Two Coaches – One On Top, One On Bottom

Two Coaches – One On Top, One On Bottom


Two coaches.

One on top of the world, his only problem being fighting complacency on his team that has won two consecutive conference championships and two Heisman Trophies in his two years as head coach.

The other sits in college football purgatory, even though he does possess the one prize our first coach most covets, a national championship.

Lincoln Riley
Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley

Two coaches.

One is Lincoln Riley of Oklahoma, owner of a 24-4 career record, a healthy start on a career for a coach who is but 35 years old.

The other is Les Miles of Kansas, a team that has won four games in the two years Riley was winning 24.

Riley fights a loss of focus; Miles looks to establish a culture of winning with what may be America’s most hungry program.

Miles is taking over the Jayhawks program this season from David Beaty — emphasis on Beat — and is looking for his first college win since being fired at LSU in mid-season in 2016, and disappearing into semi-retirement.

Miles won his National Championship in 2007 by beating Ohio State.

Ironically, that title had a strong West Virginia University tie for the Tigers jumped from No. 4 to No. 2 when they beat Tennessee to win the SEC while the Mountaineers suffered the most heartbreaking loss in school history, 13-9 to 28.5-point underdog Pitt in the Backyard Brawl.

So there they were in Arlington, Texas, on the first day of the Big 12 Media Day gathering, Riley explaining how he has his own trouble having lost four offensive linemen, a Heisman Trophy quarterback, his top wide receiver, his top running back and a placekicker to the NFL draft.

Meanwhile, Miles was explaining why at age 65 he came back to try and raise the dead.

“I would like to tell you that the reason that I am in coaching is to have the opportunity to take these young men and prepare them, take them to the field and play games and play for championships,” Miles said. “That is still very much what I want to do.”

He was sold on the character of the team he would inherit.

“These are the kind of kids that have an 81-percent graduation rate at Kansas and that is a tremendous positive. The 2.81 GPA overall for the football team is a tremendous positive,” he said.

Fine, but can they play?

That was what he was asking himself.

“When I came in I did not know how capable this team was going to be, but I see that there is a very strong athletic base and a real capable football team in Lawrence,” he said.

But he was slapped in the face right away, as his best player, maybe the best returning running back in the Big 12, Pooka Williams was suspended for domestic violence. The suspension lasted seven and a half months and will cost him the first game of the season, a non-conference game against FCS foe Indiana State.

“First of all,” Miles said, “there is no proper way to put it, there is no violence, violence will not be accepted with women, period. Action was taken immediately.”

Williams was barred from any contact with the team.

“We felt like a strong point was the made not only with Pooka Williams Jr., but with the team. For seven and a half months, Pooka was going through a process and he didn’t have the opportunity to spend time with his team, go to the weight room, you know, just be a part,” Miles said.

“Pooka went through legal investigation with the legal community. Pooka also had proceedings that went through the conduct board at the university, and he basically understood very much that if he did not meet the criteria that the board asked that this would not last long and he really met every criteria that he could. He has taken responsibility.

“He’s been remorseful. He’s learned from this experience, as has our team. We’re thankful to have him back, and, again, no violence against a woman is okay. I did not make this decision, but I stand by it and see it as a right one.”

Now, to find a quarterback, to put in a defense … at least he has an All-Big 12 punter.

After Miles opening the coaches’ interview session with the media, Riley was the closing speaker and he admitted he had problems, too, although he was eager to get at them, as any Oklahoma coach would be.

“A lot of changes on our football team obviously that have really got us re-energized and primed to make a run here in 2019,” he said.

He spoke of bringing in new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch and putting in a new system, rebuilding the o-line, putting Jalen Hurts at quarterback after his transfer from Alabama.

But that was not a complaint.

The biggest challenge.

“It’s complacency, not letting it set in and for returning guys not assuming it’s going to happen because it did before and for new guys not assuming it’s going to happen because the players did it before, when I wasn’t there,” he said.

“It’s a new team, a new challenge. I think the expectations and standard of Oklahoma football are so high that it almost helps a little bit in a funny way,” Riley continued. “It almost helps you refocus in that, yeah, the last four were great, but what about the fifth one? That’s the mindset around the program.”

“It’s complacency, not letting it set in and for returning guys not assuming it’s going to happen because it did before and for new guys not assuming it’s going to happen because the players did it before, when I wasn’t there,” he said.

“It’s a new team, a new challenge. I think the expectations and standard of Oklahoma football are so high that it almost helps a little bit in a funny way,” Riley continued. “It almost helps you refocus in that, yeah, the last four were great, but what about the fifth one? That’s the mindset around the program.”

Riley expects a fight this year, but says his team is prepared for it.

“I think we’ve got a good culture,” he said. “I think our guys understand and have a healthy respect for how difficult each and every championship has been, each and every win has been.

“We have had to play our tails off and coach our tails off to get it done, and that’s how it should be in the Big 12 and to make another run will be just as difficult if not more difficult and it will take everything we have.”

 

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