2-0 on September 10th, averaging 43.5 points per game and fresh off wins over traditional powerhouses like McNeese State and Northern Illinois, the 2011 Jayhawk season offered a chance at respectability not seen since Todd Reesing graduated. I wish I could tell you Kansas fought the good fight and the Big 12 let them be. I wish I could tell you that but college football is no fairy tale world. Ten consecutive losses followed, Turner Gill was fired after two seasons at the helm, and those in Lawrence simply shrugged and wondered what Bill Self might accomplish in March. The worst development for a college football program is not a culture of misbehavior or underachievement, it’s apathy. Since the 12-1 season in 2007 that culminated with an Orange Bowl victory, Kansas has produced records of 8-5, 5-7, 3-9 and 2-10.
There’s one team that resides in the basement of the Big 12 conference and their commitment or perhaps care toward football is unlikely to exceed success on the hardwood. That’s fine at the moment, the Jayhawks still draw television revenue checks just like their conference-mates, but near-realignment provided a harrowing truth. Kansas would not have joined Texas and Oklahoma in the Pac 16. It will not follow Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC. The Big Ten has eyes on larger markets so a healthy Big 12 keeps the Jayhawks off the east coast. But a football program in the doldrums also makes them an expendable property.
To combat the notion that Kansas isn’t interested in spending for football, new athletic director Sheahon Zinger hired Charlie Weis away from Florida, guaranteeing him $2.5 million annually. It was a bold move that generated headlines, a PR dream. Was it the right choice? Probably not. Weis impressed the Notre Dame administration early in his South Bend tenure by winning with Tyrone Willingham‘s players (i.e. inheriting Brady Quinn) before treading toward mediocrity. He’s boorish, arrogant, and hasn’t shown a propensity for following through on that “decided schematic advantage” he spoke of on his way out of New England.
To his credit, though, Weis understands he’s been given another, likely last, chance at leading a program. His offense worked in Kansas City with the Chiefs and faltered with the Gators personnel. As for the schedule, I count three probable non-conference wins and a toss-up against Iowa State. Every other matchup is a loss sans an upset. The quarterback, Notre Dame transfer Dayne Crist, might allow the Jayhawks some semblance of competition, but his body of work for the Irish doesn’t equate to a surprise season.
No surprise given the recent productivity, Kansas’ 2013 recruiting class ranks 91st nationally by 247 Sports. An upside, the current haul boasts two quarterbacks from the home state: pro-style Jordan Darling and dual-threat Montell Cozart, the 2011 Gatorade Player of the Year in Kansas. If Weis can sell anything, it’s his teaching of signal-callers. He’s been living off Tom Brady for over a decade and after a year of Crist, former BYU quarterback Jake Heaps seems likely to assume the reins.
A reconstruction of the program requires two things at this point: elite coaching on a day-to-day basis, as Kansas won’t nab the more talented players their foes will, and exhaustive research of high school prospects. Assistants in Lawrence have to find athletes, running backs who might grow into defensive ends/tight ends with offensive tackle frames and the like in order to reverse the trend. Weis may not win many popularity contests but he’s in a locale where he won’t suffocate from media attention and that’s a necessary aid in crafting his own version of the Jayhawk Way.