Back by overwhelming demand, FootballScoop will once again examine the assistant coaching hires that will have the biggest impact on the college football season and the coaching job market in the 2019 season and beyond.
Who: Les Koenning, Kansas
Title: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
Previous stop: Southern Miss running backs coach (2018)
Why he’s important: At first, there’s a montage of victory — players celebrating over the sound of euphoric cheers from the crowd. The images start slow, then go faster and faster and faster, until cheers become deafening and the images blur together to the point where they’re unrecognizable. Then, just as suddenly, the screen fades to black.
When the screen comes to life again, a coach stands alone in the locker room. It’s the same coach we saw in the clips before, only different. His hair is different, his face is harder. He’s standing alone in a poorly lit room. The camera starts wide, then slowly zooms on his face, focusing on the eyes — those weathered eyes have seen so much, but it’s clear in his expression they’ve never seen this. Then, the camera turns. We now see what the coach saw, and it’s horrifying. It’s an empty locker room, with lockers tattered and empty and water pooling on the concrete floor, likely from an unattended leak in the ceiling. In the foreground, a rat skitters across the ground.
There’s definitely a cinematic element to Les Miles’ arrival at Kansas — ESPN is banking on that — but it’ll only be a good movie, a Hollywood movie, if Miles succeeds, and he can’t do that alone.
Now, let us consider the magnitude of the Koenning hiring and where the Kansas offense stands.
Oklahoma won the Big 12 in 2018 despite finishing last in the conference in total and scoring defense. No one allowed more yards or points per game in the conference than OU, and they won the league anyone. Defense may win championships in other conferences, but not the Big 12.
And now consider this: Kansas has finished last in the Big 12 in yards per play for nine seasons running, a streak dating back to 2010, when Big 12 actually had 12 teams. KU also finished last in the conference in scoring for that entire period except for 2018, when the Jayhawks finished eighth.
To climb out of that cave, Miles first hired Chip Lindsey, but Lindsey left in January to become the head coach at Troy. Miles then turned to Koenning, a near 40-year veteran with coordinator experience at seven previous stops, most recently UAB from 2016-17.
So, what are the Jayhawks getting in Koenning? Here’s what Miles had to say at Big 12 media days.
“Yeah, I think what we’re going to do is the things that our team can do,” he said. I’ve always made a point, you know, doesn’t do you any good to say the style of offense you’re going to run if you don’t have those style of players.
“I think we will have the opportunity to throw the football and run the football with balance. I think our talent is there. We will have to see.”
Kansas should be able to run the ball well. The Jayhawks were a perfectly decent 56th nationally in yards per carry last season, and Pooka Williams is a legitimate star at running back. As a true freshman, he became the first Jayhawk since 2009 to grace the All-Big 12 First Team, rushing for 1,125 yards on seven yards a carry, including an electric 252-yard, 2-touchdown performance in a 55-40 loss at Oklahoma.
Save for the Indiana State opener, Williams should get as big a load as he can manage.
As for the passing game, that remains a mystery. Three of the top four wideouts are gone, as is quarterback Peyton Bender. JuCo transfer Thomas MacVittie is the favorite to begin the season under center — and that’s not a figure of speech. The one detail KU coaches are willing to divulge is that quarterbacks will take snaps under center in addition to from shotgun.
Aside from that, there are a lot of quotes out there about “adapting to the talent” and not much else.
One thing is certain: Koenning will get plenty of time to implement his vision, whatever that is. Koenning signed a 5-year contract, though only the first two are guaranteed. “(Les) has proven to be an innovative offensive mind who has great success recruiting and developing offensive skill players, particularly at the quarterback position,” Miles said upon Koenning’s hiring.
In a league that claimed three of the top six most efficient quarterbacks in the country, you can’t win if you can’t score, and you can’t score if you can’t throw the ball. Is Koenning the right guy to turn around the Big 12’s most woeful offense? The movie script depends on it.