Of all the things that frustrated Clint Bowen about being away from his hometown during the last two college football seasons, one of them came roaring to the front of his mind upon his return.
“Getting away opens your eyes to some things and you get to see a lot of different deals out there,” said Bowen, KU’s special teams coordinator and safeties coach. “It does make you appreciate how good we have it here at KU. I took that for granted, that when you ask for something you don’t just automatically get it. But here at Kansas, with the support of our athletic department, we’re running a class operation and everything you need to win is provided. Now we just need to execute on the field.”
That has been the goal of the early portion of spring drills for the Jayhawks, who, under the direction of first-year head coach Charlie Weis, have seen things run differently than during the past two seasons. Discipline has been ramped up, players and coaches are more accountable than ever and the focus appears to be fixed on changing the losing culture that once again had a stranglehold on the Kansas program.
For Bowen, who played two seasons at KU in the early 1990s and worked at his alma mater for 12 seasons as an assistant before moving on to Western Kentucky and North Texas after former KU coach Mark Mangino left, that has been more of a return to normal than anything. His playing days under Glen Mason and coaching days under Mangino were marked by discipline, and Bowen believes that having a coach like Weis and a defensive coordinator like Dave Campo running the show will go a long way toward bringing those days back.
“You need to respect what those two guys have accomplished in this profession,” Bowen said. “Our players do. Our kids are going out there and they’re believing in it, and they’re holding onto every word we say and everything we coach, and there’s a lot of urgency in our players right now.”
That feeling is not one-sided. Far from it. Both Campo, who is coaching college football for the first time since 1988, and a handful of the KU players have said they appreciate what Weis and his entire coaching staff are doing. That includes Bowen, who not only has coaching chops but also experience at KU.
“I have a lot of respect for that young man, I’ll tell you that,” Campo said of Bowen. “All I know is he (coached) a game in the Orange Bowl, a big game that KU won. He means an awful lot to me because he brings instant credibility to how to play football in this league. He and I work basically directly together... This guy’s a good football coach and I’m excited to have him with me.”
Many of the players, several whom Bowen coached in 2009, feel the same way.
“It’s definitely a good feeling,” said senior safety Bradley McDougald of having Bowen in crimson and blue again. “He’s one of those coaches who rides me a little harder just because he knows me, he knows what I’m capable of and he wants to get the best out of me.”
Added senior Toben Opurum: “He brings a lot of energy out, you can tell he’s happy to be back. And we’re happy to have him back on the team. I think a lot of guys feel like, ‘OK, we’ve got coach Bowen back, this is our opportunity to shine.’”
Bowen shares that sentiment. And because of the smile that’s plastered on his face and the pep in his step that’s evident at practice, he could not hide it if he tried.
“It’s good,” he said. “You have all the hard parts of leaving a job, telling the previous boss you’re leaving and all that. Once I got all that out of the way, I walked in here, went into my office and sat down and it hits you. It puts a smile on your face, and it’s good to be back and see familiar people. That’s the big thing, seeing people that you truly like and care about on a day-to-day basis, as opposed to being places where you just know people or you know that person’s name. It’s just a lot better to truly know someone, someone who, when you see their face, you’re happy to see ‘em. It’s that way all over town, all over this building.
“It’s good to be doing something that you really care about and truly care about in your heart. You go to other universities and you coach there, you work there, you put your heart into it, but it’s just different here.”