Friday, October 15, 2010

The state of Kansas football

Well, now we know. This season, this coach, this hire--all are an unmitigated disaster and Kansas' football program will not win again in 2010.

Earlier this season, we asked the question, "Has there ever been a Division I team (Kansas) which lost one week to a Division 1AA opponent and then came back to beat a top 15 opponent?" Now, the bigger question is, "Has there ever been a football program who won a BCS bowl and, three years later, fell to a place where they were outscored, on successive weekends, to middling D-1 teams like Baylor and Kansas State by a total of 114-14?" Sure, Baylor and KSU will likely become bowl eligible this year but, 114-14!? The words "embarrassing" and "humiliating" come to mind.

Let's break this down, shall we?
- Heading into last season's game at Colorado on October 16, Kansas was 25-6 through the previous 31 games, including that statement victory over Virginia Tech in the 2008 Orange Bowl. They were ranked 16th in the country.
- Kansas lost that game--a close one--to Colorado in a contest which most objective observers say they gave away. Mark Mangino delivered his highly rumored locker room rant after that game, calling out both staff and team.
- The Jayhawks never won again in 2009 and are 2-11 since that meltdown of a year ago.

What happened? The reasons are many but my feelings are:
- Mangino lost his staff, and his team, on that fateful evening in Boulder. The danger signs had already popped up--a come-from-behind win over Southern Mississippi at home, a win over Iowa State because ISU quarterback Austin Arnaud couldn't connect with a wide-open receiver in the endzone at the end of the game, an oft sputtering offense, and a revolving door of players in the defensive backfield. But, the defeat at Colorado last year started the slide.
- Mangino's handling of players, staff, alumni and fans were overlooked when he was winning. His YouTube rants were considered good and entertaining theater--the typical football coach going off on a player. And, his physical girth became the stuff of clever T-shirt slogans which sold well in Lawrence. When Mangino began to lose, and the whispers about his treatment of players became more public, the slide picked up momentum.
- Bill Young and Clint Bowen. Young was Kansas' defensive coordinator in 2007--a unit which flew around the field, forced turnovers and always helped KU win the field position game during that 12-1 season. Young left after that year and was replaced by Clint Bowen. The defense has been a sieve against passing offenses ever since.
- Under Mangino, KU never recruited top 20 classes but seemed to do a good job of identifying two and three star high school players who were tough and coachable. Todd Reesing, Dezmon Briscoe, Aquib Talib, Jake Sharp, Anthony Collins, Mike Rivera, Derek Fine, James Holt, and Darrell Stuckey were among those recruited and coached to All-Big 12 or All-American status. The one stud recruit, Kerry Meier, was identified as a terrific athlete who needed to be on the field once he lost his starting QB role to Reesing. Meier ultimately became one of the best receivers in Kansas history. Those players are all gone and what is in their place are guys who have not panned out, are playing out of position, or who have never fulfilled potential due to injury or lack of prior playing time. The high of the 2008 BCS appearance never translated into a recruiting class worthy of the national visibility of that Orange Bowl win.
- Injuries and suspensions. Kansas started this year with a lack of depth and it has been compounded due to injuries--Hulden Tharp, Toben Opurum, Keeston Terry, Kale Pick, Jeff Spikes and others have severely limited the number of scholarship athletes KU could put on the field. The injury situation was compounded by off-season losses of two projected starters on defense who were suspended due to off-the-field issues.
- Skill position losses. No team can lose the most prolific QB and receiver threesome in school history without major impact.
- Other teams have improved. Kansas State brought back Bill Snyder. Baylor hired Art Briles. Iowa State improved. Nebraska became "Nebraska" again. And, Missouri, and Gary Pinkel, built upon their success of 2007.

Finally, there is the hiring of Turner Gill. Gill wanted the job--badly. He and Athletic Director Lew Perkins had connected earlier in the career of each, were mutually impressed, and stayed in touch. Gill's daughter attended KU. While other high-profile names were thrown around and, potentially, contacted, it was Gill who was the front-runner for the position from day one.

Why? His image was squeaky clean. He was a player's coach--a guy who student-athletes looked up to and praised. He had taken a moribund Buffalo program and guided it to a conference crown, although his overall record at the school didn't look all that good on paper. And, he was a Big 12 guy--he was a star QB at Nebraska and was from Fort Worth. Gill stated publicly that Kansas needed to recruit, and who better to recruit Texas than a guy from there along with a staff who knew that fertile territory for high school football.

What we know now is that Kansas hired a coach who, even when given 10 days, did a horrible job of preparing his team for an in-state rivalry. He's a coach who has shown a penchant for saying head-scratching things, e.g., that he'd "seen something" in Kansas State that he thought could work to KU's advantage. Gill is a coach who has led Kansas to three of the most embarrassing defeats in school history--North Dakota State, Baylor, Kansas State. And, he's a guy who has put into place disciplinary rules for his players which seem to have little to do with the on-the-field product. (As one local writer tweeted last night, after three KU penalties in the first five minutes, "Turner Gill's players have discipline off the field but none on it.")

The hiring of Gill to a program deserving of more is the fault of Perkins. The hiring of Gill to a salary above his experience and capabilities is also the fault of Perkins.

I, as a fan, don't want an abusive coach prowling the Kansas sideline. What I do want is a coach who has his team ready to play and, even if out-manned, has his kids playing tough, disciplined football. That isn't happening and will likely never happen under the Gill regime.

Should Gill be fired? Can Kansas survive another season like this one if he isn't? I'll leave that up to the new Athletic Director to decide.

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