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Ashway: Kansas football, stranger than fiction
Denton Ashway

Sometimes reality’s stranger than fiction.

Fiction was Dorothy arriving in Oz and realizing she and Toto weren’t in Kansas anymore.

Reality is the University of Kansas football team making national headlines.

Of course, KU football isn’t making headlines for any display of on-field prowess. It rarely does.

The Jayhawks’ last winning season came in 2008, when they compiled an 8-5 record under coach Mark Mangino. That was a year after Mangino led KU to the Orange Bowl, where he was repeatedly mistaken for Obie, the Orange Bowl mascot.

Mangino went 5-7 in 2009. Since that time a succession of five coaches has never topped the three-win mark for a season. They’ve combined for a hideous record of 21-108.

KU made headlines last Friday by placing head coach Les Miles on administrative leave. The reason was alleged inappropriate conduct by Miles. In 2013. While he was head coach at LSU. Six years prior to his hiring as head coach at Kansas.

If you feel like you’re missing something here, you’re not alone. Isn’t there supposed to be some sort of screening process, some sort of vetting that goes on before a university hires its highest-paid employee?

You’d certainly think so. And in most cases, you’d be correct. But, apparently, they do things a little bit differently in Kansas.

Miles was hired at Kansas two years after his unceremonious ouster at LSU. He was hired by Kansas athletic director Jeff Long, a long-time friend. The hire drew rave reviews. Even though his LSU offenses remained antiquated, Miles was a high-profile hire. Especially for Kansas.

Long paved the way for Miles’ arrival by firing head coach David Beaty, who produced a 4-20 record (1-17 in the Big 12) over his final two seasons. But instead of giving Beaty his $3 million buyout, Long tried to create a “just cause” scenario by listing several minor violations committed under the Beaty regime. The predictable result was Beaty suing KU.

One of the lowlights of Long’s deposition in the Beaty case was his inability to remember the names of the three other coaches he interviewed prior to hiring Miles. Beaty and KU eventually settled their differences for $2.55 million.

Long chose this route at a time when KU basketball was swept up in the FBI investigation into illegal recruiting practices. Recall that the FBI produced a tape of KU assistant Kurtis Townsend detailing his willingness to offer “enticements” to Zion Williamson. Townsend and head coach Bill Self remain on staff at KU. No administrative leaves for them.

Miles’ misadventures were detailed in a 2013 report conducted by the law firm of Taylor Porter, and had been kept confidential until a lawsuit brought by USA Today caused their release last week. The report detailed Miles’ despicable and inappropriate behavior toward two female student employees.

The report concluded that “we don’t believe there is a cause to discipline and/or terminate (Miles’) contract.” He was prohibited from having any contact with student employees.

So, LSU found it inappropriate to fire a coach for offensive behavior, but appropriate to fire a coach for a lack of offense.

According to Long’s Friday statement regarding Miles, “Even though the allegations against him occurred at LSU, we take these matters very seriously at KU. Now that we have access to this information, we will take the coming days to fully review the material and to see if any additional information is available.”

So, now Long is going to perform the due diligence that should have been done prior to Miles’ hiring. Note his condemning comment “now that we have access to this information.” Clearly meant as a defense, it strikes much harder as an allegation.

Even though the Taylor Porter report was confidential, was everyone who ever worked with or supervised Miles part of a massive coverup? At the very least, you’d have to believe that at some point during the interview process, Miles had to deny that he had ever been involved in any unseemly behavior.

Of course, Miles’ attorney, Peter Ginsberg, leapt into the fray on Saturday.

“Before the release of reports this week, Kansas had been provided with significant information supporting Taylor Porter’s conclusion,” Ginsberg said in a statement. “KU also had performed thorough due diligence before hiring coach Miles.

“Kansas’ decision to put Les Miles on administrative leave is both disturbing and unfair. To fail to recognize that a person’s career should not be compromised by unsubstantiated allegations is hardly consistent with the example an institution of higher learning should champion.”

We must always view attorney bluster through the prism that its intent is to further the best interests of the client, but his comments do indicate that Kansas erred, either now, or during the hiring process.

In his two years in Lawrence, Miles has compiled a record of 3-18. He’s gone 1-16 in the Big 12 (thank you, Texas Tech) and went 0-9 in 2020.

Looks like Kansas got just what it deserved.