LAWRENCE, Kan. — Kansas coach Les Miles got an unwavering vote of confidence from athletic director Jeff Long on Thursday, despite the long-suffering Jayhawks finishing just the second winless season since the 1950s and showing little sign of improvement.
“We knew building this football program that this was a building process. I don’t need to tell you that,” Long said during a wide-ranging interview with local reporters. “You all follow us very closely and know what we’ve been like the last eight to 10 years, and yes, we were not pleased with the success on the field and at times did not see the kind of progress we’d have hoped, but again, there were so many things impacting not only Kansas but every college football team.”
The Jayhawks lost their only nonconference game to Coastal Carolina before losing all eight of their Big 12 games, often by lopsided margins. Their season was cut short by a game when their finale against Texas was canceled because of positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing within the Longhorns program.
To be sure, Miles has hardly had a fair shot at turning around a program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2008.
For one thing, he inherited a scholarship fiasco and ultimately wound up with a roster short of players. Miles also took over a program that lagged far behind the rest of the Big 12 in facilities and resources, an issue Long has worked to rectify over the past year.
When the pandemic hit, Miles lost not only the opportunity to have his first full recruiting cycle since arriving at Kansas but also most of spring football and the typical offseason program. Nonconference games the Jayhawks might’ve been expected to win were cast aside as the Big 12 went with a largely league-only approach.
“We did anticipate this would be a challenging year,” Long acknowledged. “We have to improve. We need to win.”
Miles went 3-9 and won a single Big 12 game his first season in Lawrence, which leaves him with a winning percentage better than only five other coaches in school history. Three of those — David Beaty, Charlie Weis and Turner Gill — were the three coaches that preceded him, evidence of just how low the program had sunk since the Mark Mangino years.
Miles will be heading into the third year of a five-year deal that pays him $2,775,000 annually.
“I know we’re committed to maintaining the level of support for football. That’s where we have the biggest opportunity to make an impact financially and on the branding of our university,” Long said. “It’s a tough time after a winless season, but we have to call on our donors again to support us. It’s going to take continued investment, increased investment.”