Matt Tait: Les Miles' juco signing strategy has different feel than recent experiments

Newly-hired Kansas football coach Les Miles shakes hands with a fan as he is introduced to the Allen Fieldhouse crowd during halftime of the Jayhawks’ game against Stanford.

Let the record show that the first official recruiting class in the Les Miles era of Kansas football will include at least six junior college signees.

Insert your best eye roll, more-of-the-same statements and belly laughs worthy of Old Saint Nick here.

Hasn’t Kansas tried this whole juco thing way too many times before? Yes, and no. More on that in a minute.

Now, take a deep breath and let your mind accept the fact that the news that Wednesday’s early signing period haul included six juco prospects and four high school standouts is actually OK.

The reason?

Because a little more than a month ago, Miles explained that this could happen. He even went as far as to say he planned on doing it, was OK with the move and would need juco help to fill some immediate needs for his first team at Kansas.

In other words, Miles had a plan and he’s actually sticking to it.

I know. I know. I know. Mind-blowing.

Miles’ exact words when he was introduced back in November were: “... with the proximity of the JCs that we have in this state, I’m going to certainly look at those guys as they would be emergency-need style of guys.”

Let’s quickly assess just how much of an emergency these initial juco signees really are.

Mesa Community College quarterback Thomas MacVittie is a player who Miles called “arguably the best pocket-mobile quarterback there was.” And given the fact that KU will have to replace two-year, primary starter Peyton Bender, adding a QB was an absolute must. One for one.

At wideout, the 2019 Jayhawks will have to replace steady seniors Jeremiah Booker, Steven Sims Jr. and Ryan Schadler, and now have better odds of doing it thanks to the signatures obtained from Iowa Western wideouts Ezra Naylor and Andrew Parchment. Both stand 6-foot-2 or taller and both add good size and playmaking ability to a key position in Big 12 football. Three for three.

Up front, the addition of three-star, Iowa Western defensive end Malcolm Lee — arguably the best of the bunch who signed with Kansas on Wednesday — and two-star D-Lineman Caleb Sampson, of Coahoma Community College in Mississippi, give Kansas a shot of making a smoother transition from senior co-captain Daniel Wise. Five for five.

And three-star cornerback Justin Ford, of Golden West College in California, is ranked as the 20th best juco corner available, and will, at the very least, push to create depth and competition at a position where you can never have too much of either. Six for six.

The likelihood of all of Wednesday’s juco signees becoming key contributors for Miles and Kansas is low. It never works out that way, at any school, and I have yet to meet a coach who expects it to go that way for him.

But panning out down the road and being good additions up front are two different things. And, as of today, be it because they address a particular need, are in good academic standing or come to KU with more than two years of eligibility, the newest group of juco players coming to KU appears to be worth the risk.

Call those players the foundation. And expect Miles and company to go heavy on high school talent from here. That seems to be the plan anyway.

How that plan evolves, and whether Miles sticks to it to the point of relying less and less on junior college transfers each year, will go a long way toward determining a.) how successful Miles will be in Lawrence; and b.) how strongly the KU fan base will embrace The Mad Hatter and his strategy for rebuilding Kansas football.

Comments

Len Shaffer

Seems pretty logical to me. And you can add in the fact that he did an awful lot in an extremely short time.

I'd say he's done about as well as we could possibly expect so far ...

8 months ago

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Brad Avery

I can't blame Coach Miles from focusing on JUCO players. The prior staff apparently did not recruit anyone, and as a result, KU again is scrounging the bottom of the player pool for "bargains" in order to fulfill perceived, immediate needs. But it's a little ridiculous to say this is part of a grand strategy. Recruiting JUCOs as a primary way to build a program does not and has not worked at Kansas. Let's hope the 2020 recruiting season produces at least a majority of kids who are graduating from high school in the year they are recruited. That will be a step forward.

8 months ago

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Stephen Johnson

Brad - wrong again. The previous staff did recruit several quality players or coach Miles wouldn’t have said that this thing is close - just one or two classes away. He said this even knowing he could bring in only 15 players.
Brad - think before you text

8 months ago

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Brad Avery

Pray, Stephen, think about what? The 1 commitment the prior staff had who subsequently decommitted, leaving the current staff with 0? .

8 months ago

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Jacob Zutterman

and recommitted

8 months ago

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Brian Wilson

Uh Brad, are you a progressive football fan or what? I immediate understood Stephen to mean the 2016, 2017, and 2018 recruiting classes and that he was not talking about the 2019 class. Afterall, the 2019 recruiting class is being done by HCLM.<br><br>
That aside, the 2017 and 2018 class with redshirting combines to be a class of 29 Sophomores in 2019 and if my count is correct, none of them are transfers and over half of them are local from Kansas, Kansas City Area, or Missouri. On this note Beaty and his staff did a great job and set Les Miles up very nicely where we can add a small class of 15 players, transfers or not and it will be excellent. In year two Miles can add 25 to what should be almost 40 players that will be growing up in the program, followed by another 25 and KU will have almost 80 scholarships in the program by year three barring exodus and injuries.

