After the Kansas University men’s basketball team lost to the Texas Longhorns last year at Allen Fieldhouse, coach Bill Self approached KU Public Safety Sgt. Gary Wieden.
You see, for the past two years, Wieden’s been the officer responsible for guarding Self at home games. Because of other police responsibilities, Wieden wasn’t at his typical game-day spot, right behind Self.
“He was not happy I was not there,” Wieden said. “I thought he was joking.”
But along with all the other inside knowledge Wieden gleans from his access as Self’s bodyguard during games, he’s learned Self is a superstitious man.
The look on Self’s face let Wieden know he was serious.
Since then, it’s only been Wieden tasked with protecting perhaps Lawrence’s most popular person.
Getting great seats, and seeing the KU team up close, is a special honor for a lucky KU public safety officer.
“This is a real dream job,” said Wieden, a Jayhawk fan. “It’s a real plus.”
Much better than directing traffic on cold, windy game days, something Wieden had done for many years before moving up to Self’s bodyguard.
It took Wieden — a public safety officer for 33 years and former Jayhawk — three decades to earn the honor.
The KU Public Safety Department has always had a bodyguard for the opposing coach, but started protecting Self a few years back, just in case, said Chris Keary, KU Public Safety spokesman.
Guarding Self is usually a fairly easy gig, Wieden said. Who would want to hurt the man who’s won eight straight Big 12 championships for the Jayhawks?
“It’s a love fest,” Wieden said.
Wieden meets Self when he shows up at Allen Fieldhouse, and then basically “shadows” the coach to the locker room, and sits right behind the him during the game. Sometimes, Wieden has to quickly shuttle Self through crowds. But there’s never been a real tense situation, Wieden said.
Because Self ends up on camera a lot, so does Wieden — who stands out with a bald head and goatee.
Wieden says he is often recognized out in Lawrence and frequently hears, “Hey, you’re the guy behind the bench.” It adds up to a lot of fun for his family; Wieden has three grown children and 11 grandchildren who love spotting him on camera.
He even gets recognized by out-of-state from diehard Jayhawk fans. Most recently, Wieden said he was recognized when he got off a plane in South Carolina.
While it’s a mostly fun job, Wieden said it’s not without its risks. With all the cameras, Wieden says he needs to pay attention to the game to avoid Wieden’s biggest nightmare: getting clocked in the head by an errant ball.
“The last thing I need to be is a highlight on SportsCenter,” he said.