LAWRENCE — Jeff Long got exactly what he anticipated in Les Miles.
The Kansas athletic director said as much in his first comments since the Jayhawk football head coach wrapped his first season in charge of the program.
“Coach Miles did what he does,” Long said at a news conference Thursday. “I mean, he’s a players’ coach, he develops young people, and then we know him as an excellent recruiter, and I think we’re going to see that play out. I think we’re getting the experienced, national championship-winning coach that we expected to get.”
That doesn’t, however, mean Long was satisfied with what the Jayhawks accomplished.
Miles’ crew went 1-8 in Big 12 play and 3-9 overall in Year 1, the season ending with a thud by way of a 61-6 defeat to then-No. 11 Baylor last Saturday at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. KU dropped its final four games of the season, eliminating the possibility of the program reaching its first bowl game since 2008.
Long labeled the situation “a tough build” but stressed the team has “made strides.”
“Do I wish we were further along? Yes. Am I disappointed in where we are? No,” Long said. “We’ve taken the first step.”
Long, who before the season declined to publicly state a target win total, joked Thursday that anything short of a 15-0, national championship-winning effort wouldn’t meet his own expectations. Still, he pointed to close-call defeats — Long specifically cited the Jayhawks’ 50-48 last-second defeat at Texas on Oct. 19 — as tangible signs of progress.
“We’re closer. We’re far closer than we have been,” Long said. “We’re never satisfied. We’re not satisfied with three wins. But again, we think we’ve made progress. I think if you watched our football team compete, I think you would say we’ve made progress. We have to continue to make progress.”
While an ideal win total didn’t materialize in Year 1, Long pointed to other specific fan- and booster-driven figures as signs of progress — a 74.3% increase in fans in the stands at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium for the highest season attendance (237,122) since 2013; a tripling of student attendance from a year ago; more than $16 million raised in less than two years for the “Break the Cycle” fundraising effort, which has a goal of $25 million over five years.
“I have to thank the fans. Again, they have had a decade of football that has not been the best. We’ve seen the attendance dwindle through the years," said Long, who is in his second year at KU. “But they came back this year, and they came back in a big way. Again, it’s a first step in building our program. When we have more success, we expect to have more fans.”
Long also used part of his opening words Thursday to thank KU's other head coaches and assistants, who he said grasp the potential of a rising tide in football lifting all boats in the department.
“I’ve been focused, and outwardly focused, about football for my first 16, 17 months, OK? We’ve talked about it in our monthly department meetings. I think our coaches and assistants understand that,” Long said. “But from the outside sometimes, it may look like football is all we care about. That is not the case, and I appreciate our head coaches and assistant coaches in this department understanding that message and appreciating the fact that we know we have to build that (football) program in order to make everybody else better.”
With the season over, the Jayhawks enter a period arguably more crucial to the program’s long-term success than what this year’s 3-9 campaign represented. KU coaches are on the road trying to put the finishing touches on a recruiting class that currently stands No. 40 nationally in 247Sports’ composite rankings.
This year’s early signing period begins Dec. 18 and ends Dec. 20.
“You know what? We hired Coach Miles because we want to build a program. We want to build a winning program. We want to build a championship program,” Long said. “We’ve taken a step. We didn’t get in the condition we were in prior to his arrival overnight, and we won’t get out of it overnight. But I am optimistic.”