OSU football program's rise started with Les Miles

The efforts of four men were key to the Cowboys' ascension, but it started with Les Miles, who initiated the rise with a change in attitude, direction and talent.
BY JOHN HELSLEY Staff Writer jhelsley@opubco.com Published: June 18, 2011

Even before that, however, Miles had to repair the Cowboys' culture.

Mayes, an outspoken critic of Miles for the way he left OSU for LSU following the 2004 season, won't deny the impact the coach had on the Cowboys.

“It was a team that really needed some leadership from a coaching standpoint,” Mayes said. “And Les just brought this, ‘Hey, this is who we are now and this is how we're going to play.'

“Obviously, he brought some key recruits in and things like that, but it was more the attitude that he displayed and what he wanted us to display. Les would look you right in the face and say, ‘People don't think we can win this game, but I guarantee you, whoever we play is going to limp home.'

“And he meant that.”

And, eventually, the Cowboys bought it.

“Les could talk you into running through a wall,” Mayes said. “He could tell you that you could run through a brick wall, and 10 minutes into that talk you were bound and determined to do it.

“He had the most amazing pregame speech ability that you ever heard your entire life. He felt like we were good enough. And it made us all feel like we were good enough.”

In Miles' second season, the Cowboys were 8-5 good. They beat Nebraska for the first time since the Kennedy Administration. They beat the Sooners, again. And they won a bowl game for the first time since 1988.

“I'm real proud,” star wide receiver Rashaun Woods said after OSU's win over Southern Miss in the Houston Bowl. “I can actually say I'm happy with the season. Of course, we could have won more. But you've got to crawl before you walk.

“This is a good season for us and something we can really build on.”

The Cowboys tacked on more the following year, finishing 9-4 for OSU's most wins since Barry Sanders' Heisman season in '88. They played in the Cotton Bowl, the program's first post-New Year's game since 1949.

And in 2004, after losing Woods and Tatum Bell and Josh Fields and Greg Richmond and Elbert Craig, the Cowboys went 7-5 and made a third straight postseason appearance in the Alamo Bowl.

Miles soon left for LSU, but not before leaving his mark on an OSU rise that continues today.

Without the Miles-led change in direction and that taste of winning, bolstered by those back-to-back wins over the Sooners, the Holder-Pickens facilities push may have never taken hold. And if Miles had failed, would Gundy have been elevated off that staff to take his place?

“He's such a positive guy,” said Cowboys offensive coordinator Todd Monken, an assistant under Miles at OSU and LSU. “He would look at our team and I really think he believed in every game we went into, we could win. And I looked at him like he was crazy. I looked at our team sometimes like, ‘There's no damn way.'

“But in his mind, he believed in the guys and the coaches that we had assembled. Even when he went to LSU, I thought that was a big strength in the way he handled the team and he handled the coaches.

“You rarely ever see Les throw players or coaches under the bus. He's a big proponent of ‘Us' and ‘We' and rarely calls out anybody. And I think that's a strength. I think he's a believer that he can figure out a way that we can outwork somebody and out-tough them.

“And I think there's a lot to be said for that.”



Editor's note

Our look at Les Miles' impact on Oklahoma State football begins a four-part series on the four key men behind OSU's football program renaissance. Coming up the next three weeks: athletic director Mike Holder; alum and booster Boone Pickens; and former player and current head coach Mike Gundy.

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