‘A wonderful place’: Kansas coach Miles reunites with OSU friends

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Les Miles before the Oklahoma State vs. Kansas football game on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019 at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Oklahoma State’s horse mascot has a new meaning to Les Miles.

When Miles coached the Cowboy football team, he eagerly anticipated the moments when Bullet would run across the turf while the band would play “Ride ‘em Cowboys” in celebration.

As announcer Larry Reece said “Here comes Bullet,” signaling the mascot’s arrival after each Cowboy touchdown Saturday, Miles had a different perspective of the tradition. For Miles, Kansas’ coach, the familiar presence of a horse served as a reminder that OSU was soundly defeating his team.

“I’m standing across the field,” Miles said. “And I can see Bullet, and I can see him from the start to the finish. It’s not the same.”

The Cowboys dominated the Jayhawks 31-13 at Boone Pickens Stadium in their first meeting since Miles took his position at KU.

With four touchdowns, OSU made sure Miles had chances to see Bullet on the field. Despite the Jayhawks’ loss, there were sweet moments for Miles, who coached the Cowboys from 2001 through 2004 before leaving for LSU. The game doubled as a reunion among old friends.

“This is really a wonderful place,” Miles said.

It was also a homecoming for his children. Two of Miles’ kids were born while he lived in Stillwater, and he and his wife, Kathy, raised their young family there. His elder son, Manny, grew up playing with Mike Gundy’s sons when Gundy was Miles’ offensive coordinator.

OSU’s football program has evolved since Miles’ departure. The grandiose Boone Pickens Stadium is complete, creating a game-day scene different from the environment at modest Lewis Field. Miles expressed his gratitude for the late Pickens, who became the stadium’s namesake in 2003 when Miles was at OSU.

“I enjoyed him during my time here, except I just wish I had had more time with him,” Miles said.

Despite the changes at OSU, familiar, friendly faces greeted him upon his return. Before kickoff, Miles, Kathy and their elder daughter, Kathryn, nicknamed Smacker, chatted with Gundy on the field. Miles was also reunited with director of operations Mack Butler and director of football relations Johnny Barr, people he used to see on a daily basis.

In Miles’ postgame press conference, he described Gundy as a great coach, and Gundy shared the positive feelings.

“I have a lot of respect for Coach (Miles),” Gundy said. “I hope he feels the same way. I asked him if (he is) having fun, and he said he’s having a ball, which I’m sure he is.”

After the friends and former coworkers caught up with each other, Miles became another guy across the field when Gundy switched into game mode.

“When the game’s going on, I never really notice who’s on the other side,” Gundy said. “I forget most of the time, (I’m) so zeroed in on what’s going on. But it was good to see him again.”

Miles wasn’t the only member of his family who stood on the sideline opposite Gundy. Miles’ elder son, Manny, is a backup quarterback who swapped in for starter Carter Stanley through the third quarter. It was an opportunity for Manny to play football in the town he knew as a boy, the place where his father led the Cowboys.

“These people here were awfully kind to my family,” Miles said. "...(We) have always looked back at this time as being pretty special to our family."

sports.ed@ocolly.com