Without question, it has not been the most joyous of weeks for Kansas University’s assistant football coaches.
The resignation of KU coach Mark Mangino on Thursday shook the program on multiple levels, and the three coaches selected to take on interim coaching duties — defensive coordinator Clint Bowen, receivers coach David Beaty and co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Bill Miller — find themselves in a particularly unenviable position: In addition to the uncertainty surrounding their own futures, they’re charged with helping to maintain some semblance of stability within the program.
“For the time being,” Bowen said Saturday, “we’re just working hard at trying to make sure that we do as good a job as we can in turning this program over to the next guy in charge.”
Essentially, that centers on keeping the Jayhawks’ 2010 recruiting class — which currently includes 15 players, according to Rivals.com — intact as best they can.
As of Saturday afternoon, none of Kansas’ known commitments officially had backed out of his pledge to attend the school, according to Rivals, though, based on the events of the past few days, there’s a strong chance that could change by national signing day in early February.
Mangino’s resignation almost certainly has caused incoming players to re-evaluate the situation, a sentiment backed up by Jon Kirby, who covers Kansas recruiting for Rivals.
“It’s tough for a kid that’s been committed to say, ‘I’m still committed’ when they don’t know the future of the program,” Kirby said.
As an example of the way a coaching change can shake a recruits’ decision-making process, Kirby pointed to Southview (Texas) High quarterback Jacoby Walker, a player currently committed to play at Kansas.
In addition to facing significant time constraints —Walker graduates this winter and was expecting to be on the KU campus by January — he also plays a position that has the potential to be greatly affected depending on who is named Kansas’ next head coach.
“A running back runs the football and a defensive end, they rush off the edge and do their thing,” Kirby said. “A quarterback is in a system.”
“It has to (affect recruits’ comfort level),” former KU receiver/defensive back Charles Gordon said. “Because if you stay committed to a school where the coaching staff is no longer there, you’re going into a situation where it could mean you’re entering a rebuilding year, where it will take awhile for the incoming coach to get his system in place and get the program growing again.
“It’s a tough situation.”
The biggest effect, however, could very well come in the coaches’ recruitment of junior-college players.
According to Kirby, Kansas has been pursuing multiple junior college transfers —including Butte (Calif.) Community College quarterback Jordan Rodgers, the younger brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers — and had made good strides with a few of them prior to a university investigation into Mangino’s treatment of players and the coach’s subsequent departure.
Kansas coaches declined comment about specific recruits due to NCAA rules prohibiting it.
With just 10 days remaining before the Dec. 16 junior-college signing day, the window of opportunity to lock up juco transfers is growing smaller by the minute.
“If you’re a junior-college football player and you’re an early signee, unfortunately, you’ve got to go back and open up your options,” Kirby said.
As committed players mull over their futures, meanwhile, opposing coaches — no doubt smelling blood in the water — already have begun descending upon recruits previously believed to be unattainable.
Current Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh, Kirby said, visited KU commit and four-star Blue Springs (Mo.) High receiver Keeston Terry while in the Kansas City area last week. A coach from LSU traveled to four-star defensive end Geneo Grissom’s Hutchinson High recently, meanwhile, while a number of other opposing coaches —armed with the promise of program stability — figure to be re-opening their recruitment of players who have previously committed to KU.
“We all understand the nature of this business,” Beaty said. “And my No. 1 goal is to take care of the kids (already) here. And the way I can do that is by making sure I hold on to the best players that we have available and committed. They’ve done so much to help this program and help me; that’s the very least I can do for them.”
Despite the obvious roadblocks stacked before them, Kansas’ interim coaches say they’re carrying on in the same manner they have all season: Working hard, plowing forward, trying to keep a sense of normalcy even in the midst of a storm.
Which, as they sit in a kind-of coaching purgatory, is the only thing they can do.
“With change, there’s always uncertainty, and that creates a little bit of anxiety in life,” Bowen said. “But we knew these kids prior to this, and just because of the situation that came about, we still love the University of Kansas. We’ve all put a lot of work into developing this program and want to continue to see it be successful regardless if we’re part of it or not.
“We have a lot invested in this thing,” he added. “And whether we’re here or coaching somewhere else, we’re Jayhawks and this is part of what we’ve worked hard to build.”