LAWRENCE — The first of two Kansas football seasons to begin this week has kicked off.

“Miles to Go,” a behind-the-scenes series covering head coach Les Miles’ first full year with the Jayhawks, dropped its first four episodes Thursday afternoon on subscription streaming service ESPN+. Documenting the program from former head coach David Beaty’s firing through the final week of the upcoming season — KU plays host to Indiana State in an 11 a.m. Saturday opener at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium — the 18-episode series’ first four offerings cover Miles’ first preseason, with 14 additional episodes set for Thursday releases during the season.

Episode 1 of the series begins with Jeff Long’s firing of Beaty on Nov. 4 and the first-year athletic director’s search for a new head coach. Episode 2 covers Miles mulling the offer with his family, his hiring two weeks after KU's coaching change and the former national championship-winner’s integration into the program. Episode 3 focuses on Miles’ hiring of a staff and that group’s short window to fill out its first recruiting class. Episode 4 covers Miles' first practices, the spring game and the quarterback competition between senior Carter Stanley and junior Thomas MacVittie.

An ESPN representative told The Topeka Capital-Journal in July that KU retains “some editorial control” over the content, and that appeared true in the first four episodes — names of certain agents and coaching candidates discussed by Long and other athletic department personnel are censored; an over-the-top coaching staff celebration of a recruiting get appears choreographed, mirroring another clip shared on signing day when a different player inked with the program; star running back Pooka Williams' arrest for a domestic battery incident and subsequent suspension is not addressed.

Produced by JM Associates and Sports & Story and acquired by ESPN, each episode has an average run time of 20 minutes.

Here are highlights from the first three episodes, in order of their appearance in the season:

 

Timing of Beaty firing ‘very unfortunate’ but necessary

When Long was hired, the former Arkansas athletic director and College Football Playoff committee chairman expressed his belief that coaching changes are best made at the end of a season. That wasn’t the case for Beaty, who was fired after Game 9 of his fourth season but remained at the helm for the final three contests.

On his way to announce the news to KU players the day of Beaty’s firing, Long explained the timing of the decision.

“The challenges in these (meetings) are just making the seniors know that we care about them, we’re sorry that it’s happening during their senior year, but in the best interest of the program, given the rules that are in place about recruiting and such, we’re forced to make decisions earlier, which is really philosophically for me troublesome, because I have had the belief that you don’t make a change like this during a season,” Long said. “The NCAA rules now, the early signing date, forces ADs to do so, which is very unfortunate.”

 

Turnout for ISU tilt sickened Long

Beaty’s final contest before his firing, a 27-3 home defeat to Iowa State on Nov. 3, saw the number of Cyclone fans dwarf the amount of Jayhawk counterparts among the announced 15,543 inside David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. At Long’s news conference announcing the coaching change, the athletic director said of the scene the previous day: “I hope our fans saw that image.”

After pointing out KU’s football operations spending of $17.06 million ranked last in the Big 12 — more than $2 million behind ninth-ranked Oklahoma State, $24 million behind top-ranked Texas and well behind the league average of $25.57 million — Long highlighted two ways to reverse that trend: fundraising and ticket sales.

“Nothing made me sicker than to see our fans outnumbered or even matched, and we’ve got to change that,” Long said. “My commitment, I came here to change that.”

 

Self weighs in on coaching search

Shortly after addressing the media, Long received a visit from men’s basketball coach Bill Self, who said he hoped the AD could move “reasonably quick” on the hire.

“I think the (candidates) that’d be most intriguing would be the ones that ask the hard questions and want to really get within the game plan to understand it, you know, rather than just say, ‘God, I just got to get a job,’ ” Self said.

When Long expressed hope that KU could finish the search in a two-week span to give the incoming coach a month before the mid-December early signing period, Self offered an optimistic response.

“That’s one thing about football: Commitments don’t mean anything,” Self said.

 

Whittling it down

Long, deputy athletics director Chris Freet and senior associate athletics director of football administration Mike Vollmar are the three individuals primarily shown handling KU’s search, with Vollmar producing an early list of supposedly interested coaches provided by eager agents.

