Mangino ran the program? Even though Dineen won’t ever play for the Jayhawks’ next head coach, you know how this all plays out really means something to him.
What does Dineen make of the Miles rumors and reports?
He all but physically bit his lip.
“Not… Not discussing that right now,” Dineen said, fighting back a smile. “Yeah, refraining from discussing that right now.”
Senior quarterback Peyton Bender took a similar stance when I asked what he thought about all the Miles chatter.
“I’m not really concerned about that right now. Just focused on next week versus Texas and finishing out this season strong,” Bender said in his typically serious interview tone.
I told him it was a well rehearsed answer. The laid back QB flashed a Mike Lee-level grin.
The Jayhawks are doing their best to tune out all the Les Miles buzz. But they’re only human. They know about it. And because they care about the KU football program they’re excited about it, too. Even if they’re not supposed to say so. Yet.