LAWRENCE — By all accounts, Les Miles and family — yes, his entire family — have enjoyed what they’ve seen so far from the first-year Kansas football head coach’s new home base.
Still, as Miles implied Friday at the team’s media day inside Anderson Family Football Complex, there’s one piece of the city’s dynamic that at the moment remains missing.
“I can’t imagine a quality college town without a great football team,” said Miles, responding to a question on the importance of a successful football program to both a university and city. “I think you’ll find that this team will understand that and want to be a part of the festivity that surrounds a very quality football team."
Miles’ first opportunity to move Lawrence one step closer to full-fledged college town, in his eyes, is just two weeks out, with the Jayhawks playing host to FCS-level foe Indiana State at 11 a.m. Aug. 31 at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. KU hasn’t enjoyed a winning season since 2008, amassing a 23-97 record in the decade since that campaign.
At least one notable Lawrence native concurred with Miles’ observation on the importance of winning football to the energy of a college town.
“Oh, I think it’s definitely true,” said safeties coach Clint Bowen, who played at KU in the early ’90s and is entering his 21st overall year on the Jayhawks’ coaching staff. “We’ve all been around here. When we have been successful KU football-wise, winning football games, you can feel the difference around town. I mean, you just know it. The Saturdays of home games are just drastically different than any other time, and the town buys into it. I mean, it’s a true college town.
“He’s 100 percent correct. When KU football is good, I think the whole vibe of Lawrence, Kansas, is different.”
With only one shot at a first impression, Miles’ inaugural summer has undoubtedly been a pivotal one.
Paramount to Miles, it appears, is instilling a culture around the team that will breed success. Miles, players and assistant coaches weighed in on exactly what that has looked like to this point, beginning with Bowen, who said the former national championship-winning head coach at LSU has deployed a “solid plan.”
“I mean, it’s not like he’s trying to figure out what he wants to do. That’s been figured out 20 years ago by him,” Bowen said. “He’s got his plan, he knows how he wants it to look, how he wants it to go. From Day 1, he came in here and just operated. There’s been very little gray area for players, coaches. It’s black and white how everything is going to operate, so that part has been impressive.”
Miles wasn’t the only member of his own family to come to Lawrence — he’s joined by wife Kathy, daughters Smacker and Macy and sons Manny and Ben, the latter two now walk-ons with the Jayhawks.
Manny Miles, a former walk-on at North Carolina, came of age in Baton Rouge, La., and saw firsthand how the success of the football program changed the feel of the college town. The elder Miles, Manny said, can facilitate that here through his inherent ability to connect with his players, who often dictate what goes into a Miles-led team's culture.
“I think that even though he’s an older coach now, I think he’s got a young heart,” Manny Miles said. “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 still is not even ready for college football yet — he’s still gonna treat them like they’re the starting quarterback and a fifth-year senior ready to go. So I think him just being able to connect with people is his best quality.”
A gesture as simple as busting a move — a clip of the head coach dancing ahead of a team meeting went viral online last week, though Manny Miles insists that act happens on an almost regular basis — helps facilitate a balance between moments of toughness and others of brevity that many coaches seek but few master.
Chevis Jackson, the Jayhawks’ defensive backs coach and a former standout at LSU, said he’s seeing today the framework of the same principles and culture that made Miles a success story at one of the most high-pressure college football environments for 11-plus seasons — “It’s kind of funny just to see it from a different perspective, not knowing as a player what he was doing at the time but as a coach here with him and coaching for him, you kind of see it like, oh, that’s why he did that, and that’s why we’re doing that,” he said.
Jackson believes Miles’ productive relationships with players can be traced to one key attribute.
“Because he cares,” Jackson said. “Guys that play for him play hard for him because they know that he cares about them, and I think that’s why he’s been so successful over the years, because his guys will run through a wall for him."
QB race ongoing
Les Miles said senior Carter Stanley and junior Thomas MacVittie remain the frontrunners for the Jayhawks’ starting quarterback role, but he didn’t eliminate the senior Manny Miles, sophomore Miles Kendrick nor sophomore Miles Fallin from the race, saying each has “a chance.”
“Because, what the hell, we like Miles kids,” Miles joked.
As Miles seeks more consistency out of MacVittie and Stanley, he indicated a victor in the competition may not be publicly announced until game week — or later.
“I’ve always waited until the end (to announce),” Miles said. “To give you guys an example: Somebody gets nicked and you have just announced all of your confidence. ‘This is the guy. Let me pat him on the back one more time.’ Suddenly he comes up a little lame and you’re playing the guy that you did not give a vote of encouragement. So my opinion is, these guys are real close. They both know they’re close. We’ll let it play out.”