University of Kansas head football coach Les Miles, Athletics Director Jeff Long and Chancellor Douglas Girod were among the keynote speakers at Tuesday night’s Hawks and Highways event at Boot Hill Museum.
Speaking to a group of gathered alumni, including Dodge City community members, and at least one current student, the three talked about the current struggles by colleges to recruit students, KU’s recent increases in enrollment and football.
The night was emceed by Brian Hanni, the voice of the Jayhawks.
“We are at an interesting time in higher education right now in that we’re seeing enrollments drop across the country every year for the last 10 years and that’s going to continue for the next 10 years,” Girod said.
That’s just the reality, he said, and is a result of the number of high school graduates across America.
“So you’re seeing a lot of pressure on enrollment, across the country, our friends at K-State are struggling with that, certainly many others are as well,” Girod said. “But I’m happy to report we’ve had five consecutive years of enrollment growth at KU, and that really speaks to, I think, the quality of our faculty, our programming and really the entire package that KU brings together.”
The presentations all generally focused on football, with new head coach and future Hall of Famer Miles present.
Girod said KU has worked hard to improve the football program, a necessity to stay in a Power Five conference. That, in turn, will help the university continue to be a global university, with a strong national, regional and state presence.
He stressed, however, that the improvement on the football program has not been done at the expense of the basketball program.
“We’re really doing what we should have been doing over the last many years and we’re really making a commitment to doing that,” Girod said.
Key to that was bringing in Long, who Girod said brings a whole new level of skill to the university.
“I believe a successful football program is absolutely vital to the university,” Girod said. “It helps us with student recruitment, it does help us with faculty recruitment and retention, and staff recruitment and retention.”
Long followed Girod, and after talking about the Jayhawks Tennis team’s recent success, he continued talking about some of the same things Girod addressed.
Long talked about basketball coach Bill Self and his record both overall and in Lawrence.
“That engine, basketball engine, has been what has been driving our program,” Long said. “That’s been the economic engine, we’ve been selling tickets at Allen Fieldhouse, sold out for decades it seems now. Our fundraising is associated with basketball, but what we’ve been missing in our program is that football piece.”
Perhaps the ultimate headliner of the night, however, was Miles.
After some brief comments, Miles answered questions from people present. Anyone who asked a question received complimentary Adidas KU gear, and the best questions of the night got the askers autographed footballs.
The first was one of the two who tied for it.
“How are you going to change us from losers to winners?” a member of the audience asked.
Miles said changing the culture so that players understand winning is worth the price the players will pay to achieve it is the key.
Finding a group of leaders that want to play for a championship, then not limiting them, comes next. Miles opened saying he won’t limit his players by saying they can’t win one game or another.
Miles also answered a question about the Jayhawks’ rivalry with Kansas State, which, like KU, also starts the next football season with a new football coach in Chris Klieman.
He said he isn’t the kind to make comments to the media about rivalries.
“I can tell you this: We look forward to playing them at their place, at our place, at any place,” Miles said.