Kansas University sophomore defensive back Daymond Patterson knows exactly what defensive coordinator Clint Bowen has been through during the last 18 months.
Patterson, who entered the program as a play-making, game-breaking wide receiver, was moved to the defensive backfield midway through last season and spent most Saturdays trying to find comfort in a new position.
Bowen — the former co-defensive coordinator to Bill Young, who helped guide the Jayhawks to the 2008 Orange Bowl title — did something similar.
With Young relocating to Miami before last season, Bowen was reassigned to lead the defense. His first year in charge of the defense had its share of ups and downs, but Bowen, like Patterson, said he’s much more confident today.
“Going into the second year, I just have a better comfort level and know what to expect a little bit more,” Bowen said. “The first time around, you hit some spots where you go, ‘Holy cow, I didn’t see that one coming.’ Now I’ve had a little more time to prepare so I feel like I’m ready for some of them. There will be more of them, but at least I’ve got some of them knocked out.”
Bowen has logged a lot of time on the Kansas University football sideline during the past two decades.
After three seasons as a player, three years as a graduate assistant and another nine years as an assistant coach, there wasn’t much that Bowen hadn’t seen or experienced in crimson and blue.
Until last year.
Although the Jayhawks won consecutive bowl games for the first time in school history, the 2008 season was not without its share of forgettable moments.
Blessed with an offense that was capable of playing with any team in the country, the focus — and much of the blame — often was thrown at the defense.
Rough spots included surrendering 340 yards passing to Sam Houston State, giving up 674 total yards to Oklahoma and, perhaps worst of all, allowing 418 yards through the air and six touchdown passes from Texas Tech at Memorial Stadium.
Not all of the moments were Bowen’s fault. Some had to do with personnel issues, others had to do with mental lapses by the players. Still, Bowen owned up to all of them.
“Probably my biggest understanding now is that there are going to be some tough decisions that need to be made, and you have to see them coming and take them head on,” Bowen said. “The day-to-day decisions of what are you going to practice, how much time you’re going to spend doing this or that, how you’re going to use certain kids. And then on game day there’s 25-second decisions to make on every play. What are you going to call and why are you going to call it? It was a little bit more than I had anticipated.”
Perhaps the most encouraging part about last year’s mistakes is that Bowen is convinced he has them fixed this year.
He’s not alone.
“Clint Bowen is as solid as a rock,” KU head coach Mark Mangino said. “He’s dependable, he’s hard-working, he’s great with the kids, he puts in a lot of hours. I’m pleased with what he’s done. Like all of us, every year, you can always learn something.”
In 2009, Bowen will have an extra set of eyes and ears to rely upon for those tough decisions. Enter Bill Miller, a man with 30 years of coaching experience who was brought in during the offseason to help KU’s defense regain its edge.
Although the addition of a co-coordinator figures to help, both Miller and Mangino made it clear that Miller wasn’t brought in to bail Bowen out.
“Clint’s the defensive coordinator, and Bill Miller’s role is to fill the same role that Clint Bowen had when he was the co-defensive coordinator,” Mangino said. “He’s in a support role. He’s another set of eyes to bounce things off of.”
Added Miller: “First of all, Clint’s a great teacher. And I think what’s really good is he’s always eager to find a better way to do things. I think great coaches are always looking for a better way to do things that they’ve done in the past. And he’s enthusiastic about that. He loves the game of football. He loves the teaching part of it, the recruiting part of it, the meetings, the games. He’s a football guy, and I think the University of Kansas is real lucky to have him.”
Bowen feels the same way about his new colleague.
“Having a guy of coach Miller’s experience is obviously a bonus for us,” Bowen said. “The guy’s been doing it a long time and seen a lot of different things. With that, when problems come up, there will be another very solid voice in the room that can help come up with a solution.”
Bowen said he and Miller recently sat down and mapped out each other’s duties for the season, from what drills to run and techniques to emphasize in practice to what will be expected on game days.
“When they put their two heads together, we’re going to have a really good defense and make a lot of plays this year,” Patterson said.
Really, though, the biggest reason to expect improvement for a defense that ranked 89th in the nation last year — including 114th against the pass — isn’t the addition of a veteran coach or the improvement of the players. It’s the comfort level of their second-year leader and the confidence his players feel from having him at the helm.
“I’m pretty excited about it,” senior captain Darrell Stuckey said. “Last year, being his first year, he hesitated at times, like everybody does when they do something for the first time. This year, I think he’s going to be a lot more confident, a lot more experienced when it comes to making certain calls at certain times.”
Bowen said his proudest moment of the 2008 season was the Insight Bowl, a 42-21 victory against Minnesota. In the weeks leading up to the game, the Jayhawks prepared for the wide-open style of offense the Gophers had run all year. On game day, Minnesota game out with a completely different look.
“They had been a one-back, spread offense all year, and right away they came out in two backs and were trying to run the ball,” Bowen said. “Our players had to adjust immediately. Everything we had just practiced for four weeks went right out the window. I thought it was good. We had success, we made some adjustments and got some stops. It seemed like it all kind of worked out then.”
Stuckey remembers the feeling well and expects many more moments of euphoria from Bowen and the defense this season.
“It was a great thing,” Stuckey said. “It was a landmark and a milestone for him to really trust his judgment. He was pretty excited. I don’t know if his smile was as big as it was after the Missouri game, but he was pretty excited.”