Whether it was due to lofty buyouts, doubt about genuine interest or other reasons, Long appeared skeptical about a number of names on the list.

“This one is (interested) because he’s been texting me for three months. ... They’d be thrilled to have him out there,” Long said of one unidentified candidate. “He ain’t leaving there.”

Speaking to a room of Jayhawk supporters at an event early in the coaching search, Long acknowledged obstacles tied to the program’s decade-long funk.

“I’ve had to recruit the coaches to be interested, because ... many of them think it’s a graveyard job, and many of the younger coaches aren’t going to take the chance," Long said.

 

Miles signs on

Long’s coaching search took him across the country — he’s shown conducting an interview near Scottsdale, Ariz.; he’s spotted outside an aircraft hangar in Dayton, Ohio; he speaks of discussions with a coach at the NFL level, perhaps Los Angeles Rams assistant Jedd Fisch.

From Day 1, however, Miles was widely viewed frontrunner for the opening. His connection with Long dates back to their time together on the Michigan coaching staff in the 1980s, and Miles was reportedly looking to get back into the sport after a two-year hiatus following his firing at LSU.

After a 90-minute meeting with Miles’ agent, George Bass, in Texas, Long implied an offer was on the table, but he expressed concern about one remaining issue — a buyout being negotiated with LSU, which still owed Miles payments totaling $6.5 million through 2023.

“I said (to Bass), ‘Look: I’m giving you some time to get this handled, but I want you to know I can’t be held hostage by it,’ ” Long said. "... It’s agents doing their job for their clients, I get it, but it can be quite frustrating.”

Miles and KU cleared that hurdle — the former coach agreed to a $1.5 million lump-sum payment with LSU, leaving $5 million on the table — and, after sorting through a Baton Rouge, La., condo packed with old game plans, time charts, memorabilia and at least one “confidential” movie script, the path for Miles’ introduction on Nov. 18 was cleared.

If a meeting between Miles and Long took place prior to that date, it wasn’t shown in the series, though the two appeared to seal the deal with a phone conversation that was recorded from Miles' end.

“Hey Long: I’m comin’,” Miles said. “And you know what? I have always wanted to work with you.”

 

Recruiting roadblocks

Miles got right to work — on his first night on campus, he encouraged Long to push for an NCAA rule change that would create a two-year rolling allowance of 50 total incoming scholarship players, which would help KU dig out of a less-than-ideal situation he inherited. Reliance on junior college-level players reportedly left Miles with less than 20 scholarships on hand for his first class, he's said, with the Jayhawks well below total limit of 85.

One conversation with director of recruiting operations Tyler Olker painted a bleak picture. After Miles asked if there was a “troop of people” to help with recruiting, Olker said the operation was basically himself, one student worker and a front desk staff.

“Oh my God. We’re fixing to have official visits and the student workers don’t know what to do,” responded Miles, who then gave Olker a pat on the back. “I mean, I know. I know you know.”

Olker appeared to understand Miles’ approach.

“He does know what he’s talking about,” Olker said. “He’s very old school, so he’s kind of stuck in the ways that he wants to do things, and if that’s the right way to do it, then let’s do it.”

 

‘Honest to flippin’ Christ, it is absolutely beautiful’

Despite the recruiting challenges covered in the third episode, it became clear Miles felt the Jayhawks have at least one advantage in that realm: Lawrence itself.

“It really is beautiful. I mean, honest to flippin’ Christ, it is absolutely beautiful,” Miles said in a conversation with a former assistant coach. “The recruiting has never been done like we’ve done it in the SEC. And the facilities, they’re ready to invest in the facilities.”

 

'I love that sound in the morning'

KU fans get their first glimpse of a fiery Miles in Episode 4, which begins with a window into the first spring practices.

Miles shouts at players for not finishing strong on a drill. He chides coaches for not instructing to his liking. He laments (in colorful language) a whistle he feels is too high-pitched.

When he spots a player hunched over a trash can, though, Miles takes a softer approach.

"You gotta get to bed earlier. You gotta go to bed earlier, and you gotta eat something you enjoy, not something you don't enjoy. You got it?" said Miles, patting the player on the shoulder.

Upon walking away, Miles exclaims: "I love that sound in the morning."