LAWRENCE — If there’s a silver lining to the Kansas football program’s near decade-long tailspin into irrelevancy, KU junior Kyle Kramm has it identified.
“It’s a reason to drink,” Kramm told The Topeka Capital-Journal with a chuckle.
Thing is, if Kramm’s dream hire for the ailing program’s head coach vacancy is indeed made, he may no longer need booze — at least, not to wash away his misery.
Kramm was one of four KU students and six total fans who braved snow-covered roads Thursday night to visit Lawrence Municipal Airport, hoping to get a glimpse of KU’s next coach. Flight tracking data earlier in the day revealed a charter jet bound for the college town from Baton Rouge, La., home of former LSU coach Les Miles.
While Miles wasn’t with KU athletic director Jeff Long and deputy athletic director Sean Lester when the pair walked off the aircraft at 5:15 p.m. on a flight that actually emanated from Dallas, a source close to the situation told The Capital-Journal the original itinerary called for a stop in Baton Rouge ahead of the Lawrence return before plans changed. It wasn’t immediately clear why Long and Lester didn’t go to Baton Rouge, but the two did shake hands before Long got off the jet and left in a black Toyota truck.
“Sorry to disappoint you guys,” Lester joked with assembled media.
Kramm joined fellow KU juniors Kobe Gelles and Andrew Lawrence and senior Sean Colvin in the trek to the intimately-sized airport after Colvin caught wind of the news on social media. The group members were all hoping to see one man: Miles, who won a national championship and went 114-34 in his 12 seasons with the Tigers.
All four agreed Miles would be a dynamite hire for KU.
“I mean, I would go crazy,” said Kramm, an Overland Park native. “To bring us up to a potential SEC-caliber football team? It would be nuts.”
Gelles, also from Overland Park, interjected with a dose of skepticism about his friend’s bold expectation.
“Easy, easy,” Gelles said with a laugh.
“I mean, he’s had success,” Kramm said. “He’s proven himself on the highest level college football has. If he could just revive the program, even if he doesn’t complete the job, it would be a first step.”
KU on Sunday fired fourth-year coach David Beaty, who has gone 6-39 with the Jayhawks. Miles is widely seen as the frontrunner for the opening, fitting Long’s desired criteria of head coaching experience and track records of building programs and tenacious recruiting. Miles and Long have a history that dates back to their time together at Michigan, with Long in 2012 reportedly offering Miles the then-vacant Arkansas head coaching position.
Colvin, who hails from Orange County, Calif., acknowledged some concerns regarding a potential Miles hire — “age and his offensive philosophy that he ran at LSU,” Colvin listed. Nevertheless, he won’t be disappointed if KU completes what would at the very least be a big-splash move.
“To get a guy that’s won a national championship would just be a home-run hire for the attention we’d get,” Colvin said. “His strengths are recruiting and developing players, which is what it takes to build a program. I think it’d be a great hire.”
Informed of the Thursday flight’s origins in Dallas, the group speculated perhaps Long was visiting with North Texas coach Seth Littrell, another name often mentioned around KU’s opening. Littrell’s Mean Green are 7-2 this season and have earned bowl eligibility in each of his three seasons.
“I would not be upset with Seth Littrell at all. I think he’s a great candidate,” Gelles said. “But we’re still holding out hope for Les Miles.”
Kramm expressed faith in KU’s first-year athletic director — “I think Jeff Long makes all the difference in the world,” he said.
“We were talking about it on the drive over here: We have Bill Self. Our basketball program can take care of itself at this point,” Kramm added. “If somebody could come in and make something of the football program, it’d be amazing.”
A lifelong KU fan whose family has had season tickets “since (he) was tiny,” Gelles said he has unwavering support for the football team, though that doesn’t mean he’s uncritical of how it’s been run over the last decade — “It’s not where we’re upset with the players. We’re upset with our administration for not really getting behind the program as much as they could,” he said.
When Colvin pitched to his friends the idea of heading to the airport, Gelles didn’t hesitate.
“I just love Kansas football, so anything that might help us, I’m a fan of following it,” Gelles said, “even if it’s just a plane landing at a municipal airport.”
Long and Lester left, and after it became obvious the airport was done operating for the evening, so did the KU fans — though not without first offering some unsolicited advice to the athletic director.
“Can I make one more message here?” Colvin asked. “If Les Miles doesn’t work out, Jeff Long, hire Mike Ditka.”
The group laughed.
“Any bit of money he wants, hire Ditka,” Kramm interjected. “That’d be hilarious. Can you imagine the Kansas student section wearing aviators and big Jayhawk sleeveless vests?”