LAWRENCE — Doug Mallory’s fondest Les Miles memory didn’t occur on a football field.
Actually, the scene developed out of one of the most terrifying moments of Mallory’s life.
Mallory, the Atlanta Falcons defensive backs coach, has a vested interest in Kansas football’s 11 a.m. Saturday season opener against Indiana State at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. He served as an assistant coach under Miles-led teams at Oklahoma State and LSU for eight consecutive seasons (2001-08), and his younger brother, Curt, is head coach of the FCS-level Sycamores.
The bond between Miles and the Mallory family runs even deeper than those résumé-based ties, though — Miles recruited Doug, a linebacker, while at Colorado in the 1980s; both brothers ended up at Michigan, where Miles came on as offensive line coach in Doug’s senior season in 1987; even their father, the late Bill Mallory, recruited Miles in the 1970s while head coach at Miami University in Ohio.
“There’s a memory and fondness,” Miles said Monday, “of that Mallory club.”
Despite that fondness, Doug Mallory doesn't anticipate he'll have split allegiances Saturday.
“I think any time your brother is involved in a game or you’ve got family involved in a game, you’re always going to root for him,” Mallory told The Topeka Capital-Journal in a recent phone interview. “But the rest of the season, I really want Kansas to do well under Les.”
That’s because for Mallory, Miles is as close to family as one can get, and one particular story highlights that connection.
While Miles was at Oklahoma State, the coaching staff developed a tradition of bringing family along for an annual retreat to Grand Lake o' the Cherokees in northeast Oklahoma. One year, Mallory’s daughter, Emily, went missing in the middle of the night. The hotel was shut down. Police were called. An Amber Alert was issued.
Thankfully, it’s an ordeal Mallory can look back on and laugh about, as Emily was found safe and sound — she had sleepwalked into a nearby room. But Miles’ leadership during that tense moment is something Mallory said he’ll always remember and appreciate.
“Just to see him go through and take control of the whole situation — overriding the police, overriding the hotel personnel, I mean, just telling people where to go, where to search and just totally taking over the whole situation — that’s one of my fondest memories," Mallory said, "probably just because it had to do with my family."
On the field, Mallory got to see how Miles rebuilt a struggling program — OSU finished 3-8 the season before Miles’ arrival, then went 28-21 during his four-year run, earning three bowl game berths.
The principles used in that turnaround could be applied at Miles' current gig, Mallory said.
“I think the first thing (about) Les, he’s more offensive minded, but he’s gonna establish a run game — physical, tough, hard-nosed-type offense,” Mallory said. “I think that bleeds over into the defensive side too, really all three phases. His players are going to be tough, they’re going to play hard, and I think he does a good job promoting the team concept to create that kind of relationship and brotherhood with them.”
Mallory also witnessed Miles take a team to the top — LSU won the national championship with a 38-24 victory over Ohio State on Jan. 7, 2008, an outcome made possible in part thanks to dynamic recruiting from Miles and his coaching staff.
While top-100 prospects won’t be as readily available for the Jayhawks, Mallory believes his former boss’ effectiveness in that realm won’t be hampered.
“He’s very personable. I think he does a great job developing relationships, not only with the player but the high school coach and the player’s family. I think he’s very good from that standpoint,” Mallory said. “Again, I think what he preaches when he goes into a home, he talks to a recruit, I think he’s going to back it up. I think players can attest to that when they spend four, five years with him. What he told them in the recruiting process, they’re going to experience that type of relationship with him and within his organization. ...
“He’s not always going to get the four- and five-star guys, but I always felt Les did a great job developing players. Whatever type, I think he can envision a guy that may be a little bit undersized or maybe a little bit thin right now but they’ve got the athletic ability and the toughness and the mindset that he’s looking for, and I think he does a great job developing players. I think you’ll see that there at Kansas.”
Curt Mallory, who is entering his third year at Indiana State, also spoke to The Capital-Journal ahead of Saturday’s matchup.
He labeled Miles’ passion and love for the game "contagious," citing one example of those traits from their time together at Michigan. After one particular practice, a fiery inside drill between Wolverine standouts Erick Anderson and Dean Dingman was the talk of the locker room, until another player chimed in: “Heck, that was nothing," he said. "You should’ve seen Coach Miles and Coach (Jim) Herrmann going at it."
Mallory chuckled while telling the story.
“They just brought the intensity. I just remember, in those drills, you know, you almost wanted to give those two a helmet, because those guys would go at it,” Curt Mallory said. “And all good. But you kind of fed off their passion and intensity.”
With Miles, what you see is “exactly what you get,” Curt Mallory said.
“I just have a lot of respect for Coach and what he brings to our profession, and obviously very appreciative of the time my brother spent with him as an assistant,” he said. “I know Doug and his family are so very grateful for everything he’s done for their family.”
While Doug Mallory is certain he’ll back his younger brother Saturday, KU perhaps didn’t make it an easy decision.
Mike Ekeler, KU's special teams coordinator and inside linebackers coach, is one of Mallory’s closest friends. Chevis Jackson, the Jayhawks’ defensive backs coach, played under Mallory at LSU. There's even another Mallory brother, Mike, who served as the Jayhawks’ linebackers coach in 2006 — “He was only there for a year, but even to this day it’s one of the favorite places he’s ever been,” Doug Mallory said.
Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, Mallory is simply happy to see Miles back on the sideline.
“You know, I think first thing about Les, it’d be hard to see him retire. He’s a guy that, football is such a big part of his life,” Doug Mallory said. “I mean, he’s very passionate about the game and passionate about coaching. To see him out for the time span that he was, I know it was difficult for him, and I know he was looking for the right opportunity to get back in. ...
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Les. Really just the eight years I was with him, I cherish those. Those were eight great years of my life."