Les Miles and Kansas were the perfect match for rehabilitation, relevancy and respect

LAWRENCE, Kansas -- For the most random of reasons, friends urged Les Miles not to take the Kansas job.

"I've had a couple of guys say to me, 'Are you sure?'" the Jayhawks' new coach said Sunday following his introductory press conference.

Those friends had unique concerns.

Have you given thought to being in the hall of fame? Because in the hall of fame, there is a winning percentage for eligibility.

"Seventy percent," Miles said.

The Les Miles era at Kansas wouldn't kick off the right way without the coach's own zig-zag path to life's end zone. And to be clear, he's no danger of being eligible for the College Football Hall of Fame when the time comes.

The minimum winning percentage for the hall is not 70 percent; it's actually 60 percent. Miles has won 72 percent of his games over a 16-year head coaching career at Oklahoma State and LSU (141-55). In addition to being a head coach at least 10 years and coaching a minimum 100 games, Miles has already met the criteria.

Kansas is going to be a tough turnaround, but Miles could go winless in the first three years of the job he took on Sunday and still be above that 60 percent. Now he takes on arguably the biggest coaching challenge of his career.

To quote the man himself: Just so you know.

"The further I got away from it, the more I desired it," said the 65-year-old Miles, who has not coached in more than two years. "I was prepared for a lifetime to be a coach. Ten-thousand hours [doing something] supposedly makes you an expert. I think I'm closing in on that 10,000 hours."

Obviously, Miles didn't take the job at Kansas -- one of the worst Power Five gigs in the country -- with his hall of fame credentials in mind. He took it because a senior-citizen national championship coach wanted to coach ball again. It's that simple.

"Lord knows I want that [hall of fame] recognition, but who wants to sit around and not do something because he's trying to position himself?" Miles continued. "… What they've told him is, 'Don't live your life. Sit still and preserve the number.' I said to those guys, 'Nah, I'm not going to do that.'"

Stow your hand-wringing regarding Miles stooping the lowest rung to get back on the field.

This is a good hire. This is a good hire because of dual desperation: Miles wants back on the field, and Kansas wants to be relevant. That alone makes it a worthwhile connection.

This is a school that once gave Turner Gill a guaranteed, five-year, $10 million contract. This time around, whether it works or not, is sure to be more performance art from Miles. Following a low-key press conference, Miles was asked about the gaudy ring on his right hand. It wasn't from LSU's national championship in 2007. It was from the 2011 SEC championship season that ended when LSU lost to Alabama in the BCS Championship Game rematch.

Why that piece of bling for his introduction to Kansas?

"I reached in the safe and got out the wrong ring," Miles admitted.

The ask at LSU was to beat Alabama and win 10 games each year. Because Miles didn't do that enough, he was fired in September 2016. Ah, but what's the ask at Kansas?

"Bowl game," Miles said.

"Get to a bowl game," confirmed Kansas athletic director Jeff Long, who cashed in their relationship dating back to Michigan -- Miles was an assistant coach, Long was worked in the athletic department -- to land Miles.

At this point, just to that magic bowl number -- 6-6 -- looks at least as daunting as beating Nick Saban when Miles was at LSU. At the end of David Beaty's four-year run, KU is 6-41. This season, the Jayhawks won a road game for the first time in nine years.

Kansas has one commit for the Class of 2019. It spends the least on football of any school in the Big 12, according to Long.

If you wanted to get deadly serious about it, this is in some way about Kansas remaining a Power Five school. When the next round of conference realignment comes about in five years or so, it wants to look big time if not win big time.

A $300 million stadium renovation has been put on hold so Long can upgrade football from all angles, including hiring more analysts and secretaries.

Miles is confident he can get the job done here because he's had prior success in the Big 12. He took an Oklahoma State program that had losing seasons in 11 of 12 years and got it to nine wins in three seasons. Even more impressive, Miles beat Bob Stoops and Oklahoma twice in the Bedlam rivalry.

Miles is one of three active coaches who have beaten Saban twice since 2008. Gus Malzahn and Urban Meyer are the others.

