Les Miles has set the bar for his first season as Kansas football head coach, and his bullish aspirations for the floundering program may come as a bit of a surprise.
“I think it’s a challenge, but I think it’s something we can do,” Miles said on the season finale of his “Les Is More” podcast, released Monday. “I think we will win in the first year.”
Miles, 65, signed a five-year contract on Nov. 16, ending the national championship-winning coach's two-year hiatus from the sideline. The agreement, which calls for an annual salary of $2.775 million, made the former LSU coach the latest attempted fixer for the Jayhawks, who have gone 18-97 and fired four head coaches since Oct. 17, 2009.
KU finished 3-9 this season, the final under fourth-year coach David Beaty, and will lose senior standouts Joe Dineen, Daniel Wise and Steven Sims, among others. Still, Miles cited a number of factors for his high expectations in Year 1, including expected strides in recruiting, his belief that the program isn’t as far from competing as it may seem to outsiders and his experience authoring another turnaround during a four-year stint at Oklahoma State (2001-04).
“I want you to know, in our first year at Oklahoma State, we beat (Oklahoma),” said Miles, referring to a 16-13 upset victory over the then-No. 4 Sooners on Nov. 24, 2001. “... It really started the run at Oklahoma State. That was in our first year. We would like to have that kind of success in our first year at Kansas.”
Miles went 2-2 against OU, securing two rare victories for a Cowboy program that has gone 18-88-7 all-time against its Bedlam Series rival. KU has lost 10 straight contests to Sunflower Showdown nemesis Kansas State, a key component to the Jayhawks’ 10 consecutive losing seasons.
While K-State wasn’t mentioned by name on Miles’ podcast, the coach did again hint at defeating the Wildcats, only this time on the recruiting trail, where he indicated in-state prospects will be coveted.
“I really think (success) has to come with recruiting,” Miles said. “I think I have to get a staff in position to get on the road and recruit. But I think there’s talent right outside our door and we have to get there, make our case and say, hey, do you want to do something special? Do you want to play for your home town? Do you want to play for that state you were raised in? Do you want to make it easy for your friends and family to see you play?”
Miles said he isn’t yet allowed on the road to recruit as of last Wednesday, but he has been reaching out to potential targets via phone calls and texts with a simple message — “Hey, I’d love to chat." KU currently has just one oral commitment ahead of December's all-important early signing period.
KU already has at its disposal an under-construction indoor practice facility that should be completed in the coming months, a weight room with “all the bells and whistles,” and a coliseum-like stadium that’s always garnered Miles’ respect, he said. At some point in the future, Miles expects athletic director Jeff Long to make tweaks that will make the program’s facilities “just really perfect.”
Transforming the culture at KU will begin with a simple stressing of the importance of winning every drill, every snap, every rep in the weight room — “Somebody has to finish second, and you don’t like finishing second,” Miles said. Next year’s seniors will have a chance to give Miles their input on where the program stands, what’s working and what needs to improve.
He’ll know those answers soon enough, but even without a full lay of the land, Miles is confident in his belief the Jayhawks not just can but will win immediately.
“One thing about it, if you put it together, you know,” Miles said, “and there’s a confidence that’s gained by the guys playing on your team when you look like a team, play like a team and you start having some spring practices that say, hmm, this team may be good enough.”
Miles wasn’t alone on the podcast, of course, joined by co-host and daughter Kathryn “Smacker” Miles, who gave insight on what the move meant not only for her father but for the entire Miles family.
“The last few years have been just very different for us. We’ve had some of the best times of our lives and I would say we’ve had some of the most trying times of our lives, honestly,” she said. “I think this will be back to a little bit of normalcy for our family, but I’m still so grateful for the perspective that we all gained in this time and the amount of time we got to spend together in this time.”
Signing off, Les Miles looked forward to the road ahead. While his “we will win” declaration appears lofty for a program like KU, he appears to understand the task won’t be easy.
In fact, he may just be excited by that reality.
“I’m humbled,” he said. “I’m fortunate to have a quality family and health and the opportunity at a new challenge.”