BATON ROUGE, La. – The Hat might just be back.
Kansas is finalizing a deal to make Les Miles the new leader of the Jayhawks football program, multiple sources told Sports Illustrated. An announcement could come as soon as this weekend. In a text message Friday evening, Kansas athletic director Jeff Long did not confirm the report. Miles did not respond to a request for comment. Barring a last-minute change, the 65-year-old Miles, the quirky, grass-eating former LSU coach, will be in charge of restoring respectability to a Big 12 cellar-dweller that hasn’t had a winning season in a decade. He replaces fired coach David Beaty, taking his championship swagger, oddly positioned ball cap and unusual vernacular to one of the nation’s most struggling programs.
Miles’s wacky ways and championship pedigree should excite a destitute fan base at a stop that is not all dissimilar to his first head coaching gig. Miles helped turn Oklahoma State from a Big 12 punching bag that had made one bowl trip in the previous 12 seasons into a feisty competitor in the early 2000s. Nearly 20 years older, Miles faces even more of an uphill climb. Kansas is on its fourth head coach since Mark Mangino’s reign ended in 2009, and the Jayhawks (3–7, 1–6) are guaranteed their 22nd losing record in the conference in the last 23 seasons. They’ve been to four bowl games since 1995, haven’t won a conference championship in a half a century and lost 35 of their last 37 Big 12 games.
Miles brings with him victories and titles. A former Michigan offensive lineman, he has won 141 games in 16 seasons as a head coach. The last 33 seasons of Kansas football have produced 137 wins. In the nation’s most competitive division, Miles brought LSU two SEC titles and the 2007 national championship, leaving with the second-most wins of any coach in the school’s history. The program fired him four games into his 12th season, partially a result of his old school, run-heavy offensive philosophy and a nasty losing skid against division rival Alabama. He recently ended his contractual relationship with his old employer, agreeing to a $1.5 million lump sum settlement of the remaining $6.5 million buyout the school owed him, clearing the way for negotiations to heat up with KU.
His courtship with Kansas was rooted in the coach’s close relationship with new Kansas athletic director Jeff Long. Miles and Long have a friendship that stretches back to their days at Michigan in the 1980s, and it is widely known that Long, while AD at Arkansas in 2012, extended a lucrative offer to Miles, then at LSU. Miles received an enhanced contract after Long’s pursuit, his final extension while in Baton Rouge.
At LSU, Miles was a coach that players and recruits flocked to, a goofy, fun-loving guy who behind the scenes worked his assistants hard and his players harder. Long, physical practices were a staple of his program, but so too were highly ranked signing classes and physically dominating wins on the field. He prided himself on an I-formation, run-centric offense that eventually led to his firing. He has previously said he plans to change his offensive approach at his next stop, and he’ll have to in the Big 12, a league that consistently sets the standard for offensive production, with its spread schemes, prolific passers and porous defense.
In Baton Rouge, he won 114 games with that ground-and-pound style, working in the shadow of college football coaching czar Nick Saban. In 2005 he took over a program that Saban had turned into an SEC juggernaut, taking the Tigers to the SEC championship game his first season and then winning it all in ’07. A two-year lull followed before Miles had the Tigers back near the top again, finishing ranked eighth in 2010 and the next year amassing one of the best regular seasons in college football history. The Tigers won all but one regular season game by double digits—the exception was a 9–6 overtime victory at Alabama—and crushed Georgia 42–10 in the SEC title game before a rematch with Saban’s Tide. In what many still consider the start of the program’s downfall, Alabama bludgeoned LSU 21–0 in the BCS Championship Game, a thorough beating that saw Miles’s struggling offense cross midfield just once in its own backyard, at the Superdome in New Orleans. Alabama won a seventh straight meeting over the Tigers earlier this month, and Miles was 12–10 in his final 22 games against Power 5 conference teams.
He spent his final offseason in Baton Rouge publicly promising to change his archaic scheme, something administrators pressed him on after a failed coup of the coach in 2015. Miles’s squad slid off track early in 2016. The Tigers started top-five nationally before a season-opening 16–14 loss to Wisconsin at Lambeau Field, and three weeks later, they dropped a heart-breaker at Auburn. The 2–2 start ushered in the change.
Miles has been out of the game for two years, spending many of his weekends watching his two sons play football: one is a walk-on quarterback at North Carolina and the other is a fullback for Texas A&M. He’s split his fatherly duties with his new craft. He’s broken into the world of acting, appearing in one feature film as a NASA engineer and starring in a beer commercial that has him nibbling on grass. He’s dabbled in TV analyst jobs, hosted a weekly podcast and spoken frequently at coaching clinics. He’s always wanted to return to coaching. During his first offseason in 2016, he missed out on jobs at Houston, Minnesota, Purdue and South Florida.