LAWRENCE, Kan. — Kansas athletic director Jeff Long said he pointedly asked his longtime friend, Les Miles, during the hiring process to be next football coach of the Jayhawks whether there was anything in his background that could potentially embarrass the university.
Miles, according to Long, replied, “No.”
Three years later, that answer has not only contributed to the sudden downfall of a popular coach who took LSU to two national title games and a championship, but also has thrown into disarray a Kansas program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2008 amid a succession of failed coaches, dwindling fan support and overall apathy.
The school and Miles agreed to a settlement late Monday, just days after he was placed on administrative leave amid sexual misconduct allegations from his tenure with the Tigers. Miles had about $8 million remaining on his contract through 2023, and Long said Tuesday that the settlement will amount to paying him through the rest of this year.
“I’m beyond disappointed that the University of Kansas is in this position,” said Long, who has known Miles since their days together at Michigan in the late 1980s and early ’90s, “but it is absolutely the right decision for this university.”
Long said a series of background checks took place before the Jayhawks hired Miles in 2018, and that nobody within the LSU athletic department raised any red flags.
When Kansas officials learned of a legal dispute that was settled out of court, Long said the school “requested copies of any and all reported related to Miles when he was at LSU.”
“We were given a variety of reasons from Miles’ legal counsel why that would not be provided to us,” Long said.
Details surrounding the settlement were not revealed until a lawsuit brought by newspapers forced LSU to make public late last week a report compiled by the law firm Taylor Porter. It describes how two female students within the football program had accused Miles in 2013 of inappropriate behavior but it ultimately found no violations of any law.
One day after the Taylor Porter report became public, a separate report by the law firm Husch Blackwell completed last fall was released. The 148-page review looked at the LSU’s handling of sexual misconduct complaints campus-wide, and at one point described how Miles “tried to sexualize the staff of student workers in the football program by, for instance, allegedly demanding that he wanted blondes with big breasts, and ‘pretty girls.’”
The report also revealed then-Tigers athletic director Joe Alleva recommended firing the coach in 2013 to school officials.
Asked whether Miles lied to him, Long replied: “That’s debatable whether that was a lie.”
“I can’t really answer why Coach Miles responded the way he did,” Long said. “I think much is played about our friendship; it’s a friendship that was certainly not the reason why we were hiring him to be the head coach. He was an established head coach, he was an incredible recruiter — those are the reasons we hired Les Miles at the time.”
An attorney representing Miles argued Saturday, shortly after he was placed on administrative leave, that Kansas had “performed thorough due diligence” before his hiring and had “significant information” about the LSU reports.
“To fail to recognize that a person’s career should not be compromised by unsubstantiated allegations hardly is consistent with the example an institution of higher learning should champion,” Peter Ginsberg said.
The 67-year-old Miles won three games his first season and went winless last season, only the third time that’s happened in school history. And while recruiting, facilities and infrastructure improved under his watch, the school is again facing down an embarrassing situation following the failed tenures of Turner Gill, Charlie Weis and David Beaty.
Mike DeBord has been appointed the acting head coach with spring football about to start, and Long said he’s been visiting with assistant coaches but has yet to decide on an interim coach. Whomever is chosen will handle the program while Long works with a search firm to identify potential head coaches at a difficult time in the calendar with most coaches are well into planning for next season.
There is also debate whether Long should be leading the search. His missteps in hiring Miles came after an underwhelming hiring of Dave Wannstedt at Pittsburgh and his controversial hiring and firing of Bobby Petrino at Arkansas.
“Well, I’m hoping as soon as I can to have those open and candid discussions for what we’re trying to do,” said Long, adding that the settlement with Long will be paid through athletic department revenues and donors to the Williams Fund.
“I’m happy to have those conversations with (donors). We need their support more than ever,” Long added. “This is not a change we anticipate. But despite the record during the COVID season, we see progress here.”