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It's time for action to match optimism for Kansas football and head coach Les Miles

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Kansas wide receiver Steven McBride (19) is tackled by a group of Kansas State defenders during the second half of an NCAA football game Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Manhattan, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Kansas wide receiver Steven McBride (19) is tackled by a group of Kansas State defenders during the second half of an NCAA football game Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Manhattan, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) by Matt Tait

The old saying surrounding Kansas football and the coach who is in charge went something like this: Find a way to win five or six games a year and they’ll build a statue for you.

This, of course, was what people said long before the decade of despair that has tested the patience of even the most loyal Kansas football fans and brought the program to near-historic lows.

Today, after KU’s latest lopsided loss to Sunflower State rival Kansas State, the saying should probably be amended: Just put a competitive and respectable product on the field and they’ll keep you around.

That’s where we’re at these days.

And second-year head coach Les Miles continues to believe that’s what the future holds for him and the Jayhawks.

“This team is going to be a good football team,” Miles said after a 55-14 loss to K-State in Manhattan on Saturday afternoon. “... This is going to make them work harder.”

Therein lies the problem, though. The issues facing this Kansas team through its 0-5 start have nothing to do with how hard the Jayhawks work.

It’s all about execution. And on Saturday, KU’s inability to execute — from the sideline to the playing field — not only hurt the Jayhawks but also helped the Wildcats.

That’s something that cannot happen for a program in KU’s position. It’s one thing to lose a game to a top-20 team. There’s no shame in that. It’s another to help them blow you out.

All of the optimism in the world isn’t going to correct that. But, right now, that appears to be all Miles and the Jayhawks have. Optimism that better days are ahead. Hope for the future. The belief that all of these young guys playing today are going to be better for it years down the road.

Time will tell if that proves true. It certainly might. But just saying it over and over doesn’t will it into existence.

At some point, if you want the fans and the community to remain supportive and buy into to your vision, there has to be something they can get behind.

Whether that’s production on the field, decent numbers on the scoreboard or the head coach standing up and saying “This ain’t good enough,” you have to give them something.

No one’s asking for Miles to flip over a table or break a white board with his fist. But something other than the same old song and dance that this is a good football team and it’s going to be even better in the very near future needs to surface.

Miles saying he's had enough is a start. Putting starters on special teams is another tangible act. Even communicating a clear and detailed plan for improvement, though still just words, qualifies as action considering the current state of the program.

Don’t get me wrong, there were a couple of good moments on Saturday. There always are.

17-year-old freshman Jalon Daniels getting the start at quarterback and playing the full game — therein getting another opportunity to learn and lead — was a terrific sight.

Daniels really has a chance to be this team’s QB of the future, and there’s a lot to like about his game. Beyond his physical skills, Daniels has what it takes, mentally, to keep grinding through the kind of adversity he has faced and will continue to face the rest of this season.

In addition, several other young players on both sides of the ball played a significant number of snaps along with him.

And the coaching staff, perhaps prodded by injuries at the punter position, showed early in the game its willingness to set the tone with the aggressive mindset of going for it on fourth down a couple of times.

Those are all good things that can help lay the foundation for the future.

In many ways, KU may actually have had more individual talent than its opponent on Saturday. But the Wildcats have a clear and established culture. It was born under Bill Snyder, and current coach Chris Klieman has done well to maintain it while bringing his own flare to it.

Kansas doesn’t have that and may not for a long time.

More important than choosing who to start at QB or deciding what to do on fourth-and-one, building that is the biggest challenge of Miles’ job from here on out. And it will take more than optimism to construct.

We’ll see if he can do it.

Comments

Dane Pratt 1 month ago

If Les was 57 instead of 67 I would not be too concerned. No one can be certain if he will be able to turn this program around but compare his resume at the P5 level against Gill, Weis and Beaty and we have reason to be (cautiously) optimistic. If he can’t get it done, we have to look at the culture of the program and ask ourselves why we are unable to succeed when other programs with no greater resources than ours are able to.

Dale Rogers 1 month ago

Nick Saban is two years older than Les Miles. Yes, I know Saban is not rebuilding a team. Bill Snyder coached until, what, late 70's? . So long as Miles' health is good and he is in full control of his mental and physical faculties I'm not worried about his age. Maybe that's because I am coming up on 74 and am still very active, especially pickleball. Shoot, one of the two primary Presidential candidates will be 78 next month and the other is 74.

