Kansas had rapper Rick Ross perform at its end-of-spring football event. Jayhawks coach Les Miles joined him onstage and ... well ... let him tell you about it:
“I don’t know that I got on the stage with any real strength there. I think I was a little inept. But it was certainly a fun evening.”
Mike Gundy was the most interesting man in Big 12 Conference football until KU hired his old Oklahoma State boss. Now he is being upstaged.
Miles spent the spring trying to make his team better, but also trying to get his university’s attention. He played cornhole, flip cup and ladder golf with students on campus. He filmed a “Step Brothers” parody video with Bill Self. He made that cameo with Ross.
Miles has sought attention before.
“At OSU, I can remember a summer caravan of 25 stops,” he said during Tuesday’s Big 12 coaches teleconference.
This, though, is on another level.
Miles’ efforts are instructive in the context of Kansas, where basketball walk-ons gain as much attention as the starting quarterback, and of the three other Big 12 schools with new football coaches — Kansas State, where Chris Klieman replaces Bill Snyder; Texas Tech, where Matt Wells succeeds Kliff Kingsbury; and West Virginia, where Neal Brown replaces Dana Holgorsen.
This isn’t as seismic as 2017, the year Lincoln Riley and Tom Herman took over Big 12 bellwethers Oklahoma and Texas. That got everybody’s attention everywhere.
Miles has a national championship and some endearing quirks going for him, but he also takes over a program that is 18-90 since 2010. He’ll need every bit of his loopiness, not to mention that title ring from 2007 at LSU, to get folks to notice KU football, let alone care about it.
Engaging students in tailgate pastimes is a start.
“I’ve always felt like the student population is who you play for,” Miles said Tuesday. “They’re the ones in numbers that come. They’re the future of your fan base. I certainly make it a priority to communicate with that group as best I can.”
That’s the charge facing Klieman now that he has replaced a walking institution in Manhattan. K-State fans got to where they could call Snyder’s plays before Snyder did. Now they must get acquainted with a coach whose past eight years were at FCS power North Dakota State.
“Through the first three months on the job we’re continuing to build relationships with our players, relationships with the fan base, the media,” Klieman said. “I know it’s not going to happen overnight and we need to win some games and get off to a great start. But I’ve been pleased with the progress we’ve made so far.”
Klieman helped his cause this spring by opening his program some to fans and media, a shift from the notoriously guarded Snyder.
“I wanted to get our brand out there as much as we could,” Klieman said. “I didn’t realize that it wasn’t out as much over the last however many years. That’s each coach’s prerogative. … I think we’ve got a great thing to sell here. We need to get out in front of it.”
Wells must sell himself to Texas Tech fans who figured if athletic director Kirby Hocutt was going to fire a Tech celebrity like Kingsbury, he had flashier replacements in mind than the six-year coach at Utah State.
“The biggest thing for us is I’m gonna be me,” Wells said. “We’re gonna coach ’em hard, we’re gonna love ’em hard and do everything that we’ve done at our previous place to instill discipline and accountability that we need to win. ... That’s the only way to win people over.”
Wells will look different from his predecessor — Ray-Ban sunglasses are about to go into a slump in Lubbock — and his team will look different.
“I certainly think that’s going to be the case defensively,” he said. “We’re going to do things different in the weight room, nutrition, different things off the field. The offense is probably most similar, to be honest with you.”
Brown is hardly replacing an icon at West Virginia. A recent headline from a Charleston Gazette-Mail op-ed read: “Holgorsen not a hard act to follow at WVU.”
Still, a coach must make an impression, especially if he jumps from the Group of Five Sun Belt (Brown had been at Troy since 2015) to the Power Five Big 12.
Brown’s introduction of “accountability teams” — whereby the Mountaineers split into 10-player groups and accumulate scores for things like academics, nutrition and community service — is promising. He’ll be all over his new state the next few weeks on WVU’s spring tour. We’ll see how that meet-and-greet goes.
We’ll see how Brown’s Mountaineers do when the games start again. That will ultimately determine his transition, same as Miles’ at Kansas, Klieman’s at Kansas State and Wells’ at Texas Tech. Nothing gets a fan base behind a new coach like success.
In the meantime, it never hurts to bust a rhyme, no matter how “inept,” or flip a cup.