KU football's 1-1 start not in sync with high bar of hope, expectations


Kansas head coach Les Miles talks to his team during a timeout against Coastal Carolina Saturday night at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium on Sept. 7, 2019.

Kansas head coach Les Miles talks to his team during a timeout against Coastal Carolina Saturday night at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium on Sept. 7, 2019. by Mike Gunnoe

Kansas football head coach Les Miles said all the right things after Saturday’s disheartening, haven’t-we-seen-this-before 12-7 home loss to Coastal Carolina.

From calling the setback painful to making it clear he was “unhappy” and even explaining that the rough result was an obvious sign that he and his program still had serious work to do, everything Miles said was both right and reasonable.

That is, for a coach who had not set the bar too high before he said it.

I sympathize with Miles and the position in which he finds himself. This job isn’t easy. And history has shown that most coaches don’t realize that until they get here and are in the teeth of the beast.

That’s why Miles should have, and easily could have, set the bar much, much lower than he did from the outset instead of letting words like “great” pass his lips far too often.

By lower, we’re talking about the kind of bar that would make the high jump in the Ant Olympics a compelling event.

Here’s how simple it could have been: From that mid-November day when he was introduced as the replacement to David Beaty, through two signing days, spring football in March and April and preseason camp in August, Miles could have uttered the following words and gotten away with it.

“This isn’t a very good football team and we have a lot of work to do. My hope is that we can find a way to improve each day and continue to get a little bit better to the point where we’re competitive more often than not. If we can do that in Year 1, win or lose, we’ll consider it a step in the right direction.”

That approach might not have sold a ton of tickets, but winning does that.

In fact, Miles could’ve said that and only that — or some variation thereof — for the past 10 months and nobody would have blamed him. Would it have been a bore? You bet. But Bill Snyder was always pretty boring over in Manhattan and that never hurt his team’s ability to play football.

The fact that Miles did not do that, and instead talked up how talented his team was and how strong specific position groups looked, is more a product of circumstance than naiveté.

Remember, this was a guy who watched football on television for the past two seasons after being fired by the school where he won a national championship.

Getting back in the game was no small moment in his life and his excitement, enthusiasm and overall joy about being back in charge of a college football team again — hearing it, seeing it, smelling it, tasting it — may have been so great that he lost sight of the reality of the situation.

Why fan the flames of expectation when nobody’s demanding that you do it?

Miles’ brand and the promise of a new direction for the long-suffering KU football program likely would have been enough to reclaim at least a good chunk of the fan interest needed to rebuild things.

I’m not saying Miles should not openly like and praise his players. That’s a great trait for a head coach to have. And I’ve now talked to a dozen or so Jayhawks who absolutely love the way he treats them, coaches them, cares about them and seems to do all of it with a genuine touch. That, too, is a necessary part of a rebuild and can do wonders in the big picture.

But in the here and now, Miles could have done most of that behind closed doors while doing his part to keep expectations in check when the cameras were rolling.

After a 1-1 start that was four minutes away from being 0-2, no one’s expecting much now. And you can’t help but wonder how many people will be around to watch the rest of the season unfold.

Kansas is an 18.5-point underdog at Boston College this week and will see betting lines in that neighborhood or higher most of the rest of the way. It seems like the only place to go is up. But it has seemed like that around here before and, well, you know the rest.

Miles and the Jayhawks still have 10 weeks of football left and should be judged on the total body of work of the season, not just the troubling start.

But the biggest question left now is not how many wins the Jayhawks will end up with this season, but where that bar will rest when the final horn sounds.


Dane Pratt 3 years ago

I don't know if he oversold the program but I would have said something like, we have more work to do than any team in our conference. He needs to instill faith and confidence in his players for a team that probably doesn't have much.

From this point on I will be less concerned with the outcome and more concerned with the effort and execution. I was hoping for four wins but my faith and confidence has been shattered. We are after all as you say four minutes from being 0-2.