Chris Bailey 1 month ago

Dale,

I agree. Six-five isn't what it was 50 years ago. Heck a lot great coaches coach well into their 70's. Les looks pretty damn good for 66. He still wants to coach and that's the biggest thing. A guy like him sitting around in retirement isn't what he wants to do. He thrives on the competition. I fully agree he could easily coach 10 more years if he chooses to!

Dale Rogers 1 month ago

I can't help but think the experience all these young guys are getting is a good thing for the future of this team. I also think that if our o-line could provide more time for the QB we'd see a lot better offensive results, too. Yes, there were numerous mistakes and the special teams' mistakes really stood out negatively. Fortunately, those making the staffing decisions understand this rebuild is not a short term proposition. It would be nice to see a win or two and more competitiveness but that's coming. It's really difficult to fully assess this thing given the oddity of the year, the impact of covid-19, etc. But I really do think we will benefit in the future from the experience our young guys are getting right now.

Len Shaffer 1 month ago

It's funny because in general I tend to be a pessimist, yet somehow I manage to convince myself each week that it will be fun and exciting to tune in to a KU football game. Never underestimate the power of denial. I guess one thing can be said for those of us who continue to watch: no one can ever accuse us of being fair-weather fans.

Two coaching decisions today absolutely baffled me. One was when KSU had a fourth down at the 33-yard line and was punting, and they intentionally took a delay of game. Why on earth didn't KU decline the penalty???

The other one was that after giving up a punt return for a touchdown and another one of over 40 yards, we still punted directly to Brooks! (I'm not as concerned about the last punt because I think he was trying to kick that one out of bounds.) Given that we were using a third-string punter and that our coverage has been terrible all year, why on earth would we kick directly to a guy that had already torched us twice???

Robert Brock 1 month ago

KU football ain’t got no culture!

Randy Bombardier 1 month ago

I used to think I had some answers or at least good suggestions but I'm all out. Maybe this last one, a hail Mary so to speak. How about prayer meetings before and after every game. At least then, KU Football will have a prayer.

Charlie Gaughn 1 month ago

The special teams errors definitely point to coaching. Then I have to remember that we had no spring practice, shortened preseason fall drills, and two less non-conference games that would've added much needed experience and possibly confidence. In my opinion, given where our program was at in comparison to other Big 12 schools prior to Covid-19, the coaching staff gets a free pass this year. Miles is doing it the right way by not succumbing to the "quick fix" mentality we've had for over a decade. As Mangino said, "keep choppin wood".

Doug Cramer 1 month ago

Two weeks before the season began, it was clear that this team and its leader were more focused on complaining about political issues than succeeding in football.

I can’t get behind Les, and we all know he’s not turning this ship around.

Go hire the Coastal Carolina coach and be done with it.

Layne Pierce 1 month ago

Ok for starters you have to crawl before you walk, let alone run.

Meaning we need to be more field disciplined. Being beat is one thing, beating yourself is another

Right now we dont just crawl we scoop dirt into our mouth.

No doubt we are improving talent, but talent alone doesn't cut it.

Coach Miles needs one asst who is a fire breathing hound from hell.

We need to get ready for next year already. Sorry seniors but half your reps are going to underclassmen.

The writing is on the wall, all we have left is developing players, discovering who can and desires to play.

Also run the clock down on plays, atleast shorten the game for our defense. Rcjh

Chris Bailey 1 month ago

Matt,

So wait a minute. You've spoon fed us crap for last decade about how great this team or that team was gonna be under Gill, Weis and Beaty. Now after 4 games in season two you're already throwing a coach under the bus who clearly is building his program with high school talent? We're still not up to full scholarships. I can't even believe I'm reading this crap with the $7it you have slung our way the last 10 years. If we make another coaching change we may as well just move to Big East and quit playing football because we're never gonna get anyone to commit to coach here that's worth a damn. Miles hasn't had any time to build his team. We gave Beaty 4 years for crying out loud! I really am just baffled by this article. This may be the worst one not written when it should've been written for the demise of some of the previous coaches. From the predicta-win to bowl projections under these previous coaching staffs you missed the mark so far your credibility in evaluating coaching and player talent is out the window as anything in the realm of reliable. I'm sorry but we gotta give Miles time and he needs 4 years to see what he can do to change the culture. Hell if we simply had an offensive line we improve dramatically in wins and overall talent.

