Archive for Sunday, December 1, 2002

Jayhawks must win games if they expect spectators to fill seats

December 1, 2002

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Ah, the bizarre fortunes of college football.

Forty years ago, Kansas University was struggling to expand old Memorial Stadium. Jack MitchellâÂÂs first five teams had really excited fans. The evidence was that folks would be flocking here in growing numbers as things got even better.

Today the Jayhawk program is scrounging for spectators, particularly the friendly kind. Yet even $30 million in recent improvements, for all their glitz and allure, wonâÂÂt create a ticket tornado until floundering KU has left the Bottom Two and joined The Other Ten in the Big 12.

Some contend that a football team wins when the fans flood the scene and drown out the oppositionâÂÂs signals. Others say there has to be a nifty playing venue to make the players and fans feel good. Coach Mark Mangino has hopes of adding even better stadium accommodations for his guys in the near future. All thatâÂÂs window-dressing.

ItâÂÂs not a chicken-or-egg situation, folks. Even Forrest Gump could figure it out: âÂÂFew victories, fewer tickees.â Mangino and Co. need to start knocking off at least the Baylors, UNLVs, Bowling Greens along with the Tulsas and Southwest Missouris before any sort of fever will break out.

The beauty of KUâÂÂs 1963 stadium expansion was that MitchellâÂÂs teams had compiled a 29-18-3 record, featuring such fan favorites as John Hadl, Curtis McClinton, then Gale Sayers, and had won the 1961 Bluebonnet Bowl game. IâÂÂve never seen fans as pumped as they were before that 1961 season. Hadl and McClinton were back, the great 1958 freshman crew would be seniors, the future looked brilliant.

IâÂÂm not sure that peak of KU grid enthusiasm will ever occur again. Hope so, but skeptical.

Despite some disappointments, KU was 7-3-1 in 1961 and 6-3-1 in 1962. The joint was still jumpinâÂÂ. The presence of a kid named Sayers sure didnâÂÂt hurt the cause. Gale debuted as a sophomore in âÂÂ62. Mangino could sure use a headliner or two like that, huh?

The mover and shaker on the âÂÂ62 athletic board was Cal VanderWerf, a driven, genius-level chemistry professor who was nuts about sports. He had the enthusiasm of a Tasmanian Devil and salesmanship skills that would have allowed him to pawn off cold chili to climbers on the upper levels of Mount Everest. He later became president of Hope College in Holland, Mich.

With Crazy Cal the Griddersâ Pal in the forefront, KU decided to add 4,600 seats, a new press box and elevator to the west side of the stadium to hike the capacity to 44,900. In time for the âÂÂ63 season. Engineers estimated it would cost $600,000.

KU got approval, then the bad news. The bids came in too high; cold water in everybodyâÂÂs face. But the indefatigable VanderWerf and Co. refused, to nobodyâÂÂs surprise, to surrender. They did some juggling here and there; the expansion was made ready for the âÂÂ63 opener.

The Sayers fan enthusiasm continued through his senior season, 1964, so KU decided to add seats on the east side in time for 1965, boosting the capacity to 51,500. Yet lean times loomed on the horizon.

MitchellâÂÂs 1965 team tailed off at 2-8 and his 1966 teamâÂÂs 2-7-1 led to his ouster, the settlement of a so-called lifetime contract for a total of $56,000 to be paid out over four years. Did Terry Allen with about a $325,000 settlement fall into a pit of rose petals, or what? He hadnâÂÂt been paid too badly during his five years, either.

Mitchell started out in 1958 at $15,000 per and never made much more than $22,000. He remains, at 44-42-5, the LAST Kansas coach with a winning record.

Well, KU built it, added refinements and doggone near rebuilt it with spit and polish over the past few years - and still they donâÂÂt come. This ainâÂÂt no Field of Dreams, folks.

For all the refinements at the old horseshoe, those consistent 45,000-and-up crowds (like Kansas State is blessed with) wonâÂÂt occur until there are more wins than losses - particularly losses to K-State and Missouri.

Anybody have any John Hadls, Gales Sayerses, Doyle Schicks, Curtis McClintons and the like hidden away anywhere? Some John Zooks, Fred Hagemans, Larry Browns, Mike McCormacks, Ollie Spencers, Galen Fisses and Dana Stubblefields wouldnâÂÂt exactly chase anyone away, either.

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Here IâÂÂve been worrying that if Kansas basketball coach Roy Williams and athletic director Al Bohl should clash too often, Roy would be receptive to UCLA if it fires Steve Lavin or alma mater North Carolina if UNC happened to decide Matt Doherty is not the guy (heâÂÂs sure looking better now, IâÂÂm sure).

Now I have to add RoyâÂÂs beloved and devoted wife Wanda to my list of concerns. Gary BedoreâÂÂs recent story interviewing son Scott was an outstanding piece and quite revealing. Scott indicated that if Wanda had her druthers, Roy would retire and return to the Carolina pines. Wonder if that would happen, dammit, if Roy should get that NCAA title he wants so much to complete his glittering dossier.

With all the pressure in coaching, you can understand why Wanda feels that way. She dearly loves her high school sweetheart, wants to have him around for at least three more decades and fears the demons of coaching might bite him harmfully.

That being said, I wonder if Roy will do any more coaching when he leaves Kansas, no matter what UCLA, Carolina or some NBA zillionaire might offer. Roy and Wanda might well decide that âÂÂnothin could be finah than to be in Carolinah . . . âÂÂ

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