Kevin Millikan 3 years ago

He has to keep his players convinced! We all have to remember what he was left with, this will be a better conversation in two years.

Phil Leister 3 years ago

It's not so much the fact that we're 1-1 that is so disheartening, but rather the way we lost the game. The back-to-back timeouts were so inept you could have sworn David Beaty was still on the sidelines. And I'm afraid if our solution to picking up a single yard on a 4th and 1 is to call a double reverse, we're screwed when we're playing a team who's actually talented.

Dale Rogers 3 years ago

I have no doubt Les Miles recognizes talent when he sees it. And I think he truly believes there is talent on this team. His mistake was saying that out loud too much. I think what he sees now is that a whole lot more teaching and coaching is needed to make that talent work well and together on the field. Unfortunately, the only way to truly learn that is to wait until your team plays someone besides their own teammates. Now he knows what needs to be done. I think now we need to see just how long it will take to make this team competitive on the field.

It was not very long ago many of us were saying we'd be happy with 3 wins, maybe even 2, if the team was showing competitiveness and obvious improvement in season one. I'm still at that point. I liked what I saw on the final drive of the first game. I didn't like much what I saw in the CC game. They showed they can do it, now it's a matter of getting that better team showing up all the time. And that's coaching. I think we have the right people in place and look to see improvement in each remaining game. I'm not looking for miracles, just continuing improvement.

Charlie Gaughn 3 years ago

This was, to me, the most deflating loss since the opener against Wichita State (yes they still played football then) in 1982. That team was coming off a bowl appearance, had a good number of players returning, and looked poised to be very competitive in the Big 8. Instead they ended the season with a 2-7-2 record which resulted in the second firing of Don Fambrough.

No I wasn't expecting a Big 12 competitor or even a sniff at a bowl game this year. But this game really was a dog. I've been a Carter Stanley supporter since he was a freshman. I never thought he got a fair chance under Beaty. But after seeing two games I'm not sure there's any reason to stay the path. He's a fifth year senior so there's no building around him. He seems to have lost what mobility he had as a freshman. And, even with pathetic offensive line play, his performance has been nowhere near what it needs to be to lead the team to 3 or 4 wins.

If Stanley's performance was good enough to displace Thomas MacVittie as the starter that doesn't bode well either. So that begs the question: What's happened to Miles Kendrick? Before his injury last year he showed very good mobility and at least as good of an arm as we've seen so far this season. He's a red shirt sophomore so there is definitely time to build on his abilities while we're waiting for the next big deal. After seeing CC pick our defense apart with the triple option it kinda makes you wonder if Kendrick at QB, with our running backs, and an O-Line that obviously can't pass block, if that wouldn't be a much better suited offense.

Len Shaffer 3 years ago

Very well said, Charlie, I completely agree.

And sadly, I remember that game against WSU only too well.

Dale Rogers 3 years ago

Here are some excerpts from an article at another site. The url is at the bottom for those who would like to read the entire article. This is a bit eye-opening...

Rebuilding a program is almost never successful in year one. Here are year one results for a few coaches who have successfully rebuilt a struggling program:

Bill Snyder, K-State 1991: 1-10

Mark Mangino, Kansas 2002: 2-10

Mike Leach, Washington State 2012: 3-9

Matt Campbell, Iowa State 2016: 3-9

Les Miles, Oklahoma State 2001: 4-8

Sometimes it takes two years, sometimes it takes five; the point is, rebuilding a program like Kansas is really hard and takes a lot of patience from fans.

Fans of the Kansas football program are all tired of hearing this, but they have to give their head coach time to prove his worth. It’s become a trite request by now, but unlike the Kansas coaches before him, Les Miles has successfully done this before. Trust him.

Matt Tait 3 years ago

Solid perspective. And I whole-heartedly agree with all of that.

That's just another reason why I found his high praise so unnecessary. Again, I'm all for believing in your team, your players and your process (which Miles no doubt still does), but why talk things up publicly if you don't have to? All you're doing then is just putting your neck on the line if things don't pan out. And that makes it harder on the fans to be patient.

