When Les Miles was hired in November, his time at LSU was the cause for most of the buzz and excitement around the program. Understandably so. That’s what happens when you win a national title and build a consistent powerhouse in the SEC.
It was then quickly pointed out that the period of Miles’ career that might give fans a better representation of how Miles can accomplish this particular challenge was his first head coaching job at Oklahoma State.
The Kansas program is in a rare situation coming into Miles’ tenure with a depletion of scholarships and revolving door of coaches wrecking the program for the past decade. But there are similarities that can be made.
Recent State of the Program Pre-Miles
What Miles inherited at Oklahoma State was not quite as grim as Kansas is, but it’s not too far off. OSU had 11 losing seasons in the previous 12 before Miles. And while some of those were semi-respectable 5-6 years, I will point out that the 1991 Cowboys went 0-10-1 while scoring 9.6 points per game. I know it was a different era, but a Big 12 offense scored less than 10 points per game. That’s bad. Maybe crazier was that 9.6 ppg wasn’t even the worst offense in the country.
The year before Miles took the helm, OSU was 3-8, scoring 18.4 ppg (97th of 116 teams) and giving up 27.5 ppg (77th of 116). In case you forgot, Kansas went 3-9 last season, scoring 23.8 ppg (106th of 130 teams) and giving up 30 ppg (82nd of 130).
It’s important to start this section by pointing out the likely obvious that recruiting in 2001 was a different beast than recruiting in 2019. That being said, there are similarities between the two programs here, too.
The Cowboys had the 51st recruiting class in the country in Miles’ first year of 2001—according to 247Sports—down from the 40th class the year prior. Yet in Miles’ second year, Oklahoma State was up to No. 31, and by year three the Cowboys were up to No. 21.
247Sports has Kansas as the 67th best recruiting class for 2019, down from No. 60 last year. KU is currently the No. 42 recruiting class for next year, which would also be a sizable jump after a full year of Miles leading the program.
Miles led the Cowboys to a 4-7 record in year one, with the team showing moderate improvements in offense (22 ppg, up from 18.4 ppg) and defense (giving up 25.5 ppg, down from 27.5 ppg). Year two was much more dramatic in the team’s growth, with Oklahoma State going 8-5 and the offense putting up 34.3 points per game (14th best nationally). And the peak of his tenure was a 9-4 season in year three.
Only time will tell what Kansas’ growth looks like over the next few years. But while everyone wonders if Miles can get back to winning 12 games a season like he did at LSU, the steady rise from marginal improvement in year one to having a competitive, bowl-game-winning team in year three like at Oklahoma State is more reasonable. And if I told you that 9-4 would be the peak of Miles’ tenure at Kansas, for however long he’s in Lawrence, would you take it and be happy? I’m guessing most fans would.
Miles also had some notable on-field results in his first two years in Stillwater. His first season, that 4-7 team, knocked off #4 Oklahoma in Norman in the final week of the season. His second year, they lost to #2 Texas by just two points, and then beat #3 Oklahoma again.
It’s still a large ask, but there’s got to be some confidence in the fact that Miles has done a similar turnaround before.