Coaching searches provide an excuse to call guys about whom you’ve heard so many good things but never had a chance to visit with on the phone.
Golden Pat Ruel, lifelong assistant coach, qualifies as one such man. Ruel has coached football at eight different universities and five different NFL teams. He has spent the past seven seasons working for Pete Carroll at USC and with the Seattle Seahawks.
Ruel, 60, and working in his fifth decade as a football coach, had the courtesy to return my phone call Thursday when he had a long break between game-day meetings preparing for a night clash with the Philadelphia Eagles in Seattle.
Ruel’s longest career stop was in Lawrence where he worked for Glen Mason from 1988 through 1996 as offensive line coach and offensive coordinator. He thought he would replace Mason, but the job went to Terry Allen.
A number of Lawrence residents believe Ruel, an unconventional pick, deserves a serious look. So, Pat, are you interested?
“Am I interested? Yeah,” said Ruel, the Seahawks’ assistant offensive line coach. “But I also understand the dynamics. If it’s about splash, I’m not the right guy. If it’s about getting a guy who understands how to get it done, then I’m the guy.”
Ruel said he still has a special place for the university that employed his wife, Marti, as vice president of student affairs.
“Great environment, great place to live,” Ruel said.
OK, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk football.
Ruel has worked for, among others, Lou Holtz (Arkansas), Jackie Sherrill (Texas A&M), Nick Saban (Michigan State), Bobby Ross (Detroit Lions) and Tom Coughlin (New York Giants) and has a long history of being on the winning sideline.
All that experience taught Ruel that a good quarterback makes a good coach a great deal better.
“The past five weeks all anybody in the NFL is talking about is (sidelined) Peyton Manning,” Ruel said. “They’re asking, ‘How can one guy make that big a difference?’ I tell them, ‘How can you guys be that stupid not to figure that out?’ A quarterback is handling the ball on every play. He can make decisions on every play that can beat you.”
Examples abound to back up that point. The hottest candidate for most of the top job openings is Kevin Sumlin, who has coached Houston to a 12-0 record so far. In games Case Keenum started the past three seasons, Houston has gone 24-5. In games he missed with injury, Houston went 3-6. At Kansas, Todd Reesing took a 25-6 record into a Colorado game in which he suffered a strained groin. Starting with that game, Reesing finished 0-7.
Ruel said that during most of his time at Kansas, quarterback was the one position the staff didn’t recruit well while sending linemen and players from other positions to the NFL.
“You’ve got to go all over the country to find that guy,” he said of the quarterback. “You can’t say, ‘I’m going to find that guy in Kansas City or St. Louis.’ He might be in Missoula, Mont. He might be in Boston, Mass. Look at (Todd) Reesing. He had a little something to him. He raised the level of play of everyone on the field. That’s why Boise State’s always so good. They always have good quarterbacks.”
Reesing also illustrated one of Ruel’s strong beliefs.
“You can’t put parameters on a player’s dimensions,” he said. “Is he a football player or not? That’s what you need to ask. Can he perform or not? Look at Barry Sanders. Tony Sands.”
Ruel has definite ideas on how to put together a quality staff.
“You need five really good recruiters,” Ruel said. “If you’re going to sacrifice recruiting ability, do it on coordinators.”
Every recruiting visit to a school, he said, must involve asking about juniors as sophomores.
“You tell a coach you like a sophomore, you go back that next year and that junior already knows you like him,” Ruel said. “And tell the kid you’re recruiting not to talk about your school. I would always tell them, ‘If a coach from another school asks if you’re serious about Kansas, say you just want to take a visit there.’ That way, the coaches will kill each other (in negative recruiting) and leave you alone.”
Once the quarterback is recruited, Ruel said, he can’t be rushed into action.
“You can ruin a guy really easily if he’s getting hit every play because he doesn’t understand blitz checks,” Ruel said. “That guy doesn’t think he can play anymore, and now you’re fighting that battle.”
Playing in a conference that has schools that recruit more big, blue-chip athletes, necessitates running an offense that spreads the field, Ruel believes.
“Traditional doesn’t get it done,” Ruel said. “Oregon was running a traditional offense in the Pac-10 and getting their butts beat on a regular basis. They asked themselves, ‘How can we come up with an equalizer to the talent at USC?’ Where you nullify some of those good players is you put the ball out on the perimeter, out in space. It can look a little herky-jerky at times, but eventually things pop.”
Kansas popped under strict disciplinarian head coach Mark Mangino, with the undersized Reesing running offensive coordinator Ed Warinner’s spread attack. Pairing that with Bill Young’s defense, which included several Dave Doeren recruits, led to a 12-1 season and an Orange Bowl victory.
Before that, the last double-digit victory total came 12 seasons prior, when Ruel worked under Mason for a 10-2 record. Nobody’s in the mood to wait until 2019 for another double-digit victory total.
Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger didn’t land the coach who would have won the press conference and games. Mike Leach went to Washington State. Now the issue isn’t winning the press conference, just winning games at a school that has lost 23 of its past 24 Big 12 games.