University of Kansas

Les Miles is already piling up the shenanigans at KU. Will wins come next?

The Kansas football meeting room began to go quiet.

It was a gathering in early August, and new KU coach Les Miles had just entered, meaning the music blaring from the speakers was quickly shut off.

The 65-year-old Miles, though, wasn’t ready to discuss goals and gameplans just yet.

“Put on my song,” he said with a smile.

As the 2017 R&B tune “Girlfriend” by Heavyweight started to play again ... well, Miles began to serenade his team:

Your girlfriend wants to be my girlfriend.

She be calling me telling me ‘bout you.

“We were all laughing, crying and just recording (on phones),” KU linebacker Kyron Johnson said. “Coach Miles just being himself.”

It started a new tradition of sorts. A few days later, Johnson put on the ‘80s song “Before I Let Go” by Maze and Frankie Beverly, and Miles led his assistant coaches in some swaying to the tune, rotating his hips and raising his arms to the chorus.

Cornerback Kyle Mayberry later shared the video on Twitter, where it received more than 350,000 views.

Perhaps antics like this shouldn’t be surprising considering Miles’ past.

The quirky coach — best known for his grass chewing and off-the-wall press conference responses — has never shied away from the limelight. That also became clear following KU’s spring game in April, where he stepped onto a raised platform with rapper Rick Ross and threw his hands up and down to the beat of “All I Do Is Win.”

“I saw him up there on stage,” Johnson said. “I’m like, ’Look at this man here. I can’t believe it’s my coach.’”

The zaniness has worked before. Miles won a national championship with LSU in 2007, and also has a combined 142-55 record in 16 seasons with Oklahoma State and LSU.

This, however, is a different challenge. KU, with the longest FBS bowl drought, has not won more than three games since 2009.

It begs the question: Though Miles’ recipe has been successful before, can it really work in Lawrence?

The answer is unclear now, but Miles at least has this going for him: He appears to have quickly earned respect.

“I feel like he’s a mastermind,” Daylon Charlot said.

“He’s just so easy to follow,” added Andrew Parchment.

“It’s just like, ‘The Les Effect,’” running back Dom Williams said. “Like he just has a certain way with words in the way that he says it ... people always buy in.”

Some of this is to be expected. Miles is still in the honeymoon stage with KU, meaning renewed optimism is only natural with a different voice taking over.

Still ... talk with enough players, and there appears to be a consensus on why Miles might just break the mold of doomed coaches at KU.

It starts with a simple belief: that Miles knows what he’s talking about.

“With our last head coach, it was more of a, ‘We have to work together and work as a team.’ Not really much of an experience he had,” defensive lineman Sam Burt said. “But Coach Miles, he has that experience. He knows what it takes to get to that level, and so he puts us through things just to make sure that we can get to that level.”

Burt, in this instance, was talking broadly about all that goes into an offseason. Conditioning drills, for example, weren’t guesswork on what might pay dividends; instead, they were conceived from previous years that helped produce teams that won big.

“I think the whole entire building believes in him. We’re all behind him,” Parchment said. “And wherever he wants us to go, we’re going to go with him.”

So far, Miles has pulled off an interesting dynamic. In his most public settings — including his introductory news conference in November and Big 12 media days in July — he’s had awkward moments and lingering pauses, leaving many wondering whether he’s as sharp as he once was.

Yet, those who see him the most speak only of someone who inspires them and also hones in on the details.

Burt gave an example from an early August drill, as Miles pulled him to the side to compliment him for tackling the correct way with his head back — a subtle observation that might often go unnoticed.

Parchment, meanwhile, can specifically address one of Miles’ greatest strengths so far: recruiting. The three-star junior-college receiver, who picked KU over offers from UNLV and Hawaii, said Miles and receivers coach Emmett Jones originally came across as genuine people from their first phone call, and since then have only continued to “keep it real.”

“Whenever I need to talk to somebody, Coach Miles’ office is always open,” Parchment said. “I could go in right now after this interview and talk to Coach Miles about anything, talking about back home, anything like that. So it’s a lot easier for people to connect with him.”

Other top prospects have felt the same sort of love. KU, with 24 players committed for 2020, has a top 35 recruiting class according to both Rivals and 247Sports. While that ranking isn’t likely to hold, the fact that the Jayhawks could finish around the top 50 is impressive given the team’s lack of momentum coming into the year.

And perhaps that is Miles’ greatest feat thus far. At a school known recently for elite men’s basketball and lousy football, the coach has given current and future players a reason to dream.

“I think it’s really helped us to see that we are more than than our past,” Burt said, “and that we can really strive forward to greater things in the future.”

Reality will hit soon. Miles is inheriting a major rebuild at KU, and the Jayhawks are likely to be underdogs in each of their nine conference games that begin in September.

This is important, though: For now, Miles has an important group believing in his methods ... while also convinced he’ll soon be making headlines for more than his dancing.

“A lot of people think that since he’s old, he’s been out of the game for a little bit, that he doesn’t really know what’s going on,” Parchment said. “But Coach Miles, he understands us. He understands what we want to do.

“And what we want to do is change the program around.”



Related stories from Wichita Eagle

Jesse Newell — he’s won an EPPY for best sports blog and previously has been named top beat writer in his circulation by AP’s Sports Editors — has covered KU sports since 2008. His interest in sports analytics comes from his math teacher father, who handed out rulers to Trick-or-Treaters each year.
  Comments