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College football: Will fresh starts for Les Miles and Mack Brown revive their careers?

Kansas head coach Les Miles speaks on the first day of Big 12 Conference football media days on, July 15 in Arlington, Texas.
Kansas head coach Les Miles speaks on the first day of Big 12 Conference football media days on July 15 in Arlington, Texas. This is Miles’ first season at Kansas.
(David Kent / Associated Press)

J. Brady McCollough looks at the 25 biggest storylines in college football heading into the season. Will two title-winning coaches make an impact this year?

One became known for eating grass on the sideline. The other preferred to leave the grazing to an 1,800-pound longhorn steer named “Bevo.”

Les Miles and Mack Brown — for all their success in leading Louisiana State and Texas, respectively, to national championships in the first decade of this century — could not be more different personalities. Miles has tried to become an actor during his coaching downtime, using his wacky sense of humor to entertain himself and others. Brown spent the last five years analyzing college football for ABC’s Saturday studio show with a more measured and predictable approach to showbiz.

They both ended up in the same place, though, last offseason, getting back into coaching by taking on the unenviable task of winning football games at two of the handful of schools that judge themselves most by hanging basketball banners.

Brown gets to return to North Carolina, where he built a solid program for 10 seasons before leaving for Texas in 1998. Miles may be breaking in a new home at Kansas, but the move made sense — there’s plenty of lush prairie land to check out around Lawrence, after all.

North Carolina head coach Mack Brown speaks during the Atlantic Coast Conference football media days in Charlotte, N.C. on July 18.
North Carolina head coach Mack Brown speaks during the Atlantic Coast Conference football media days in Charlotte, N.C. on July 18.
(Chuck Burton / Associated Press)
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Still, Kansas has been a football wasteland in the nine seasons since Mark Mangino was fired in the aftermath of allegations that he mistreated players. Under Mangino, the Jayhawks rose to heights that now appear to be unreachable, going 12-1 in 2007 and winning the 2008 Orange Bowl over Virginia Tech. After three bad coaching hires in a row, Kansas hasn’t won more than three games in a season since Mangino left.

Miles must have really wanted back in. Or maybe it was the reported $2.75 million per year he will make trying to get Kansas off the mat.

Mangino built Kansas the hard way, turning Texas’ forgotten two- and three-star recruits like cornerback Aqib Talib and quarterback Todd Reesing into All-America caliber players. It happened all over the roster.

J. Brady McCollough looks at the biggest storylines in college football ahead of the 2019 season.

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Miles will have a higher ceiling in recruiting due to his reputation and his living room charm, and it’s a good sign for the long-term vision for the program that Kansas currently sits at No. 34 in 247Sports’ Composite Team Rankings for the 2020 class.

It will take year after year of that level of recruiting and improved player development for Miles to get Kansas back to the place where a bowl game is a reasonable expectation.

Brown should have an easier time in Chapel Hill. For one, he knows what winning looks like there. Plus, Larry Fedora led the Tar Heels to a run of four straight bowl games before they bottomed out the last two seasons.

Before Brown had even been on the job for a month, top quarterback recruit Sam Howell flipped his commitment from Florida State to North Carolina, giving Brown some immediate juice to begin his rebuild.

The Tar Heels will find their way back to respectability soon, but the Jayhawks with Miles will make for better reality TV.


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