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The wild Big 12 gets even more fun with Les Miles’ return

Nov 18, 2018

  • Jake TrotterESPN Staff Writer
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    • Covers the Big 12
    • Joined ESPN.com in 2011
    • Graduate of Washington & Lee University

On Sunday, arguably the country’s most entertaining conference, heavy on high-flying offenses, electric quarterbacks and dramatic last-second finishes — and yes, light on defense — added back one of the most entertaining figures from its past.

Les Miles has returned to the Big 12.

And with the man they call “The Hat” at Kansas, the Jayhawks will “play any sucker in this country.” And, of course, won’t be afraid to “let ‘er rip.”

In the first head-coaching job of his career, Miles stayed at Oklahoma State for just four seasons, from 2001 to 2004. And yet before leaving for LSU, Miles constantly generated quotable phrases, upset Oklahoma twice and even traded verbal jabs with Bob Stoops.

Miles also won a lot of games, setting the foundation in attitude for his offensive coordinator and eventual successor, Mike Gundy, to take Oklahoma State into its golden age.

Who knows if Miles will be able to “break the cycle,” as Kansas athletic director Jeff Long called it, in Lawrence.

The Jayhawks face overwhelming obstacles that Oklahoma State didn’t at the turn of the century. Kansas still has yet to completely make up the depleted scholarship numbers from the Charlie Weis days. And the significant talent gap from the rest of the league remains. The same goes for facilities. And though Kansas launched a $350 million capital campaign last year to renovate Memorial Stadium, the Jayhawks also don’t have a T. Boone Pickens to bankroll the project.

Yet whatever happens initially on the field, Miles will bring some desperately needed excitement to Kansas, where an empty Memorial Stadium has become the norm. And Miles most definitely will up the entertainment level in the Big 12, once again.

“He can be animated about the way he gets his guys ready to play,” said former Oklahoma State wide receiver Rashaun Woods, who was Miles’ most decorated player in Stillwater.

That can include tweaking rivals to galvanize both his fan base and his players.

In 2001, Miles coached Oklahoma State to what remains perhaps the biggest upset in Big 12 history. The four-touchdown-underdog Cowboys knocked Oklahoma out of the national championship conversation in Norman with a 16-13 victory on Woods’ game-winning scoring grab. Not long after, Miles boasted to a group of Oklahoma State boosters that the Cowboys should’ve won by more, which got back to Stoops, who retorted that he and Miles could compare championship hardware.

Miles wasn’t done, however, pouring kerosene on the rivalry, which he won again in 2002, stunningly leading at one point 35-6.

The week before the 2003 Bedlam matchup, Miles said on TV that “two teams are going to play. One is maybe the best team in college football and the other one is a darn good football team. We’re going to play to figure out which one is which.” And then moments before kickoff, he proclaimed to then-ABC sideline reporter Lynn Swann that his team would “Let ‘er rip.”

The Sooners would restore their dominance in the series with a 52-9 blowout, and at one point, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops walked out onto the field and gestured to Miles, asking if he wanted more.

Miles clearly had Oklahoma’s attention in a way the Cowboys rarely had before. He also had Oklahoma State believing it could compete with the best in the Big 12, underscored by his comment about his team after a narrow defeat in Bedlam in 2004: “I’ll take them around and I’ll play any sucker in this country.”

That year, Miles left to go to LSU, where he would go on to win a national championship. Yet before he did, he left an indelible mark at Oklahoma State, helping kick-start the Cowboys’ improbable rise to prominence, which has included a half-dozen double-digit win totals this decade.

“It’s gonna be a tall order, to get that place turned around,” Woods said. “But if somebody can do it, why not somebody who’s done it before. People were saying a lot of those same things about Oklahoma State at one point. Look at OSU now. He’s not the only reason. But he played a part in the early stages of Oklahoma State becoming a team that now competes for Big 12 titles.”

Kansas competing for Big 12 titles feels like a lifetime away. But if his last stint in the league is any indication, Miles won’t be backing down from the Sooners or the Longhorns or his former offensive coordinator at his former school.

He’ll also be eating grass and pushing the envelope in extreme clock management.

The Hat is back. Which means, the Big 12 just got all the more fun.

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