With the news that Les Miles and Kansas have parted ways, another Power Five coaching job is surprisingly open. But this one won’t have the fevered following of the searches at Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina or others.
Despite these alleged incidents happening during his tenure at LSU from 2005-16 and not in Lawrence, Miles still had to go. And Kansas is left searching once again for someone to reclaim that Mark Mangino Orange Bowl magic from 2008.
Kansas athletic director Jeff Long initially released a statement indicating that the school would “review” the findings on Miles, and said that officials would not speculate on a timeline for a decision. That took all of two days. Had the famous grass eater been able to turn around a historically inept Jayhawk football team and make it competitive during his two seasons at the helm, this might be a different conversation.
After going 3-18 and a paltry 1-16 in Big 12 play, this gave Long a loophole to get to out of Miles’ more than $8 million buyout and start the program fresh yet again.
Record-wise, there’s nowhere to go but up for Kansas. After last season’s 0-9 finish – a season in which the Jayhawks only finished the game within two touchdowns of their opponent once – there’s obviously a lot of room for improvement. But one thing that Miles was able to do was recruit better than his predecessor, David Beatty. In his two full recruiting classes (2020 and 2021), KU finished in the top 50 in the country, a vast improvement over the previous regime, and there is absolutely some talent on the roster.
The Jayhawks added a big-time talent in Quaydarius Davis in the 2021 class – the highest-ranked player to sign with the Jayhawks in the history of the program. But obviously things will be in the air when it comes to the 2021 signees now. The 2021 class is the top-ranked class (42nd) to ever sign with the program but now we have to wonder if players will be let out of their NILs and how this will all shake out.
Whomever takes over will definitely have some talent — but also a huge uphill climb from the dregs of the Big 12.
What Happens to Les?
Miles is done as a college coach, at least at the FBS level. At 67 years old, he was already pushing the end on his time in the sport, and with these allegations, he’s going to be too much of a lightning rod for any school, even at the coordinator position.
He finishes his career with a 145-73 record at Oklahoma State, LSU and Kansas, having won the 2007 national championship to go along with an additional SEC title in 2011. However, Miles’ legacy is now forever tainted, and there’s nothing that he can do about that.
Where does Kansas go from here?
Kansas is probably looking at more time in the cellar of the Big 12, but, let’s face it, that was going to happen with or without Miles running the show. Long’s job is also in jeopardy as the man who hired Miles. It’s already been turned over to an “outside firm” to begin the search, which means Kansas likely doesn’t want him taking the lead here.
After joining the school in 2018, Miles was Long’s first big hire, and undoubtedly questions will begin to arise about the vetting process that Long used in the first place when he made that decision. There will be a great deal of scrutiny that comes with this process, and the fact that it will be taking place after all of the Power Five seats have been filled during the past few months makes in even harder. New offensive coordinator Mike DeBord has become in interim head coach, as he has experience running a team having been the head coach of Central Michigan from 2000-2003.
Moving down the road, Kansas needs to get someone even more active on the recruiting trail than Miles. Kansas is one of the toughest Power Five jobs in the country given the combination of lack of historical success, limited in-state talent and not even being the marquee sport at their own school. Does KU follow the lead of its in-state rivals and look to the FCS level for their next head coach? Having most of the FCS playing right now would preclude any coaches at that level from jumping ship until after the season is over. What about a Group of Five head coach or Power Five Coordinator?
One name to keep an eye on would be Will Healy, the Charlotte coach was getting a fair bit of buzz this offseason, and was able to turn around Austin Peay, one of the most historically inept FCS programs.
Atop my list would be Buffalo coach Lance Leipold, Willie Fritz at Tulane and some internal candidates including DeBord. But whomever gets the job is going to need to be ready to put up with some losing seasons from the start and needs the patience and backing of the administration.
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