LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — 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 non-conference 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 gotten 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 would 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. Non-conference 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.”
In other news, Long said he anticipates resolution of the pending infractions case against the men's basketball program to be delayed because of the pandemic. Kansas is accused of committing five Level I violations, all of which it has challenged, and agreed to have its case adjudicated by a panel of independent investigators.
“I know the NCAA has taken pauses in their program due to COVID and they've also had furloughs in enforcement because of the financial crunch they're experiencing,” Long said. “I can't give you at time period — it's been delayed a week, a month, six months — but it has been delayed.”
Long also said the school has begun to educate its athletes about the COVID-19 vaccine, though he acknowledged the age and low-risk nature of that part of the population likely means they won't be eligible for several months.
“We're confident that when it's appropriate we'll have those vaccines available,” Long said. “We've already started an education process with student-athletes and staff about hte vaccine, but we believe it's safe and we believe it will allow us to get our student-athletes back to competition on a regular basis.”