Welcome to College Football's Silly Season, With a Star Turn From Les Miles
BATON ROUGE, La. — On Friday afternoon, Les Miles bustled through the airport to board a plane. The timing of this is important. Here was Miles, a top candidate for the Kansas head coaching job, boarding a flight just hours after the internet buzzed with reports that he was bound for Lawrence, Kansas. Fans and reporters, having obtained airplane travel logs, even showed up at the Lawrence Municipal Airport Thursday night expecting to see the championship-winning coach deboard a private jet.
The problem with that: Miles’s plane took him, not to the Midwest, but to the Atlantic coast. He attended Saturday’s Duke-North Carolina football game to watch his son Manny, a walk-on quarterback for the Tar Heels.
On Tuesday evening, it happened again. While Miles sat in his Baton Rouge home, social media rumbled to life over his immediate future. Reporters had tracked another flight, this one directly from Lawrence to Baton Rouge. At least one media member arrived at the Lawrence Municipal Airport just in time to catch the jet taking off, leaving a question hanging, literally, in the air: Who was on the plane? Who cares? It never even made it to Baton Rouge, re-routing to Colorado.
Welcome to the silly season of college football, off to a roaring start and well ahead of schedule, with a somewhat unexpected lead character in its opening scene: the quirky coach known for nibbling on grass. Miles did not return messages Tuesday, but those close to him provided information to Sports Illustrated for this story. His courtship with Kansas is serious, and it is rooted in the coach’s close relationship with new Kansas athletic director Jeff Long. Miles and Long have a friendship that stretches back to their days at Michigan in the 1980s, and it is widely known that Long, while AD at Arkansas in 2012, extended a lucrative offer to Miles, then at LSU.
As for this latest foray, “right now, a deal is not done,” a source confirmed what is obvious to most, painfully so for KU fans. It might be days before anything more substantive happens. Meanwhile, the speculation will continue because this is the silly season, and no one is safe. Earlier this week, social media salivated with the news that former Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez was spotted in Alabama’s football facility (He’s friends, by the way, with Bama OC Mike Locksley). Remember last year when Florida fans thought they spotted Chip Kelly’s agent deboarding a plane with UF administrators? (It was the pilot of the plane). And how about the photo that went viral of a Christmas tree put to the street of Jimbo Fisher’s Tallahassee home before Christmas? (That one is explained here, but, yeah, he ended up leaving for Texas A&M).
The silly season has now grabbed Miles, a man who just turned 65 this past weekend and has been out of the game for more than two years. Through all this hubbub regarding his coaching future, Miles has spent his weekends watching college football games, only he does it from the stands, cheering on his sons, one a quarterback at North Carolina and the other a fullback at Texas A&M. In his backyard on sunny afternoons, he plays catch with his youngest daughter, a middle school softball player whose fastball already has college coaches buzzing. In the mornings, during his daily hour elliptical workout, he watches his oldest daughter thrive in her new gig as a Baton Rouge television reporter.
Miles splits his fatherly duties with his new craft. He’s broken into the world of acting, appearing in one feature film as a NASA engineer and starring in a beer commercial that has him nibbling on grass. He’s dabbled in TV analyst jobs, hosts a weekly podcast and he’s a frequent speaker at coaching clinics. But what Miles really wants to do is coach again. He’s made that clear to those close to him, whether it Louisville, Kansas or even Colorado, which reportedly may come open after this season (Miles served for five years in the 1980s as Colorado’s offensive line coach, during which he worked with many of the Buffaloes’ current athletic administrators).
Miles is itching to return to the sidelines, where he’s had enormous success. He helped turn Oklahoma State from cellar-dweller to contender in the early 2000s, and he replaced Nick Saban at LSU in 2005, leading the Tigers to two SEC championships and a national title while amassing the second-most wins in school history. The school fired him four games into his 12th season in 2016. LSU still owes the coach about $6.5 million over the next four years, according to language in his contract. Miles receives roughly $133,000 a month, but that buyout is offset by any new compensation he earns.
The school’s split with the coach largely surrounded his offense, an I-formation, run-heavy scheme with sporadic quarterback play. He plans to change his offensive approach at his next stop, he’s said in the past. He’ll have to in the Big 12, a league that leads the country in offensive production, with its spread formations, passing fancies and porous defense.
This weekend, Miles will likely board another plane, bound for the site of one of his son’s football games. He’ll sit in the stands, root for the Tar Heels or the Aggies and think longingly, maybe, about a return to the gridiron. Meanwhile, the internet will buzz with his whereabouts. Where In The World Is Les Miles? The answer: Usually not where you think.