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by Matt Kupec

November 20, 2018

This past weekend Kansas University made a significant hire with the announcement that Les Miles would become the new Jayhawk football coach.  We all remember Coach Miles from his great run at LSU where he won a National Championship, captured 2 SEC titles and compiled a .719 career winning percentage.

What most people forget is that Les Miles also had a very impressive four-year stint at Head Coach at Big 12 member Oklahoma State from 2001-2004.  Taking over a program that had 3 consecutive losing seasons, Miles led the Cowboys football program to a 28-21 record and earned three bowl game invitations (Houston, Cotton, Alamo).  Miles beat the Oklahoma Sooners his first two years.  He was named Big 12 Coach of the Year in his 2nd season at Stillwater.

Kansas football has hit rock bottom these past five years.  Under Head Coach David Beaty the Jayhawks were 6-41, a paltry .128 winning percentage.  Last year Kansas lost 11 games by at least double digits.  The 2018 season was better but Kansas still has won only three games.

But remember that the Jayhawks under Head Coach Mark Mangino finished 12-1 in 2007,earning an Orange Bowl bid.  Mangino had the Jayhawks ranked as high as #2 in the country during the middle of the 2007 season.

Here are some thoughts about the hiring of Les Miles as Kansas head coach and whether we think the “Old Mad Hatter” might have success in Lawrence:

  • Les Miles Brings Instant Credibility. Les Miles has been one of the most successful college coaches in this country.  His accomplishments bring instant credibility to the Kansas football program in terms of excitement and energy which should dramatically help recruiting and fundraising.  The man is master of the press conference.  He has huge notoriety unlike the hiring of recently fired former head coach David Beaty who was a relatively unknown coach and brought little fanfare to the Kansas football program.
  • National Championship Coaches in Basketball and Football. Kansas is the only university where both its head coaches in basketball and football have each won a national championship.  Miles captured his title in 2007.  Basketball head coach Bill Self earned his national title in 2008.  Can both basketball and football enjoy success at the same time?  Here is an interesting blog I wrote about the subject in September.  (
  • Will Memorial Stadium return to Natural Grass Turf? One of the most treasured moments in college football coaching history came in 2010 when during the course of a key game Miles was captured on camera eating a piece of the LSU home filed grass!  Legendary stuff!  Kansas went away from regular grass with the placement of artificial turf in 1970.  Field Turf was installed in 2009.  Let’s hope Miles will insist on going back to natural grass and maintain his tradition of eating Memorial stadium grass as the Jayhawks battle in the Big 12!
  • The Cost of Hiring Les Miles. Some pundits have talked about what an expensive hire it was for Kansas to bring in Les Miles to be head coach.  His base salary is $2.775 million per year in a five-year contract.  He has retention provisions that kick in after the 2020 and 2022 seasons.  There are normal bonus clauses as well that all coaches earn in their compensation packages.  Recently fired head coach David Beaty earned $1.8 million this year and his contract included an additional $50,000 bonus for each FBS win!  Beating Rutgers and TCU this year earned Beaty an additional $100,000.  So, the annual cost of bringing on Miles as head coach is less than $700K per year.  Also, look at other deals around the college football landscape – Jimbo Fisher got $7.5M guaranteed per year at LSU for 10 years.  Just think what Louisville will pay to lure Purdue’s Jeff Brohm away from his nearly $4M per year deal in Lafayette?  Last year, over 20 coaches made more than $4M per year according to USA Today.  So, Kansas may have gotten themselves a pretty good deal.
  • Can Miles Recruit at Kansas? This is one of the biggest questions facing Les Miles.  He is going from having access to one of the major hotbeds for recruiting to a region that is relatively scarce in major football talent.  Miles has said that he needs to recruit successfully within a 500 mile radius of Kansas.  But how many recruits are really in that area?  The chart below illustrates the challenges Coach Miles faces in recruiting.  Granted he needs to “own the 500 mile radius” but clearly he will need to bring in additional talent from the hotbed recruiting states as well.


