Jayhawk Insider: Family and Football - The Miles Way
It’s no secret that football coaches spend countless hours at the office watching film, preparing practice plans and meetings with student-athletes. It’s a career choice that doesn’t impact just the coach that chooses it, but the entire family unit.
Kansas head coach Les Miles has made it a point to include his family in the entire process from recruiting and watching practice to celebrating triumphant wins and dealing with tough losses. From the beginning, Miles’ family has been a part of it all, especially when it comes to recruiting young men to join his program.
Since the early 1980’s Miles has been recruiting the best of the best to play college football for some of the top programs around the nation and it was his knowledge of recruiting a specific area that led to him landing the most important recruit of his career – his wife Kathy.
It all began with a switch in recruiting philosophies for Michigan women’s basketball. At the time, Kathy was an assistant on Bud VanDeWege’s staff.
“He wrote his name on a small sheet of yellow paper – Les Miles – in capital letters,” Kathy recalled. “When I was leaving, I looked over my shoulder and said, ‘what’s this guy like?”
At the time, not many women were heading into the football building, especially to ask about recruiting practices. Kathy put her nerves aside and prepped for the opportunity to learn new recruiting tactics, but it was a chance meeting in the parking lot that sparked up a conversation between two assistant coaches.
“I am walking into the office in the morning and we happen to be walking in at the same time,” said Kathy. “He said to me ‘Did you watch the basketball game last night?’ It was the Eastern Conference championship between the Celtics and the Pistons. I thought he knew I was a basketball coach, but he didn’t. So he goes by the way, ‘I’m Les Miles. I was supposed to meet you regarding recruiting the Chicago area.’ So we talked and started to get to know each other.”
And as they say, the rest is history. The conversations continued. Then the duo were going on runs together. Before you know it, Les and Kathy Miles went from talking about recruiting strategies to a married couple recruiting top football athletes.
From the start of their football journey in Michigan, the Miles family has made stops in Stillwater, Dallas, Baton Rouge and now Lawrence. The Miles duo has grown from two to six with the addition of their children Kathryn (Smacker), Manny, Ben and Macy. No matter where home is or what team colors they are sporting, the entire Miles family is a part of the program.
“I am so thankful that I’m included in it,” said Smacker, the oldest of Miles children. “Even in some football families, girls aren’t necessarily invited or encouraged to be a part of it. We were invited to be a part of it.”
When the Miles children were younger, being included meant numerous trips to practice and dad’s office, which led to many memorable moments.
“I remember drawing up a play in my dad’s office that included cartwheels, decoys and probably too many players,” Smacker recalled. “He was like that’s a good idea, I’ll have to take parts of that. He played along when he didn’t have to.”
While time spent at the office or practice facilities was full of fun and laughter, the Miles family had to make sacrifices due to nature of dad’s profession. Although Kathy filled Les in on everything, swim meets, softball contests and football games were missed.
“He included the kids when he could,” said Kathy. Spending the night on Friday’s (in the hotel before a home game) was always big for he and the boys. Those are neat memories for the boys.”
This tradition continued until the boys began playing football on Friday nights during high school.
“It’s definitely a tradeoff,” Kathy said. “You miss some things, but then there are a few things they have that are special too.”
Whether it was writing up plays in the office or Friday nights in the team hotel, Les always finds time for his family. On days when the family couldn’t make practice, it meant late bed times so that they could fill dad in on the day.
“My kids never had a bed time because he’d call and tell me to keep the kids up because he would be home in 45 minutes, and it’d probably be an hour and a half later,” Kathy said. “They’d either drop over wherever on the couch and he’d carry them to bed or if they stayed up, he’d get to talk to them.”
Despite late nights and crazy schedules, it’s safe to say that the Miles family wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“It’s a great lifestyle to have a big playground like that,” Kathy said of her kids growing up around football. “An indoor and outdoor (facility) to go to like that all the time. The friends that they met and the older guys that they looked up to.”
It wasn’t just the facilities, but the people that the Miles children met along the way.
“Macy probably knew more athletes on that LSU campus than anybody,” said Kathy. “She’s very excited to be here at Kansas and get to know everybody here too.”
While being a coaches’ kid is full of advantages, the Miles children went through phases where they wanted to be elsewhere. Although social events seemed like more fun, the Miles children learned at a young age not to fight their unusual schedules and chances to create family memories.
“No kids could have a social event when dad could be at home,” Smacker said. “I remember moments where I was frustrated about it, but now I look back and I am so thankful that we did spend those times (together).”
The Miles children being so involved in the football program has led Smacker to her career in front of a camera as a reporter. After spending most of her adolescence interviewing the most interesting man in football, Smacker realized that’s what she wanted to do for a living.
“I was invited to talk about sports, I got to question Dad around the island,” Smacker remembered. “I have had plenty of bad questions for Dad. I might not know what to ask, but I know what not to ask a coach. If I can make a career out of asking questions the same way I did around our kitchen counter after a big win or a tough loss, I am going to.”
The family dynamic around the football field has also peaked interest in coaching as a profession for Manny and Ben.
“They’ve always wanted to coach and they still do want to coach,” Kathy said. “It was really right away that they wanted to.”
Within the Miles family, no member works harder than the other – it’s a true team effort for a football program to successful under Les.
“As a coach’s wife, I think my mom does such a good job of being considerate of how hard my dad works,” Smacker said. “I think they have done a really good job of respecting each other’s roles in the sense that my dad is not selfish. He would never say that he makes the money or he wins football games. It’s a partnership and that’s a great example for me.”
For Les it’s a family affair. Every win or award is not done alone. It’s because the whole family helped along the way and did their part.
Despite the sacrifices, the Miles family is thankful for what football has given them. A lifetime of memories, friendships and amazing opportunities.