Some people around the Kansas athletic department may be sporting bright and shiny Happy Faces and preaching the old "onward and upward" sermons. But as the current year ends, I sense an atmosphere of doldrums and malaise among a surprising number of frustrated Jayhawk fans.
When's it going to get substantially better? How long will the NCAA crackdown decimate the scene, even if KU escaped far better than many expected?
Face it, 2006 football fell short of expectations. Sure, 6-6 isn't disgraceful, and we can theorize all night about what might have been if the Jayhawks had not blown victories-in-hand against Baylor, Toledo, Texas A&M; and Oklahoma State. Then don't forget that KU had a golden chance to make it two in a row against Nebraska.
Was it a lack of personnel or marginal, unimaginative coaching? Cleveland's Paul Brown was asked why he'd risk running the incomparable Jim Brown 30-35 times a game. "When you have the best cannon in the battle, you shoot it a lot," replied the coaching icon. So why wasn't the league's top runner, Cannonball Jon Cornish, fired more than 15 times against Missouri?
Maybe it's better than KU's winding up in some pathetic bowl game against somebody like Futility Tech and taking another loss. Would three more weeks of practice be worth such embarrassment? No bonuses for the well-paid coaches, of course, and probably not much loot to be shared with the other Big 12 teams.
Eyebrows shot up when coach Mark Mangino, with a 19-29 record, got a five-year, $7.5 million package before this season led to a 25-35 record. As the basketball team travels its on-again, off-again route, there is also a lot of talk about the merits of the new five-year, $8 million outlay for coach Bill Self. Yet at this point, Self has a better chance to justify his largesse than Mangino. Mark's horse is already in the stable.
What about football for '07? Some Pollyannas are talking 8-4 or better with a notable bowl game. But the non-league schedule has a potential thorn in Central Michigan and the league slate offers not a single patsy, including Baylor, which won this year. Texas A&M; and Oklahoma State in the south showed a lot more this year than Kansas and have bright futures. Missouri, Kansas State, can KU get that good?
KU seems to have two quarterbacks who can overcome the maddening uncertainty of '06; young Jake Sharp perhaps can use his great speed to compensate for the power of the departing Cornish. Fact is, KU desperately needs something like an 8-4 season to really get the juices flowing. Another bland and bumbling series of unfortunate events like '06 might cause the natives to become mutinous rather than just sullen as they are now, zillion-
dollar contracts be damned.
The Jayhawk basketball challenges keep proliferating by the week. Forget any Final Four blithering right now. With league menaces such as Texas A&M;, Texas, Oklahoma State, Missouri and, yes, even Kansas State drooling to dive in for some kills, Kansas better concentrate on finishing atop the Big 12 before it considers backlogging such NCAA embarrassments as Bucknell and Bradley.
When are Bill Self's
pretenders-to-greatness going to take a brace, come together and find a leader the caliber of a Kirk Hinrich or Nick Collison? Talent, smalent! Prove it. Potential means they ain't done it. And they ain't.
Vast room, everywhere, for improvement in 2006-07.