LAWRENCE — Moments after the lowest low of his first season with Kansas football, Les Miles got a much-needed pick-me-up from the closest of allies.
Miles’ Jayhawks took it on the nose in a 38-10 defeat to in-state rival Kansas State on Nov. 2 at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. After the outcome, multiple Wildcat players cited Miles’ words on ESPN’s “Miles To Go” series as motivation — addressing his players in the locker room, Miles shouted, “Who’s K-State?”
While Miles projected optimism in his postgame news conference, it came with a notably more downcast tone. Outside of the interview area, however, waited Miles’ son Manny, the senior backup quarterback and only KU player to score a touchdown on the afternoon.
Miles fielded his last question and left the room, stopped just a few feet from the door by wife Kathy, daughter Smacker and Manny, the latter of whom scored his 1-yard touchdown in the game's final minute only after sophomore fullback and younger brother Ben Miles got the first crack at the end zone.
At the center of the impromptu postgame powwow, Manny Miles was eager to highlight that hierarchy — and to inject a lighthearted moment to the otherwise lost afternoon.
“That just goes to show,” Manny Miles told his father, “that you love him more than me.”
The Miles clan laughed.
“That was great fun,” Les Miles later said of his son’s touchdown. “The score was the wrong score to celebrate. That's the bad news. Manny did what we asked him to do. He did a good job.”
If nothing else, the presence of Miles’ eldest son since Manny’s transfer into the program in June appears to have given the former national championship winning head coach a sense of comfort on the practice fields.
Manny Miles spent his first four seasons Chapel Hill, a walk-on at North Carolina under then-coach Larry Fedora. The opportunity to play out his final season under his father proved too appealing to pass up — the former LSU head coach had been out of the game for two-plus seasons, fired four games into the 2016 campaign.
Upon arrival in Lawrence, Manny Miles realized the traits that made his father a success at one of college football’s most high-profile gigs hadn’t been lost over the years.
“I think even though he’s an older coach now, I think that he’s got a young heart,” Manny Miles said. “I mean, he comes in dancing to team meetings. He’s not afraid to cut loose and hang out with a 17 year old that just graduated high school and is still not even ready for college football yet. He’s still going to treat them like they’re the starting quarterback and a fifth-year senior ready to go. I think him just being able to connect with people is his best quality.”
It’s a skillset the quarterback has witnessed up close since he was a tyke.
He now recalls when he and his brother would pile into a car with their father at 6 a.m. to head to a fall camp, spending some 12-hour days on the field, around the facilities and wherever else Les’ attention was needed.
“Now that I’m actually experiencing it where he’s actually coaching me and I’m not just running around on the sidelines it’s a little different, but he’s the same coach,” Manny Miles said. “Works hard, expects players to work hard for him. He’s in there late hours and expects us to work just as hard as the coaches do.”
Nothing lasts forever, particularly in a fickle college football coaching realm that Manny Miles acknowledged can be an “ugly business.” When his father was let go from LSU, though, Manny said he observed nothing but class, with Les remaining in Baton Rouge, La., and continuing to cultivate meaningful relationships despite the unceremonious exit.
There was never any doubt in Manny Miles’ mind that his father would return to the sideline.
“He loves it. He could retire and he knows that, but he loves the game,” Manny Miles said. “It’s not work for him. He’s happier out here on the field coaching us than he is anywhere. So I think it was just a matter of time before he got back out here.”
Even more surreal than playing alongside his father, Manny Miles said, is the presence of his entire family in a single city once again, with his sister and Free State softball standout Macy rounding out the six-member Miles crew. This final stop on his college football journey has given Manny a new appreciation for the simple things — his mom makes legendary french toast, he says — and the perspective to enjoy this unique dynamic while it lasts.
“Every now and then you’ll forget that your brother is on the team and you’ll turn around to throw a pass or something and you’ll see your brother’s face, and that’s a cool experience,” he said. “It just kind of like, for a split second you’re just like, wow, that’s a really cool thing to see your family out there when you’re not expecting it.”