8 months ago

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Brad Avery

Optimistic assessment, but one of of us in a different dimension. I was responding to the article's discussion about the fact that Miles and his staff were compelled to rely on mostly 2nd tier JUCO players, through no fault of their own, for their first recruiting class. Sometimes coaches find a gem in the rock pile (Mangino found several), but Beaty and his staff did not a secure a single commitment for this year's (2019) recruiting class. I fail to see how your arithmetic analysis of the previous staff's prior recruiting track record is related to the paucity of 2019 class. Recruiting is an essential year-to-year process. At this level, a team cannot afford to take a year off from recruiting because of past successes (or perceived successes).

8 months ago

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Brett McCabe

Stephen, we had one verbal commit - how is that equal to several quality players? Think before you text. The article is about current recruiting, not previous years.

It would be great if people could simply agree on known facts. Weis left a mess. Beaty left a mess. On a roster that is short players, in what would have been Beaty’s fifth recruiting class, we had only 15 scholarships available to offer. For a team that won zero conference games last year.

Miles is smarter, Long is smarter and KU football will be better.

8 months ago

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Al Martin

Not negating your point, but we did win a conference game. Unless when you say "last year" you mean 2017, which would be confusing.

8 months ago

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Brian Wilson

Uh Brett, see above, your wrong, Beaty did a really good job of helping KU towards it's next coach. IMO, Beaty was hired to rebuild the roster with a prayer he could get some wins.<br><br>
But now, why don't you go look and evaluate next years Sophomore class. Over half are local players with some talent, like Pooka thrown in. <br><br>
Also, of note, look at next years Senior Class. More than half of the group, about 70% of all the Beaty transfers are in that class. Next year is the year of KU's Jaylienation! after which things gets back to normal.

8 months ago

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Jim Stauffer

Brett,
To equate what Beaty left to what Weis left is irresponsible.
The reason Miles said we were not far away is the players he watched have the necessary talent to succeed.
His feeling was there were some missing pieces and depth was required to put the rebuild on the way.
This year's recruits (only 15 available) will fill the missing pieces while next year will begin to build the depth.
We are not nearly as far from a bowl game at this juncture as we were when Beaty took over.

8 months ago

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Kevin Robert Fest

l agree, but at some point when we start recruiting and signing mostly high schoolers there will be a gap from when the upper classmen graduate along with the jucos, who are here a shorter amount of time. Let's say in 2020 and 21 Miles goes 80 to 90% high school recruits, how long before they are ready to play? So its either play them before they are ready or keep signing jucos until they are. Eventually we are going to have a very young team out there and wins maybe tough to come by. Meaning the recruits will have been in the program a few years with no game experience but now are playing against B12 competition. It's a never ending cycle l get it but things will get tougher before they get better. With the improved coaching staff l hope the cycle can be shorted.

8 months ago

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Mike Hart

Agreed, Kevin...

8 months ago

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Dirk Medema

Kevin - There is a concept there that is quite logical, but isn't reality when actually considering the numbers. The target would be 20 - 22 players per class. The 3-5 player difference between a full class and a target class is what has to be worked to get to a full roster and balanced classes. We were zeroing in before the last Beaty and first Miles classes got things more wonky again. Fortunately, not nearly as bad as where we started 4 years ago.

Realistically, we are probably looking at 3 - 5 years before the roster is in equilibrium. My guess is we would have been a year or so away this time if better game management had led to better Ws/Ls, and recruits. As Miles mentioned, we're still at a point where we can be effective with a slightly imbalanced and deficient roster through better game management.

8 months ago

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Michael Maris

My lord, the bickering never seems to end. It's a good thing Keegan is no longer with the LJW Staff. He consistently wrote about the continual focus on recruiting Juco players. Am I happy with the current recruits? Well, I can't really answer that question right now. But, I believe that Stephen Johnson was referencing the past recruits from the Beaty 2018, 2017 and 2016 recruiting years (not 2019). Thank the lord that Beaty had enough insights to hire Tony Hull to hmmmmm replace Reggie Mitchell. And, we ALL are aware of the Beaty Era 2019 recruiting outcome. Hard to get kids to commit, when you're a lame duck setting on the open pond. I will say this, I am always looking for Kansas Football Coaches to recruit the upper tier 3 Star and lower tier 4 star kids. But, history has shown that Kansas has recruited lower tier 3 star and 2 star kids who have went on to prove the rating systems to be inaccurate. So, I will analyze these recruits a few years down the road (and trust that Coach Miles and staff are great at finding the hidden gems, and can coach the players up to maximize their football athletic potentials). I just hope we don't recruit more kids who are on the verge of being concussion casualties and retiring from playing football.

