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Archive for Sunday, July 28, 2002

Jayhawks assured intriguing year

With Bohl or without bowl, Kansas University’s athletic politics seldom dull

July 28, 2002

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The Kansas University sports program is assured a lot of ups and downs in 2002-03, but it's a virtual certainty things will never be dull.

Winning or losing, the Jayhawks will make headlines and grab attention as they try to battle out from under the cloud created by the controversial Al Bohl situation at Fresno State.

Has that piece of unpleasantness been resolved or are there more shoes to drop before there is genuine closure? Athletic director Bohl's challenges here have not been lessened by the charges of book-cooking during his tenure at Fresno.

Bohl made a terrific early impression here with his outreach, hand-shaking and personal contacts. He had to fire football coach Terry Allen and hire a replacement, and there have been other coaching changes, as in baseball.

Things seemed to be moving along slowly but suitably until some Bohl Weevils surfaced an odor of questionable action at Fresno State. KU officials, including chancellor Bob Hemenway, have stood staunchly in support of Bohl. Barring new disclosures, that could be enough to clear the air. Bright blue skies would do wonders for morale.

Meanwhile, however, there are doubters. Is the new athletic director more smoke and mirrors than solid substance? "I'm going to wait a while to find out if we have a heavyweight or a used car salesman," one veteran loyalist and sugar daddy told me. "We can only hope for the best. Lord knows we need it. I hope things are resolved now that Al returned that Fresno State bonus money that was in contention. We need to get away from the uncertainty, move forward positively on all fronts. That time needs to come fast."

The wheelhorse of the KU venture is, of course, Roy Williams' basketball operation. High interest, style, class, prospects for another Final Four performance the basketeers are the jewel in a tattered crown that currently shows some missing gems.

One of the strongest points is that Roy and Co. turn about a $4 million-plus profit for a program that remains in financial jeopardy. People are as hepped-up as ever about KU basketball and there are hopes that enthusiasm will spill over into the contribution department.

Kansas basketball not only will be productive but entertaining. People are bubbling about the return of Nick Collison, Kirk Hinrich and a supporting cast that has tremendous promise. Talkative Drew Gooden with his special excellence is gone; KU may wind up a better all-around team by January. And remember, Gooden tanked in the national semifinal game with Maryland.

There could be good news building on the football front. New coach Mark Mangino has set a serious, competitive, no-foolishness tone, to wit: Nothing personal, strictly business; we're going to concentrate, cogitate and orchestrate until we start winning games. The public relations frivolities will accrue if games are won and the atmosphere improves. Until then, it's buckle down, Winsocki (ever heard that Benny Goodman spirit-lifter?).

With great basketball in the wings, the KU football family could work wonders with alumni-fan attitude and morale if they could somehow pull off six victories. So the wins might not be "computered" enough for a bowl game. There'd still be excitement since KU hasn't been .500 or better on the gridiron since 1995.

Imagine if Mangino's diehard Jayhawks could spring an upset in the Iowa State opener, then manage an "impossible" upset of Kansas State while surging to 6-6 or better. Man, that "basketball school" label KU gets hung with wouldn't be nearly so prominent.

There's every evidence KU's women's basketball program will lose another million bucks in the coming season. But if Marian Washington and her troops can return the venture to competitive respectability, another major coaching change might not be dictated.

The Jayhawks hope a new baseball boss can get things rolling. That's another sore point that has contributed to Kansas's finishing so embarrassingly on the Big 12 all-sports ladder. Cross-country and track need to step up the pace, soccer, softball and volleyball have to recharge. Rowing is in the mix, too.

The overall task for KU athletics is a huge one, starting with football. It will be a lot more fun in 2002-03 if we're all discussing progress rather than more failures and continued carping about Al Bohl's status as director.

One thing Bohl has shown is adaptability. When he fired Terry Allen with three games left in the 2002 season, basketball boss Roy Williams, a good friend of Terry's, expressed disappointment. Bohl made a mistake in indicating that was too bad but that he's in charge, kinda like flakey Alexander Haig after the Ronald Reagan shooting.

Either Bohl smartened up overnight or somebody called him aside to feed him the facts about athletic life around here. He quickly repaired the relationship with Williams. Right now Roy is The Franchise for KU sports. The best thing anyone in charge can do is not foul that up, because there are a lot of other pressing matters on the table.

The beauty is that Roy's ego is not such that he has to be babied, coddled and pitty-patted. But he does expect to be respected and left alone, and learning that right off the bat might have been the best thing to happen to newcomer Bohl.

As I say, modern Jayhawk politics are seldom dull. Could be a mighty intriguing year, huh?

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