LAWRENCE — Unable to be on the sideline last Saturday for Kansas football’s matchup at West Virginia, Jayhawk head coach Les Miles nevertheless followed the action from home, perpetually on the edge of his seat.
Well, figuratively, that is.
“I sat there — I didn’t sit there; I stood — and took notes,” recalled Miles, who tested positive for the coronavirus on Oct. 7 and subsequently abstained from making the trip to Morgantown, W.Va. “It was hard. Just very difficult. (It was) the right thing in my opinion, absolutely, but a difficult morning.”
The same could be said for Miles’ squad.
KU (0-4, 0-3 Big 12) jumped out to an early lead but surrendered 38 unanswered points in an eventual 38-17 defeat to the Mountaineers. Miles, in his second year with the program, tweeted a time or two throughout the contest, giving stamps of approval to an early touchdown connection and to junior defensive lineman Malcolm Lee’s third-quarter interception, but was otherwise rendered unable to provide anything beyond social media shoutouts.
There was some thought given to another scenario, where Miles would address the team virtually during halftime. Ultimately, however, that idea was scrapped, with Miles hands-off in communications from the game’s start to its conclusion.
“(Halftime) is a 20-minute period where you’re putting plays together and getting things right and communicating,” Miles said Monday. “... I thought about doing it, (to) be on the phone, talking to kids while the coaches are waiting. I just basically would’ve put an interjection in there that would’ve taken time and energy away from really the direct path toward adjustment.”
Miles did maintain communications with interim head coach Joshua Eargle and other assistants up until an hour before kickoff.
“It was an interesting position to be in for me. I never had been in anything like that,” Miles said. “This virus is giving us opportunities that we don’t want.”
While watching the game unfold from 900 miles away frustrated Miles, the 66-year-old at the very least got a rare 10,000-foot view of his program mid-season, an opportunity he considers one of the silver linings of the last two weeks.
And, at times, Miles liked what he saw.
“I looked at the film and in different spots, we were really, really good. Not just a good team; we were really good,” Miles said. “We started the game in a fast pace, (a) positive note. We play together. ... I think the key to it is that when you’re called upon to step onto the field with your group — offense, defense or special teams — you just have to do your job. And if they do that — you can see a bunch of plays where they’re doing their job — then the opponent is not faring well.”
Miles returned to Anderson Family Football Complex and to normal operations Sunday after previously experiencing only “minor symptoms” of the infectious disease, most notably a headache that decreased in severity as the virus ran its course.
Miles said he still has “no understanding” of how exactly he contracted COVID-19.
“I know the people around me, the staff, not one of them have COVID — well, there were some guys that got it early on, but they were not active in any way with me. I did not see the course, how COVID and I got together,” he said. “I ... rode a bus 10 days ago, but I don’t know (if) that’s the reason I got it.”
Barring any unforeseen setbacks, Miles will return to the sideline for the Jayhawks’ next contest, an 11 a.m. Saturday tilt with No. 20 Kansas State (3-1, 3-0) at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan.
Miles said he views his encounter with COVID-19 as “a real lesson.”
“I think the more than you put your shield down or you take your mask down,” he said, “the more likely you are to end up with COVID.”
Williams honored by Big 12
Pooka Williams earned the first league nod of his junior season Monday when he was named Big 12 special teams player of the week. Williams’ 92-yard kickoff return touchdown with 1:45 left to play Saturday gave the game its final score.
“Wow. I thought that was just a great, great play,” Miles said. “He makes a nice-vision cut and then outruns the field. When he got to the corner you could kind of tell. He looked back, and when he got the edge they all had the edge on him, but when he eventually got the lead, he knew that he was going to put it in the end zone. That was really pretty cool to watch.”
Williams’ special teams score helped offset an otherwise forgettable afternoon for the standout running back — the preseason All-Big 12 selection totaled just 21 yards on 11 carries.
Miles said Williams’ teammates on the offensive line and at wide receiver can help the running back’s cause with better blocking and catches that sustain drives, respectively.
“That makes Pooka’s runs a lot more fun,” Miles said.