8 months ago

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Jack Hoff

Don't remember who I heard say it and I believe this to be true at all levels in sports. There are really only a handful of players in the entire country that are truly game-changing or program changing athletes. The other 95% are more or less the same and it really takes great coaching to develop a system and put the athletes in a position to thrive in that system. That's what made Bill Snyder great. Pooka Williams are a rare breed... The stars next to their name are all nonsense for the most part in my opinion.

8 months ago

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Brian Wilson

That's a fact Jack! <br><br>
For the most part......However, you can't teach speed, height, or great eye hand foot coordination. Some of that is just pure natural DNA.<br.<br>
I do agree that there are a lot of 2 star players that have talent that just need time to grow, add strength and conditioning and by their Senior year the average Senior D1 starter in the top 30-40 teams for the most part are similarly talented.

8 months ago

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John Strayer

Recruiting is only the start...being able to take those 2/3 star players and develop them into quality players is the key.

8 months ago

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Dillon Davis

It comes down to this.

Beaty recruited JUCO players to save his job.

Miles recruited JUCO players because this team actually does have some talent (8/11 All-Big 12 honorees should return) and with their addition, KU could actually be competitive in 2019 and win some games.

Winning, combined with making connections with high school coaches and players (which takes time) is going to result in future classes being more high-school heavy and less JUCO-reliant. Have faith in Miles and Long. They have a great track record of success in college football.

8 months ago

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Mike Bennett

Umm, no it doesn't feel different. He just gets a free pass his first year. Staff's have been on most the good HS players for years and it would be completely unfair to expect Miles to sign many. However, that excuse goes down every year from here on out.

8 months ago

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Dirk Medema

The "need" for McVittie is only accurate if we're rejecting the argument previously made by the LJW and trumpeted by commenters that Stanley got a raw deal and should have been starting all along.

That being said I think those same people were claiming that Stanley was the mobile quarterback though the ypc stat didn't support that idea. Obviously a lot more goes into ypc for a QB, but then that more might also be why Carter wasn't starting.

QB is definitely the most important position so until you have one that can be a difference in leading the team you really have none.

8 months ago

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Dirk Medema

It is pretentiously ignorant to think that I know what/who the coaches are recruiting based on the players that are committed.

The previous staff recruited HS players, but when they didn't commit the staff primarily filled the classes with the next best thing- players with more than 2 years to be on campus and contributing. Many if not most were on campus for spring classes and few were of the variety found in the previous regime.

8 months ago

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Dirk Medema

The last two years DBs have been a crucial need. Don't buy it as a need this year but if the player can contribute for multiple years then it would be hard not to bring onboard.

8 months ago

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Dirk Medema

This feels similar to the last regime which imo was a stark contrast to the one before it that found a hole and dug it deeper. We're still moving in the right direction.

The biggest difference needs to be in better game management. Unfortunately Beaty never grew into that part of the job. Confident in Miles abilities there though already laughing at the known reactions here when a Lesticle doesn't work out for us. Hopefully there will be a positive or 2 before the first fail so that there aren't too many keyboards ruined by the ensuing cerebral fluids.

8 months ago

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Dane Pratt

I'm not concerned about his recruiting strategy in year 1. Let's see how he coaches and how the players respond. Do the players execute, do they play 60 minutes, are they competitive?

8 months ago

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Richie Wilson

Just checked the recruiting sites rankings, 247 and cbs has are class as 115th.Hope next year is much better.

8 months ago

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Dirk Medema

Richie - The recruiting rankings are highly class size dependent. At this point we only have a 10 man class. If we had a full class (2.5 x's more), we would be significantly higher. Definitely agree though that execution this year, and recruiting the following years are what matters.

8 months ago

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Mike Hart

Richie... the 2019 recruiting is not over. This is the EARLY signing period. Lots of talent still out there.. .still undecided. Let's see where we are in early February. 115th for recruiting class now means nothing.

8 months ago

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Randy Bombardier

Reasonable. I have absolutely no problem with it. KSU has had some big time Juco contributors. No reason KU can't. I expect we will need to do this more next year too. Gradually we probably will get it down to 4 or 5 a year, always plugging holes. Injuries, transfers, non-perfomance cannot be predicted.

8 months ago

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Layne Pierce

Actually, our average recruit is 2.7, and that is much better, than KState. But really, I think we did quite well, given a very limited amount of time, and the fact that no one was really interested, until Coach Miles was hired.

So let's see what this class actually does. There is a price to be paid when you recruit Juco players, and if you recruit them, with no plan to use them, then you are really hurting the program.

I believe that Coach Miles intends for the Juco players this year to start or be backups, at the very least on the field players.

The proof is in the pudding, we will see.

RCJH

8 months ago

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