Archive for Sunday, June 1, 2003

KU football can only get better

June 1, 2003


Kansas University basketball remains in the forefront as it has been at least since 1995, KU's last winning football season. But with the Roy Williams-Bill Self dust settling and the recruiting class set, Jayhawk football has earned at least a little scrutiny.

Considering how far the KU grid program still must travel, that's good. There's a crying need for enthusiasm to sell more tickets and showcase some legitimate standouts such as quarterback Bill Whittemore. That 2-10 overall mark and 0-8 Big 12 Conference disaster last fall was embarrassing, especially for the coaches and players. Hard as they worked, they just weren't good enough.

Terry Allen may have had Roy Williams on his side, but he didn't leave much seed corn in the bin after five years.

Even in the darkest times such as this, and there have been many, hope has always managed to spring eternal among KU football faithful. Believe it or not, there are diehards who already are speculating that the 2003 Jayhawks might win as many as five games, gasp, even six. The schedule isn't so tough that couldn't happen.

Northwestern Aug. 30 seems within reach, particularly if KU is better-attuned to the Mark Mangino system and the Wildcats are as bad as they tailed off last season. UNLV was more than KU could handle last fall, but maybe the dice will roll more favorably here than they did in Las Vegas. Could happen, if the Jayhawks clamber out of their 2002 defeatist comfort zone.

Those two "possibles" play here before a trip to Wyoming and a visit from Jacksonville State Sept. 20. Kansas could be a glittering 4-0 when Missouri visits Sept. 27. Imagine if KU could upset the Tigers, then rest on that Oct. 4 open date at 5-0. Improbable, but it sure makes for pleasant daydreaming for starved fans.

Forget Colorado, Kansas State, Texas A&M;, Nebraska and Oklahoma State unless you're smoking something from Willie Nelson's tour bus. But Baylor Oct. 18 and Iowa State Nov. 22 definitely have big bullseyes on their backs. Both play here.

Baylor is striving for respectability under a new coach, and Iowa State seems to be on a bit of a downgrade after its recent surge and that 45-3 romp past KU last Aug. 31. Rest assured the Jayhawks will be busting their guts to prevent ex-Jayhawk coach Terry Allen from getting another game ball, which he received in a rather tacky climate at Ames.

So do you see five, maybe six, KU victories in that hopper? The Northwestern opener is a lot more favorable than the Iowa State startup in 2002. With Bill Whittemore in good health and the others guys ready to improve and develop, things should be better than 2-10 and 0-8. If not, some deep soul-searching will be in order.

l Back to basketball, speculation continues about whether new coach Bill Self will hire Kevin Pritchard or Danny Manning as assistants and retain the loyal Ben Miller in some capacity. Can't go wrong whatever the choices and he has Tim Jankovich and Norm Roberts as veteran aides.

Folks want a Jayhawk flavor with the likes of Pritchard and Manning from the 1988 national-title team, but Miller, too, has become a fixture with his adept handling of some Roy Williams years and the healing when Roy bolted for Carolina.

But Crimson and Blue roots don't assure harmony. KU's never had a higher-profile basketeer than Jo Jo White and Larry Brown was quick to hire him. "Philosophical differences" soon developed and Jo Jo was gone. What sounded like a match made in heaven soured quickly.

Pritchard, Manning and Miller have a lot of support for many good reasons, and Self faces some tough decisions. But he has his core in Jankovich and Roberts and whichever guys he adds should do well.

l Larry Brown has never had to beg for a basketball coaching job and has produced winners wherever he's been, in college or with the pros. Yet truth be known, he's three times been denied jobs he really wanted -- twice at North Carolina and once at Kansas.

Bill Guthridge suddenly resigned at UNC in 2000 and Carolina went ape to lure Roy Williams from Kansas. Larry readily would have left his Philadelphia 76er post had his alma mater taken him seriously. But the school threw out the baby with the bath water when Roy told Kansas "I'm stayin'". Larry was understandably embittered when he never even got a solid interview before UNC nabbed Matt Doherty at Notre Dame.

Doherty mucked up the job in three years and UNC rode out of the forest like those villains in "Lord of the Rings" and this time kidnapped Williams. Once again, Larry would have listened and probably gone home had Carolina given him the chance. He definitely wanted out of Philly and beyond the aura of troublesome Allen Iverson. Obviously Dean Smith, Dick Baddour and Jim Moeser wanted Roy more than Larry.

With the Kansas job open, Larry Brown would have welcomed a call to come back to where he triumphed in 1988. But KU had Bill Self as the prime target from the outset. Even though some Brown fans here were backing him hard, and knew Larry would listen, Kansas acted quickly and productively and came up with a terrific young guy.

Larry, of course, now will have his choice of at least three top pro jobs, if he wants them. Since he's been making $6 million a year, he won't starve even if he retires. And any new salary will be a doozy. But in the back of his mind, this sensitive guy everybody has always seemed to want has to be a little groused Carolina denied him twice and KU once.

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