  2019 Football Recruiting Prospects
State 5-star 4-star 3-star Total
Kansas Base        
Kansas 0 2 3 5
Missouri 0 6 24 30
Nebraska 0 1 4 5
Iowa 0 1 4 5
Illinois 0 3 27 30
Sub-total 0 13 62 75
LSU Base        
Louisiana 4 14 37 55
Mississippi 0 10 44 54
Texas 4 44 52 100
Arkansas 0 4 6 10
Sub-total 8 72 139 219

  • Can Miles Win at Kansas with the Facilities?
    Coach Miles is going from football-crazy LSU to a basketball first Kansas.  LSU plays in 102,231 seat capacity Tiger Stadium which is the 6th largest stadium in America.  Kansas plays in the 52,530 seat David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium with many seats left open during football games.  Kansas’ facilities are old, outdated and need major fixing.  At LSU, Miles had access to the finest facilities in the country.  But it is my opinion that with Miles notoriety and accomplished past, he will be able to dramatically improve fundraising for Kansas and attract new money to help AD Jeff Long re-launch his $315 million “Raise the Chant” campaign to support and upgrade KU football facilities.  I saw the impact Mack Brown had on football fundraising at both UNC and Texas, allowing those two institutions to dramatically enhance their football facilities.  Miles will do the same for Kansas.
  • Will He Bring a More Potent Offense? One of Les Miles failures at LSU was the inconsistent and ineffective offenses he had at LSU. The Tigers ranked just #68, #43 and #76 in total offense in FBS during his last three years.  Wide open, fast paced offenses were not existent in Baton Rouge during Miles tenure.  But in fairness to him, LSU has not brought any high powered offense under Coach Ed Orgeron.   Watching the LSU today is as painful as watching the LSU offense under Miles.  Miles problem at LSU was the success enjoyed by Nick Saban at Alabama!  Watching Alabama win and content for national title year after year was the ultimate factor that brought Miles down at LSU.  But that being said, let’s be hopeful that Miles – who has self-admittedly said he understands he needs more offense – can bring offense back into his game plan, particularly in the high flying, high scoring Big 12 conference.
  • Can Miles Turnaround the Kansas Football Program? At the press conference to announce the hiring of Les Miles, Kansas AD Jeff Long talked about “breaking the cycle of losing.”  Can it be done at Kansas?  Think to programs like Stanford, Wisconsin, Northwestern and even in-state Kansas State.  All four had horrendous stretches of really bad football but have turned around their football programs.  Did you know that Northwestern has won more football games since 2007 than Michigan?  When I quarterbacked the UNC football team we played against Northwestern twice and they were really bad.  We shutout Northwestern 31-0 at a game at then Dyche Stadium (know Ryan Field) where nobody was in attendance and it felt like a spring practice scrimmage.  Not so anymore as Coach Pat Fitzgerald has done a wonderful job as evidenced by Northwestern capturing the Big Ten Western Division title this year.  So, it can be done at Kansas!
  • Final Assessment of the Les Miles Hire at Kansas. I think Kansas hit a homerun with the hire of Les Miles as its new football coach.  Will he win Big 12 titles and challenge annually for a Major Bowl game?  I don’t think so.  But I do believe Kansas has hired a man who has a lot of fire left in him, a tons of energy, and a well-chronicled successful history as a coach who will make Kansas competitive.  Good luck to Coach Les and let’s hope we get to see him eat some of the Kansas Stadium grass in the years ahead!

About the Author

Matt Kupec is a fundraising professional with 32 years of significant higher education development experience.  He has directed three major university fundraising campaigns and nearly $5 billion has been raised under his leadership.  He has led the fundraising programs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Hofstra University, Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute and HelpMeSee, a New York City based non-profit.

Matt is a former record-breaking four year starting quarterback for the UNC Tar Heels.  During his career he set 19 season and career passing records.  Two of which still stand – most consecutive games with a TD pass and most wins as a starting QB.  Matt also set the ACC record for TD passes his senior year at UNC.  Matt was named MVP of the 1977 Liberty Bowl and the 1979 Gator Bowl becoming the 1st player in Atlantic Coast Conference history to be named MVP of two bowl games.