Phil Leister 3 years ago

Matt, I'll admit I don't follow the football program super closely. Aside from being positive and upbeat about the season, did Miles offer a win prediction? What specifically did he say that would lead fans to believe he'd win more than a game or two in year 1?

Layne Pierce 3 years ago

Well that does it, there goes our undefeated season. Hey sportsfans, this is a rebuilding project, hence we play right into defeatism when we simply worry too much about a game. I do appreciate the criticism of the 4th down play, and yes that did look like Beatty at the helm, but still I beseech you all, keep your eyes on the overall progress of the team.

In reality you could say game one was just as much of a disappointment as game 2, we did not blow Indiana St away, we were playing at home against an FBS opponent. Bottom line we are not where ready for prime time. Unless the team really over performs, that will be all too apparent against Boston College.

Skill players we actually have some, but our offensive line has got to find something they can run successfully, put in some traps, something.


Joe Ross 3 years ago

Think seriously about the following question: "What did Mangino do that none of his successors have done?"

I didn't know what kind of personality Miles would have on the field prior to his arrival. I'd seen him in pressers and what not, but how a coach speaks in front of a microphone is not necessarily how they speak on the practice field.

The un-Holy Trinity of Gill, Weis and Beaty all seemed a bit velvety for my taste.

You'd find no such soft center inside of Mark Mangino, despite His Immeasurableness' enormity. His muscle was not in his habitus, but in his demeanor. He had an edge that some disliked, and they sought to remove him; only when they achieved that cottony feel from other coaches, they noticed the performance to be too fleecy for practicality.

Take home message/bottom line: you have to yell at these boys until they become men. Make practice sheer hell. American football is as much as warring sport as you're going to see, and you can't approach it with soft sentiments and niceties.

Turn up the volume and get after it. Like Strahm. Frank Martin. Gene Keady. Like Lombardi. Yes, like Bobby Knight.

Or maybe even like Coach Self.

Add some fire to the fuel, and get this thing movin'...

Layne Pierce 3 years ago

I agree Joe, but at the end that fire got the best of Mangino. I think some fire is necessary though as you say, and I also think discipline, which means you perform or we find someone who can. I don't mean no one ever screws up, because they do, but still players have to know that there will be consequences for deliberate or repeated failure.

I love the phrase "too velvety" , and I would say amen to that.


Robert Brock 3 years ago

There are not many Big 12 caliber football players on the KU squad. Keep working. Keep recruiting. Have some patience.

Darin Bradley 3 years ago

Not sure Miles has to own all this... there were campaigns in flight prior to his arrival. #BreakTheCycle. In many ways the bar had been set. New stadium. New fan experience. All discussed prior to Miles. Did he feed the beast? Yep! But there's an under current brewing after this one loss that needs tempered IMO. These dudes aren't used to winning. Plain and simple. It'll take time... Rock Chalk!

Joe Baker 3 years ago

Let's not question Miles at this point. He has a 5 year deal. Worse case we renew for 2.5 yrs. He needs time. We'll not find a coach of his caliber. It's not Miles, its subpar recruits. We've got to find a solid QB. I was hoping the kid from Louisiana would've stayed committed. But I watched QB1: Beyond the Lights and frankly, his mother was a little eccentric. He then committed to Maryland of all places. His momma wanted to keep him close to home, but then he commits to Maryland and the ACC. He didn't want a solid football conference.

2-3 star recruits will not cut it at all in the B12. UGH

Its bad enough losing to B12 teams we are expected to lose against, but Coastal Carolina? I see loses against, OU, OSU, UT, TT, and possibly BU...WVU went down hard Saturday. ISU is going to be tough. KSU will always play KU tough. I didn't see TCU this past weekend.

Here's to "high hopes and expectations". The B12 is not a soft football conference. But it's embarrassing when KU can't take care of these lesser teams.

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