Kansas University associate athletic director for student support Paul Buskirk has been employed by the department since 1987.
During that time, the veteran academic has seen a lot, done even more and worked with all varieties of coaches and student-athletes.
But he has never seen anything like KU football coach Charlie Weis.
Monday, KU announced that the football team had improved collectively by half a letter grade, soaring from a team grade-point average of 2.46 during the fall semester to a 3.0 this spring. Not only was the squad’s 3.0 the highest in program history, it also was a direct reflection of Weis, a no-nonsense leader who believes there’s a right way to do things and accepts nothing less.
“This is one of the most incredible jumps in academic performance from a team that I’ve ever seen,” Buskirk said. “This is not just over five players or 10 players or 20 players. This is over 70 or 80. That’s a huge, huge jump in performance, and I don’t want to undersell it at all.”
It’s easy for KU administrators and academic officials to bang the drum for their achievements in the classroom, no matter how big or small. Their jobs depend on the A’s and B’s outweighing the C’s and D’s. But that’s not what this is. Buskirk is nearing the completion of his third decade of service to KU because he’s honest and genuine. Rarely does he paint rosy pictures when they’re not there, and he works for no one but the student-athletes. That’s why Monday was like one of those days back in grade school when it was someone’s birthday and everyone in the class got cake.
Buskirk insists there was neither chocolate frosting nor edible flowers in his department on Monday, only satisfied grins coming from all corners. Specifically, Buskirk highlighted co-counselors Glenn Quick and Shanda Hayden, tutoring director Michelle Martin, and graduate assistant Dan Franco.
But their efforts may have gone wasted had it not been for the strong message handed down from the top. On the day he was introduced back in December, Weis emphasized the importance of academic success.
“I remember that because he caught me off guard,” Buskirk said. “I sat in the back and he made a reference to hiring a brand-new liaison for academics. I froze in my tracks at that moment because I hadn’t heard about any other hire. He went on, of course, to point out that he was the academic liaison. I have never worked with a football coach who has taken on the primary responsibility for academic liaison and concern. Ever. But that’s what coach Weis has done. Amazing stuff.”
The way Buskirk tells it is simple to understand. This latest improvement is not the stuff of miracles. It came as the result of a concentrated effort by coaching staff, athletic department and student body believing that the sound of a choir that sings together is much sweeter than discordant voices.
“If you don’t tell them it’s a big stinkin’ deal, they don’t know it,” Buskirk said. “But when we tell them that and then they get a 3.0, they go, ‘Whoa; I got a 3.0. That’s a big stinkin’ deal.’ And they’re proud of something they never thought they could accomplish. Once they’ve tasted it, they want to do it again.
“Coach Weis is gonna keep moving on,” Buskirk continued. “And I guarantee if you ask him, he would say, ‘This is what we should have been doing all along.’ I love it. I love every bit of it.”