One of college football’s most successful figures is returning to the sideline after a two-year hiatus.
But first, the national championship-winning head coach made a stop in Topeka.
Les Miles — the quirky, charismatic, grass-chewing college football celebrity — and Kansas have reached an agreement for Miles to fill the Jayhawks’ head coaching vacancy, the university announced Sunday afternoon. KU’s official word came hours after Sports Illustrated first reported completion of the deal and after the Miles family’s arrival via chartered jet at Topeka Regional Airport, where awaiting KU officials took them away in a pair of black SUVs. Miles’ flight emanated from Raleigh–Durham International Airport, a short drive from where he watched his son, North Carolina walk-on senior quarterback Manny Miles, compete Saturday.
Miles will be officially introduced at a 5 p.m. news conference and will at 7 p.m. host a special edition of the university’s “Hawk Talk” radio program at Johnny’s Tavern West located at 721 Wakarusa Drive in Lawrence. An employee of the restaurant confirmed the unscheduled Hawk Talk to The Topeka Capital-Journal on Sunday morning.
Miles’ agreement with KU is five-year deal worth $2.775 million annually with additional retention bonuses due Nov. 2020 ($775,000) and Nov. 2022 ($500,000), according to a university news release announcing Miles’ hiring. He will receive a million-dollar bonus is KU reaches the national championship game, per the teams of his contract released to members of the media. If Miles is fired before the end of his contract, KU must pay him the remaining money owed in his deal.
The news release also boasted its status as the only university in the country now with national championship-winning coaches in Division I men’s basketball (Bill Self) and FBS-level football.
“Since the beginning of our search, we focused on identifying and recruiting an experienced head coach with a strong track record of success on and off the field,” KU athletic director Jeff Long tweeted. ”(Miles) is exactly what we need for our program right now. His national reputation as a great recruiter and as a coach who student-athletes love playing for will enable us to break the cycle and return a winning tradition to (KU).”
Miles will also receive a one-time, one-year rollover extension if he wins six games in a single season. Other incentives include: $1 million for making the national championship game; $350,000 for appearing in the College Football Playoff semifinal; $100,000 for a New Year’s Six bowl game berth or $75,000 for any other bowl game; $100,000 for a Big 12 title game bid; and a pair of $50,000 payments for coach of the year awards from either the media (USA Today, AP, Sporting News, Home Depot or AFCA) or the Big 12.
“I am humbled by the opportunity to lead the KU football program and I am grateful to Chancellor (Douglas) Girod and Jeff Long for the opportunity,” Miles said in the news release. “We will bring Jayhawk Football back and we will do it with outstanding coaches, tremendous student-athletes of character and ability and an unrelenting drive for excellence. My family and I cannot wait to be a part of the KU family!”
It’s a home-run hire, at least in terms of name recognition, for the ailing Jayhawk football program, which has gone 23-96 in the years since its last winning campaign in 2008. The period since has seen KU’s blight chew up and spit out two athletic directors and four head coaches, including current leading man David Beaty, who will depart after the Jayhawks’ 11 a.m. Friday season finale against Texas at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
Now, the 65-year-old Miles joins KU with a résumé unlike that of any of the long-struggling program’s previous 38 head coaches. He went 114-34 in 11-plus seasons at LSU and won seven bowl games, including the BCS Championship at the conclusion of the 2007 season. But the program’s sky-high expectations eventually caught up to Miles, as offensive struggles led to his firing four games into the 2016 campaign.
Miles was 2-2 in that final hurrah, which followed a 9-3 effort the year before. The headline in a New York Times article detailing his termination read: “L.S.U. Fires Les Miles After Failure Most Programs Would Love to Experience.”
Perhaps a more appropriate comparison from Miles’ past is his four-year stint at Oklahoma State, where the then first-time coach went 28-21 from 2001-04. Miles turned the traditional bottom-feeder into a respectable Big 12 program, notching two of the Cowboys’ now 18 all-time wins in the 113 editions of the Bedlam Series against in-state rival Oklahoma. He made a bowl game in three out of his four seasons in Stillwater, Okla.
At KU, Miles’ expectations will be more akin to sustained mediocrity, though it must be done at a far different program than the high-floor LSU, a reality particularly in the recruiting realm. The Jayhawks’ current Class of 2019 is ranked 174th at recruiting outlet 247Sports.com — behind programs such as Colgate, Missouri State and Nicholls — and features just one oral commitment. No other Power Five program has fewer than eight commits.
As for the roster Miles inherits at KU, the cupboard won’t be completely bare, but he will be without graduating contributors Joe Dineen, Steven Sims, Daniel Wise, Peyton Bender, Gabriel Rui and several others that make up the team’s 26-player senior class. Expected returning standouts include running backs Pooka Williams and Khalil Herbert, safeties Bryce Torneden and Mike Lee, cornerback Corione Harris and offensive lineman Hakeem Adeniji. Next year’s KU roster is also projected to include nine Louisiana natives, including Williams, Lee and Harris.
Miles’ tenure at LSU produced 69 NFL Draft selections, 13 of which were first-round selections.
Widely viewed as the frontrunner for the opening in the two weeks since first-year athletic director Jeff Long fired Beaty, Miles’ longstanding relationship with Long likely paid dividends in the process. The two worked together at Michigan in the 1980s, and Long reportedly courted Miles for the opening at Arkansas in 2012, an offer Miles has admitted he considered.
Miles paved the path for Sunday’s announced agreement Thursday, when he agreed to a $1.5 million settlement of money still owed to him by LSU. The one-time, lump-sum payment left $5 million of Miles’ remaining buyout on the table but represented a tying up of loose ends, a move the coach likely wouldn’t have made without an agreement in place elsewhere.
Coincidentally, Miles takes over a program in KU whose last moment in the national spotlight — a 24-21 Orange Bowl victory on Jan. 3, 2008 — came just four days before his own national championship triumph, a 38-24 win over Ohio State.
A decade later, both sides have connected in a move few could’ve envisioned just one year ago — and it’s a union of two parties likely eager to prove wrong the national narrative about their demises in the years since that blissful week in early January 2008.