I have a good, old family friend who loves sports and is a diehard University of Kansas fan. A friend of my father's, F.A. Natick--"Uncle Fan" to me--lives not too far from here so I journeyed out to visit him this morning as I needed some cheering up from last Thursday's loss by our beloved Jayhawks.
"What's going on, my boy," he cheerily greeted me, "it's another great day to be a Jayhawk, eh?" I assumed that Uncle Fan was referencing last night's 26th edition of "Late Night in the Phog" in Lawrence--yet another sold-out preseason practice for the school's basketball squad. "Yeah," I responded, "once again we can always rely upon basketball to cheer people up."
"Well, sure, there's that, but weren't you impressed with how some of our young kids looked on Thursday night?" Fan inquired. "Are you serious?" I asked. "Who do you think looked good against K-State?"
"Why, that McGriff kid looks to be a player, don't you think, and it was good to see ol' Angus get some carries and the touchdown," Uncle Fan replied. "And, I'm telling you, I like the discipline Coach Gill is instilling in these boys."
I was having a hard time following this conversation. Didn't we just get leveled by 52 to our in-state rival? Hadn't the Kansas version of the ol' ball coach, Bill Snyder, once again left Lawrence with a win? And, Gill? Seriously--could Uncle Fan think that our new coach was actually performing well?
In an effort to not be too direct with my old friend, I gently inquired, "So, you're feeling good about what Gill has accomplished thus far?"
"Why, of course," Uncle Fan forcefully replied. "You can't turn around a program in a few games. Think about it--in Mark Mangino's first game against Kansas State, we didn't score a point and, as I recall, those cowboys from Manhattan hung 64 on us." That's true, I thought, but wasn't the KU program at a much different place now than it was back in 2002? When Mangino arrived eight years ago, KU was coming off six straight losing seasons.
"I guess you're right, Fan," I said, "but we've got some pretty decent players. Losing by 48 to Baylor and by 52 to Kansas State--it's hard to say that's progress."
"Oh, c'mon, youngster," he smiled, "you've been spoiled by success and watching that little gunslinger the last three seasons. I miss little Jake and number 5 too, plus Kerry, Dez, Stuckey and all those other guys. But, let's face it--that fat coach we had left our cupboard pretty bare. How many four-star recruits do you see running around out there?"
My immediate reaction was to remind Fan that our one four-star recruit and 500+ yard rusher had been moved from offense to defense by our astute coach, but I let it slide. I had obviously opened up the Turner Gill topic with Fan so I thought I'd try to navigate the big question I had for him.
"Okay, so judging by your comments, it sounds like you think we made the right hire and that Kansas should give Gill a few years," I asked. "Some people are suggesting that he should be fired once we hire our new athletic director. It would allow the new A.D. to make a signature hire and get his or her own guy."
"Are you kiddin' me," Fan exploded, "that sounds like some wacky thing that Missouri would pull. We've got more class than that. Why our young coach is molding these young men with his rules about no women after 10:00 and taking away them texting machines all those young guys carry. And, you just watch--he'll pull some studs out of Texas once he and his staff get to recruitin'."
I just looked away and shook my head. I loved my old friend and valued his loyalty to our University but--seriously--could he be that blinded to the lack of discipline on the field and the performance of our coaching staff?
"Well, my friend," I said, "I have to say, you're much more optimistic than I am about the future of our football program. I guess we shall see."
"Ah, chin up, Mike," he smiled. "Hey, I'd love to win 10 games every year just like you. But, remember, this is Kansas football--not basketball. The Good Lord gave us KU hoops knowing that we'd need that to have something to look forward to in those years where we struggle in football. Like I said, I think Coach Gill is the right guy for us--he'll get it turned around. After all, he did learn from Coach Osborne up there in Big Red Country."
At that, I wryly smiled and began to say my goodbyes, all the while thinking "I'm sure as heck not going to bring up the whole conference realignment topic" given the mention of Osborne.
"Rock chalk, Uncle Fan," I said, as I made my way out to the car. "Rock chalk, back at ya," Fan said. "Remember, youngster, every day is a good day to be a Jayhawk--it's just that some days are better than others."