It's still a mystery why college football drew the line at Miles these past two years. He has no NCAA violations in his past. His players universally love him.

Bobby Petrino got another job after lying to Long about an extra-marital affair at Arkansas. Steve Sarkisian remade himself after substance problems as an Alabama analyst and is now in the NFL as an offensive coordinator.

"If you sit down with Les for the first time and you don't know that irregular speech pattern or thought process, you might come away with a different sense and feel," Long said.

Long is used to it. He was an offensive line graduate assistant for Miles at Michigan in 1987. When he returned a year later, Long was an athletic department liaison when Miles was the offensive line coach.

"I don't have that reluctance [about Miles]," Long said. "That makes him unique in this day of cookie cutter kind of people."  

If Miles didn't particularly wow at the press conference, he won the hearts of those who just want something different.

"You know what? Not everybody goes out on top," said Kathryn Miles, Les's daughter and a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, TV personality more commonly known as "Smacker." "It's not the mark of a bad career. It's just the mark of reality. For him to be happy, he was going to coach."

The biggest football question for anyone who has followed Les Miles or the Tigers is the offense. What is he going to run at Kansas? It sounded a lot like the pro-style scheme Miles was criticized for at the end at LSU.

It also sounded like he didn't care about that criticism.

"What I'd like to run is, you give me a mobile athlete at quarterback. Give me a guy who can throw it, too. I want the dual-threat," Miles said. "If that guy is not quite good enough for us to win games, we have to do the things we have to do."

That translates roughly to what we witnessed at LSU under Miles -- a pounding running game with a controlled passing game.

But once a Bo Schembechler discipline, always a Bo Schembechler discipline. Miles noticed that Kansas on Saturday night scored 40 points at Oklahoma. That was the most the Jayhawks posted in a Big 12 game in eight years. He also noticed KU's offense didn't get enough first downs to keep Oklahoma from scoring 55.

"If you could have rested that Kansas defense in the second half, it would have made the difference," Miles said.

Long admitted there was a bit of a rush to land Miles. He was hearing Maryland might be interested after the firing of DJ Durkin. Even before Colorado fired Mike MacIntyre on Sunday, there were rumors the Buffaloes might be interested. Miles coached CU's offensive line from 1982-86.

Everyone goes into this relationship with their eyes wide open. There is every chance this is a retirement job for Miles. But Kansas also knows Miles probably isn't going to bounce from here to an SEC job. And if he isn't, maybe the best thing said about Miles is that he becomes a bridge coach, leaving the program better than he found it.

The capacity of Kansas' Memorial Stadium (50,000) is roughly the size of the average LSU tailgate crowd, at least the ones that don't have tickets to enter into Tiger Stadium. You've never seen such a party outside a stadium.

Miles is famous for saying of LSU's Death Valley, "This is where dreams go to die." Well, it's sort of been the same thing as Kansas as of late. KU football has been infamous for killing a few coaching careers.

Short of Miles, Kansas likely would have been left with a four-year coach. If he succeeded, he'd be bouncing to the next job in four years. If he didn't, well, there's a reason KU football has had 38 coaches in its 127 years of existence.

They have ranged from hall of famers Fielding Yost and John Outland to (almost) Jim Harbaugh. Depending on which version of the story you believe, Harbaugh was set to become the KU coach after the 2009 season.

Things cratered (again) a couple of weeks ago. Iowa State fans outnumbered KU fans here in an announced crowd of about 15,000.

Kansas just got its football program on SportsCenter by hiring Miles. It is now the only Division I school with a national championship coach in basketball and football. Time will tell whether the Big Ask is ever achieved -- getting back to bowl contention.

"I get chills talking about it," Long said.

As Miles walked out of the Hadl Auditorium for the first time as Kansas' coach, he was asked what his old mentor Bo would say about this adventure.

"I think he'd say, 'Well, Miles, dammit, if that's something you want to do, go do it,'" Miles said.

The hall of fame can wait.  

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories