‘Late Night’ spring game is most visible evidence of Jayhawks’ new identity under Miles
LAWRENCE, Kan. — Among all the changes that have taken place at Kansas since Les Miles was hired to resurrect the moribund football program, the easiest to notice is the title of the spring game.
It’s called “Late Night Under the Lights.”
Might as well try to channel whatever you can from your powerhouse basketball program.
The “Late Night in the Phog” each September is the annual tipoff of yet another basketball season full of expectations. The event Saturday night in Memorial Stadium represents much more: It is the start of what Miles hopes is a new era for Kansas football.
“The adjustment, the culture and what we want to do, they’re ready,” said Miles, who was hired at the end of last season to replace the fired David Beaty. “We’re pleased. We have work to do, we’re not done, but we sure are pleased with the effort.”
It takes more than effort to win at Kansas, though.
The program has won just six games over the past three-plus seasons, and the last winning season belonged to Mark Mangino. Since he was walking the sideline, Kansas has churned through Turner Gill, Charlie Weis, interim coach Clint Bowen and Beaty, whose departure appeared amicable at first but now includes a lawsuit over money he says he is owed.
The 65-year-old Miles has been busy. His first, frantic recruiting class is in place, his coaching staff has been hired and spring practices have just about come and gone, the barest bones of his new-look offensive system and the defense the Jayhawks will play this fall already in place.
“We’ve kind of introduced some of the segments that are going to be consistent,” Miles said, “but what happens is you have to pay your dues on those kind of situations. You have to stay after it, and you have to practice it again and again, and we’re a ways away from that.”
Miles guessed that about half the playbook will be in place when Kansas caps its night under the lights with a scrimmage. But he also said that his to-do list is largely “superfluous.”
“It really makes no difference, is what that means,” Miles said. “The issue is when we get a feel and a grasp for our guys, then that offense and that defense will change some, because of what we can do. So we’re not there yet.”
Kansas still has the entire summer and fall before it steps back onto the field for its opener against Indiana State on Aug 31. And the Jayhawks will need every rep of every day as they try to reach a competitive level in Miles’ first season in charge.
Then again, Miles knows what he’s doing.
He took over a losing program at Oklahoma State and was headed to a bowl game within two years, then won nine games in his third year. He wound up with winning records his final three seasons in Stillwater before departing for LSU, where he won at least 11 games his first three seasons.
Miles capped that run with a national title in 2007, then returned to the title game again in 2011, going unbeaten in the rugged SEC before losing to Alabama at the Superdome.
He was fired after going 9-3 in 2015 and starting 2-2 the following year, an ignominious end to a tenure at LSU in which Miles went 114-34 and never failed to reach a bowl game.
The past seven Kansas coaches combined — counting interims — won 94 games.
Yes, Miles knows what it takes to win, not only on the field but off. He has quickly made inroads on the recruiting trail and established relationships with high-level donors, and he has revamped the old spring game Saturday night into something that is more festival than football.
There’s a BMX bike performance. A student flag football championship. Even a concert by Rick Ross, where the first 500 students who attended a recent open practice got pit passes.
It’s the kind of excitement and energy that has been missing at Kansas for years. The kind of excitement and energy Miles has seen out of his team, too.
“Right away, this team has given me effort, right away, which is the right thing,” Miles said after a recent practice. “They want it. And that really helps a coach.”