Andy Tweedy 1 month ago

Didn't we spend the last few years saying this is exactly what was going to happen, because the last staff wasn't recruiting and developing HS kids? Are we supposed to be shocked that we suck?

Chris Bailey 1 month ago

Exactly. Stack it with Juco kids and the cupboard will be bare. Well here we are and now we have mass hysteria. Come on Tait, calm you arse down!

Matt Tait 1 month ago

Nobody's saying fire the coach or go get a bunch of juco kids. There's a lot to like about what Les is doing and there's a lot to not like, too. If it were more good than bad, then the record wouldn't be what it is and Saturdays wouldn't look like they look.

I predicted 1-9. Anyone paying close attention knew that this was going to be a rough season and that they were going to regress from last year's 3-9 record before they took another step forward.

That said, I think it's OK to expect (even in a down year) for the head coach — especially one as accomplished as Miles — to put a disciplined product on the field and for that coach to be able to have open and honest discussions about the team's issues instead of just continually saying "I like our guys" or "We're going to be a good football team" or "We are a good football team" or whatever other overly optimistic lines you can think of.

It doesn't matter to me what he says. My job's the same win or lose, good or bad, fluff or gruff. But it matters to the fans. And if a coach and program want their buy-in (which you need at Kansas), I think they should do better to answer the questions about obvious issues — and find ways to address them — instead of talking around them.

Just my two cents. Obviously they already have your buy-in and several others like you. I admire that. I can't imagine how miserable it must be to be a fan of this program right now. But you're right that you've got to give it time. And if you're willing to stay positive and stick with them during that time, then more power to you. I just happen to think that even while giving it time, it's OK to expect a lot better than what they've given this season.

Sorry for the novel. And thanks for reading the site and offering your thoughts and opinions. We greatly appreciate the interaction and feedback.

Take care!

Chris Bailey 1 month ago

Ok. Well why did this sound so much better than your article? Hell your article sounded to me like you were ready to fire Miles and start the coaching search once again. Of course we can be critical and expect improvement. Our Oline is horrible and I'm really wondering where the hell we keep coming up with these bums? We had better lines in years past even with worse records. Nebraska can do it and a lot of their big boys come from their state. Why the hell can't we do it? It's pathetic. But yeah as you explained it this way it doesn't sound like the world is ending in Lawrence. Sorry for getting on you but when I read something like this it baffles me. I'm glad you explained it. Thanks man! Appreciate you taking the time! And sorry I get worked up but I can admit that and hopefully you have thick skin as a sports writer. Take care man!

Matt Tait 1 month ago

All good, Chris. Wouldn't still be doing this if I didn't have thick skin! I know the "Fire Miles" sentiment is out there and I can't blame people for being severely disappointed in how this thing has gone thus far. That said, I don't think KU should or can fire him. I just think it's time for him and others to recognize that talk is cheap and that people want to see the team improving not just hear that it's going to. Time will tell how this thing plays out. And I think he'll get the time. We will see.

Brian Wilson 1 month ago

I didn't. We started with 28 scholarship second stringers and 60 walk-ons hen Beaty got hired. So now that Miles is here were are really in year two with Miles' players. Miles needs 2 if not 3 more years. We need to let this team alone until we have graduating Seniors that have been in the same system for 4 years and had time to mentor the players behind them. Once you have players learning from the mistakes and the successes of others ahead of you, you can turn the corner.

Dirk Medema 1 month ago

Are we really that young?

Obviously, there are a few young players, but are we really, objectively younger than other teams? There must be a site someplace that has the average age/experience/class of each teams’ two deep.

Matt Tait 1 month ago

We'll look into it a little more, but I know in Week 2 or 3, they had 17 freshmen or redshirt freshmen on the 2-deep depth chart. That's 17 of 44 players, nearly 40%. That's obviously a lot.

Bville Hawk 1 month ago

Rugby style punts. Can we not kick that way?

Dane Pratt 1 month ago

It’s good that the head coach stands by his team so I don’t really care what Les Miles says after a loss but after 5 weeks of play, this team is still not prepared to play anything resembling competitive football. And I do not buy the argument that the lopsided losses are due to a talent discrepancy. Les Miles is in his 18th season as head coach and the roster he walked into was better than what his predecessor inherited.

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