A year ago, about this time, Kansas University football coach Turner Gill stepped to the podium in Dallas and introduced himself to the scores of media members that had descended upon Big D for the annual Big 12 media days.
What they encountered was a man who focused first on if everybody had remembered to smile that morning and, second, on the upcoming football season.
Although that way of saying hey proved to be in line with the way Gill operates on most days, it was a rare thing to see for people who were used to watching guys like Mark Mangino, Mike Leach and Bill Snyder talk so much about football — and only football — that they heard whistles blowing and bands playing in the media room.
Fast-forward a year to 2011, and what you saw was a much different man. Sure, Gill still was smiling, but this time around, he didn’t seem too worried about whether anybody else was. There was work to be done. And, although he remained true to his pleasant personality, Gill seemed to be much more focused and much more prepared during his second stab at media days in Dallas.
This time around, Gill was happy to talk football, everything from why his team struggled so much in 2010 to what type of defense he would run and which newcomers might make the most impact in 2011.
Maybe Gill was just so ready to put last year’s 3-9 season behind him that talking about the future, about moving forward, was a piece of cake.
Maybe he was so eager to talk shop because he actually knows his team, his players, his coaches and his expectations this time around.
Or maybe Gill learned a thing or two during his first year with the Jayhawks.
Remember, although his name has been known throughout the college football world for the past few decades because of his prowess as a player at Nebraska, Gill is still a relatively inexperienced head coach. Sure, he’s done the job for five seasons — four at Buffalo and one at Kansas — but, in terms of heavy exposure, high expectations and intense media scrutiny, Gill’s only been through one season of that.
At times he handled it well. At other times he looked overmatched. Earlier this week in Dallas, he looked neither, instead playing the part of a coach who was at peace with where he was and where his program was headed.
“I’m definitely excited about this football season,” Gill said. “I think the second year, when you get into a football program, you are a little bit more comfortable because you have a better opportunity to know who your team is and what they’re all about, the areas they need to improve on. Also, you understand a little bit more what their strengths are. So that’s why I’m a little bit more at ease as I go into this football season, because I do know what we need to do and how we need to go about doing it.”
Gill is a confident man. When he talks about Kansas winning Big 12 championships and says that his goal is to win every game — even this season — he means it. Most coaches share that trait.
But it certainly was nice to see it from Gill.
As time passes and Gill becomes more settled in Lawrence and at KU, I expect we’ll continue to see this kind of progression from him. After shuffling from room to room to answer the same questions from print reporters, television personalities and the national media, Gill found time to deliver his best performance of the day last, with a small group of media members who cover the Jayhawks on a daily basis.
During the hour-long rap session that closed the day, Gill did not once give the impression that he was disinterested or disturbed by the questions. He answered everything, in as forthright a manner as he ever has, and even found time to fold in a few laughs.
As the session ended and just a couple of reporters remained, the recorders went silent and the pads were put down, but Gill still took time to share stories from his recent trip to London and Paris, a long-overdue anniversary vacation for him and his wife, Gayle.
There’s no doubt that Gill’s more comfortable heading into his second season with the Jayhawks. The question is, has he found a way to make his team more uncomfortable?
We’ll find out in four weeks.