Les Miles smiled as if he figured the question was coming.
It was mid-afternoon at Big 12 media days, and the new Kansas coach — the one with a fresh five-year contract — was being asked about his age during a side session with reporters.
“To think I’m 65 is really not necessarily how I see it, you know?” Miles said from his seat at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium. “I’m having fun, and that to me is hard work ... and an opportunity to go win ballgames, which I look forward to.”
There was a valid reason these types of inquiries resurfaced Monday.
Miles, during an earlier appearance at the podium in front of cameras, wasn’t always smooth with his delivery. When talking about running back Pooka Williams’ suspension, the coach had a few awkward pauses while looking down to prepared notes, stopping often while appearing to lose his place more than once.
Combine that sequence with an uncomfortable moment from his introductory press conference when he struggled to find the correct words, and Miles had now had rough stretches in both of his biggest media appearances to date.
He was asked Monday about those who might wonder if he’s still as sharp as he once was.
“I can only tell you that my focus is clean, my preparation is early to late,” Miles said. “I think this Kansas team will be difficult to reckon with should we stay on path.
It’s worth noting that public speaking skills don’t win football games. KU fans will be plenty happy if Miles loses press conferences but gets actual victories — especially for a program that has failed to top three wins in any season this decade.
Miles, for what it’s worth, also appeared more comfortable in front of a smaller group of reporters during a 90-minute breakout session.
The reality remains, though, that every other Big 12 coach is younger than Miles — a fact that he embraces.
“If it’s not the oldest coach, then what is the alternative?” Miles said with a laugh. “I think I’ll take being the oldest coach.”
Miles then talked candidly: He needed this. Being out of football for two years actually ended up worse for his personal life, as his coaching instincts led him to some annoying habits, like helicopter-parenting his then-16-year-old daughter Macy.
“The truth of the matter is, I was not closer to my family,” Miles said. “In fact, if anything, my wife wanted me to get a job.”
Miles said his wife, Kathy, finally told him one day she could handle those duties around the house without him helping. Translation: If you go get yourself a football job, the entire family will be better for it.
So Miles did, finally believing he found the best opportunity with longtime friend and current KU athletic director Jeff Long.
“I think it’s a place where it’s a great school,” Miles said of KU. “I think it’s a fan base that wants you to have success as the football coach.”
Miles believes the best way to build is to replicate some big-picture philosophies that worked for him previously at Oklahoma State and LSU. One top priority is working to change the team’s culture, while also getting to a point where he doesn’t have to coach energy and effort from his players.
He also remains focused on the goal of improving the program just a little bit every day.
“The only way to ensure that is to make sure that your game plans and all the meticulous work is done,” Miles said. “When that’s done, smile and enjoy your time, because you’re just prepared to play.”
That pregame rush of leading a team onto the sideline is part of what led Miles back to college football. It’s also why, when asked how long he’d like to continue coaching, Miles said he could envision a scenario where he remained at KU well into his 70s.
“I could see a comfortable five-year stint,” Miles said, “but if you get it going, at some point in time, you’d like to think you’d stay.”
There’s a long way to go before then. Miles’ opener against Indiana State comes late next month, then 11 games after that will help to shape the narrative regarding his return to coaching.
Miles is optimistic this team is better than what outsiders think — and the next four months will show if he’s right.
“I see us being talented,” Miles said. “We’ll have to see how talented other clubs are.”