Lawrence, Kan. Les Miles is headed back to the Big 12 and another massive rebuilding job, this time taking on the downtrodden program at Kansas in a splashy hire aimed energizing a weary fan base.
Kansas announced the hiring Sunday shortly after Miles arrived at the airport in nearby Topeka. Miles signed a five-year contract that will pay him $2,775,000 annually with retention bonuses of $775,000 due in November 2020 and $500,000 in November 2022.
Miles, a former Michigan player and assistant coach, was considered the front-runner for the Jayhawks’ job from the moment David Beaty was told he would not be retained two weeks ago. The 65-year-old Miles has a close relationship with Kansas athletic director Jeff Long dating to their days together at Michigan, and Miles had told those around him this season that he wanted back in coaching.
Miles and Long had been in frequent contact over the past two weeks, and it became clear a deal was close when LSU announced Thursday it had agreed to a buyout with its former coach. Miles agreed to a lump sum of $1.5 million of the remaining $6.5 million he was owed under terms of his buyout.
The move cleared the way for Kansas to sign Miles to a contract.
“Change is on the horizon,” Long said, almost defiantly, at the onset of his coaching search. “As I routinely have said, we will break the cycle. My expectation is that the football program should be a bowl-bound program on a regular basis.”
The quirky Miles has been out of coaching since 2016, when he was fired by LSU after a 2-2 start. His support among Tiger fans had waned considerably in a span of just a few years, even though Miles won at least 10 games in seven of his 11 full seasons, twice reached the national title game and beat Ohio State for the 2007 championship.
The most vocal critics argued that Miles had been unable to keep up with the times, sticking to an unexciting and often-stagnant attack during college football’s offensive explosion.
Miles had inherited a winner when he was chosen by LSU to succeed Nick Saban in 2005, but he had proven with Oklahoma State that he could also build a program from scratch.
The Cowboys had just one winning season in 12 years before Miles, their program in similar shape to the Jayhawks. But the longtime college and pro assistant thrived in his first head job, finding some overlooked prospects, developing them and eventually reaching three straight bowl games.
That would be considered a monumental success at Kansas.
The Jayhawks haven’t had a winning season or reached a bowl game since 2008, the year before Mark Mangino was forced to resign under pressure. Turner Gill won five games over two seasons before getting fired, and Charlie Weis managed six wins in two-plus seasons before he was let go.
By that point, the program had become the laughingstock of the Big 12.
The Jayhawks were woefully short on scholarship players, their facilities were decrepit, their fanbase had grown apathetic and the even the administration seemed to have little interest in supporting football. Beaty’s contract lagged far behind his peers financially, and there was little money at his disposal for hiring assistant coaches and other administrators.
Long has promised to rectify those issues, even announcing that a $300 million renovation to aging Memorial Stadium had been put on the backburner while money was invested in the program itself.
The first and most important investment came in the head coach.
The Jayhawks, who lost to sixth-ranked Oklahoma on Saturday to leave Beaty with a 6-31 record in three-plus seasons, will finish out their year under their former coach Friday against Texas.