ARLINGTON, Texas — Les Miles wasted no time addressing the biggest story around his Kansas football program.
In his opening statement at Big 12 Media Days on Monday, Miles said, “There is no violence — violence will not be accepted with women, period. Action was taken immediately.” The “action” Miles alluded to was the suspension of running back Pooka Williams in December — a suspension announced the same day as Williams’ arrest on suspicion of domestic battery. After spending more than seven months away from the team, Williams was reinstated July 8.
But he won’t be eligible to play in KU’s season opener Aug. 31 against Indiana State, with the university suspending him for one game as a result of his actions.
Miles stands by the way he handled the situation.
“We felt like a strong point was the made not only with Pooka Williams, but with the team,” said Miles, entering his first year as the Jayhawks’ head coach. “For seven and a half months Pooka was going through a process and he didn’t have the opportunity to spend time with his team, go to the weight room, you know, just be a part. Pooka went through legal investigation with the legal community. Pooka also had a proceeding that went through the conduct board at the university, and he basically understood that if he did not meet the criteria that the board asked that this would not last long. He really met every criteria that he could.”
Miles said Williams took “responsibility” for the behavior that led to his banishment from the team.
Williams was accused of punching the victim in the stomach as well as grabbing her throat. Police observed bruises on her arms and side on the day of the alleged incident Dec. 5, which occurred at Stouffer Place Apartments, a residence facility for KU students. Williams later admitted to physical contact with the victim “in a rude, insulting or angry manner.” In a statement, he acknowledged grabbing her arm and wrist multiple times and shoving her out of the way after becoming angry about the victim allegedly cheating on him.
He later deemed his behavior “unacceptable” in a release from KU’s athletics department the same day his one-game suspension was announced.
“I’m very sorry to those who were impacted by my poor choices,” Williams said. “I am disappointed in myself, not just as a man, but as a student-athlete looked up to by younger kids. My suspension from football has been hard, but I have learned from it. I’m thankful I can continue with my education at KU. Looking ahead, the most important thing to me is to regain the trust and respect of my classmates, teammates, and fans. I am humbled to return to football and to prepare for the season.”
Miles expects nothing less.
“He’s been remorseful. He’s learned from this experience, as has our team,” Miles said. “We’re thankful to have him back, and, again, no violence against a woman is OK.”
Miles then added that he didn’t mete out the one-game suspension.
“But I stand by it and see it as a right one,” he said.
That didn’t help Miles — or Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby — avoid further questions about it, however.
Miles said he doesn’t believe head coaches should have the ability to dictate the length of a player’s suspension. Though he didn’t finish his complete though, Miles hinted that coaches, who are “used to making calls,” inevitably will do what is best for their team. Ultimately, that leads to suspensions shorter than what the crime likely warrants.
“What I’m saying is, we’re not going to make that call,” he said. “We’re going to leave it up to the people who are destined to do so: the law enforcement agency, the committee on campus, let them do it.”
Bowlsby said that’s exactly what the conference wants, though he pointed out the league doesn’t have guidelines specifically regarding domestic violence or sexual assault. Instead, the Big 12 has a general “serious misconduct” policy.
“We put it in place, I think it was two years ago,” Bowlsby said. “It calls upon institutions to make sure that decisions on who plays and who evaluates those situations, that they’re made outside of the head coaching line. In the case of football, it wouldn’t be an assistant coach or the head coach. We ask that it be made outside the athletics department. So institutions are left to do what they think is right, but it’s going to be made at the highest levels within the university. We feel like if that’s the standard, universities can be counted upon to go through the right processes and come to the right conclusions.”
Conceding he didn’t “know all the details” about Williams’ incident, Bowlsby shed little insight.
“The Kansas process followed what our misconduct policy describes, and that is that the decision is made outside of the athletics department and within university higher administration,” he reiterated. “That’s the level at which that decision was made.”
Miles was equally steadfast; he has no regrets with how he dealt with Williams. His self-assurance stemmed from the fact he’s felt he’s always been “proactive” in teaching his players how to treat women. Before every season, he makes sure to address it with his team.
He’s not sure he’s ever had a team that will be more receptive to that talk than these Jayhawks.
“They saw how quickly things changed for Pooka,” he said. “One day, he’s happy go lucky and enjoying life, and the next day (he’s) out of circulation, not be seen, not to come into the building and (work) out. I think for me, I felt very good every time that I said, ‘Hey listen, I have three women in my life, and if you mistreat women, I’m going to know how to handle it very comfortably, and it will not be pretty.’ So now, I think this Kansas team is so willing to hear the message.
At some point in the future, Miles said he’ll have Williams address the team — not about the incident itself, but the fallout.
“We’ll have Pooka talk ... (about) what he must have felt like,” Miles said, “and (ask him), ‘What would you have done differently?’”