In the 10 years since Darrell Wyatt last coached in Lawrence, some things have remained more or less the same.
“Obviously, the town has changed a little bit with growth and roads,” said Wyatt, Kansas University’s new co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach. “But once I started to drive around a little bit, I got a pretty good feel in terms of getting to difference places.”
Other things, however, have proven nearly unrecognizable.
Since Wyatt’s first stint at KU, when he served as associate head coach, offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach under Terry Allen from 1997-2000, he has found a program no longer resigned to a fate of extended mediocrity.
Under the supervision of Mark Mangino, the eighth-year coach who was forced to resign in December before being replaced by Buffalo’s Turner Gill, the program underwent an extensive makeover, from the cosmetic (the $31 million Anderson Family Football Complex was constructed prior to the start of the ’08 season) to the more fundamental.
“You can feel it when you walk in the building,” Wyatt said. “You understand that this is a place where people expect to win. The fans look forward to the season, they look forward to coming to the games. It’s a situation where the morale is really good in terms of the kids going out on the field and feeling like it’s a level playing field, feeling like they can compete. And not only compete, but also win.
“I think at that time (late-90s), there was still doubt as to whether or not you could actually win the game,” he added. “Now, I think the kids expect to win.”
Having developed relationships with both Gill (“Coach Gill and I actually talked during the season when we had a common opponent,” he says) and new offensive coordinator Chuck Long during his time as an assistant in the Big 12, Wyatt called his decision to join KU’s new staff a natural fit, an opportunity to return to a conference and region with which he’s been long familiar.
Following his previous stint in Lawrence, he served as an assistant at Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Arizona, along with a season spent as the receivers coach for the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, before handling associate head coach/offensive coordinator/wide receiver coaching duties at Southern Mississippi for the past two seasons.
“In (the last) 10 years, I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had a chance to work with some really good football coaches,” he said. “I had the opportunity to work for two head coaches that are probably going to go to the college football hall of fame. I’ve coached in some national championship games, been a part of some Big 12 championships, coached in the National Football League, been a coordinator.
“Kind of ran the full gamut, to be honest with you.”
Among the first in a list of awaiting challenges, meanwhile, will be devising a way to replace two receivers who established themselves, statistically, as the two best in school history.
With Kerry Meier (102 catches, 985 yards, eight touchdowns last season) lost to graduation and Dezmon Briscoe (84 catches, 1,337 yards, nine touchdowns) opting to forgo his senior season to enter the NFL Draft — both received invitations to the NFL Combine — the unit will likely take a hit next season, though the blow should be lessened by a wealth of seemingly talented young receivers.
In its past two recruiting classes, Kansas has added seven receivers, including 2009 contributor Bradley McDougald and incoming four-star signee Keeston Terry, who Gill said had the ability to play both offense and defense.
“Kansas has become a place where there’s some wide receiver tradition here now,” Wyatt said. “And I think there’s some young guys that haven’t played a significant role who are looking forward to the opportunity of increasing their role.”
As of now, Wyatt says his focus is pointed toward the start of spring practice, where he’ll have the opportunity to see first-hand what he’ll have to work with next season. With offensive and defensive meetings in full-swing, and with recruiting a full-time affair, he hasn’t been afforded much free time since arriving in Lawrence on Dec. 28, a week after coaching Southern Miss. in the New Orleans Bowl.
But he’s seen enough to smile when asked about his return.
“It’s not good to be back,” he said. “It’s great to be back.”