Les Miles left the Oklahoma State football program 15 years ago, and in better shape – depending on who is asked.
Regardless of how OSU fans might think of Miles from his departure after three-straight winning seasons for an LSU program he led to a national title just three years later, he did leave the program in good hands.
Mike Gundy, who was hired away from Maryland to be Miles’ offensive coordinator, was promoted to head coach and they rest, as they say, is history.
The two coaches will meet this week in Boone Pickens Stadium for their first head-to-head coaching experience since the two split in 2004. Miles is in his first year trying to resurrect the Kansas football program, just as he had done at Oklahoma State after taking over for Bob Simmons – who had just one winning season in six years at OSU, the only head coaching position of his career.
“We had a good relationship. It was unique and a little bit unusual seeing him in Phoenix in May for the Big 12 meetings, but it was fun,” Gundy said Monday. “It was good to see him and spend time with him.”
The two coaches certainly had their differences in opinion, though – especially with how to run an offense.
But being able to bounce ideas off of each other made for some high-powered offenses at Oklahoma State. In the final three years of Miles as the head man of the Cowboys, the OSU offense averaged 35 points per game – which also happen to be the only three years with a winning record in the Miles era.
“I have really good memories of offensive football with him,” Gundy said. “He and I butted heads a lot, but in the end we agreed and ended up on the same page. We supported each other and we were good at moving the football together.”
When the reins were turned over to Gundy after Miles’ departure, Oklahoma State began to change – both on and off the field.
The success Miles had – especially with back-to-back Bedlam victories – sparked a movement in fundraising for the football program, with the ground-breaking of renovations to what is now known as Boone Pickens Stadium before Miles left for LSU – with the current state of the stadium being rededicated in Gundy’s fifth year as head coach of his alma mater.
On the field, the Cowboys took on a different personality behind Gundy.
“We’ve changed our style of play so much,” Gundy said. “We’ve changed defensively, and we’ve changed offensively, so it’s really hard to compare.
“Personnel was not what I wanted in certain areas based on the style of play. There were a lot of adjustments, but we had some success. We went to, I think, (three) bowls in a row. So we had some success and guys started to believe in winning, which made it an easier transition (from Miles).”
And unprecedented winning continued under Gundy. His first year after taking over was the only losing season for the Cowboy program under Gundy. And recently, OSU clinched its 14th consecutive season earning a bowl bid, doubling the program’s bowl total prior to the Gundy coaching era.
Some of that success has its roots in Miles’ impact on Gundy.
The former Cowboy quarterback has been at the leading edge of the spread offense in the Big 12 Conference, but he still has had a desire for balance, wanting to see more use of the run game in the fast-tempo offense – which has led to some NFL-caliber running backs during Gundy’s tenure.
“We used some of the (running) concepts in the spread,” Gundy said. “Over the last 10 years here, we’re run the spread, but we’ve still rushed the football – we’ve always done that here. That was a carryover of some of the things I’ve learned from him.”