Column: Easy call, Bowen deserves head coach job
TCU 34, KANSAS 30
Kansas University athletic director Sheahon Zenger’s phone rings. He answers it.
“Sheahon, Chuck,” consultant Chuck Neinas says. “Let’s make a deal. I’ll donate $25,000 to charity, pocket the other $25,000 to cover taxes, etc., and let’s call the whole thing off. What do you say?”
Zenger: “Great. We’ll send an airplane to bring you here for a Monday press conference so that you can bring attention to the charity of your choice.”
It seems like the reasonable thing to do on everybody’s part.
Although it’s common for teams to play better when an assistant coach is promoted to interim head coach, nothing is typical about the way Clint Bowen has transformed a depleted roster into a high-flying, hard-hitting ball of focused fire.
Bowen’s Ballers won respect and followers Saturday. They won points for toughness. They won everywhere but on a scoreboard that showed TCU 34, Kansas 30 when the seconds were gone and the last visible breath had ridden the biting wind through frigid air.
The stands had more bodies in the second half than the first, an indication of just how far this team has come in seven weeks and six games under the former KU defensive back who had worked as an assistant under four different coaches at his alma mater.
The Jayhawks lined the sidelines, letting their passionate voices be heard by teammates from start to finish. Across the way, the Horned Frogs, one of the toughest teams in college football, week in and week out, crowded a pair of heated white benches, squeezing closer to each other than the fans in Allen Fieldhouse.
“I think being up and being supportive of your teammates is something that we really try to work on have it be something that is a strength of our game, bringing juice and bringing enthusiasm,” senior tight end Trent Smiley said. “It’s hard to do that from sitting on the bench. And we practice in that stuff all week and we don’t get to sit on the bench in practice, so why do it now, right?”
Practice is where Smiley gets most of his action as a pass catcher. It wasn’t for naught. When the wayward snap for a short field goal was dropped and quickly picked back up by holder T.J. Millweard, who was screaming “Fire! Fire! Fire!” Smiley knew where to go, a couple of yards past the first-down marker on the left-center side of the field. Millweard hit him with a low throw and Smiley had a first down that enabled a touchdown.
It was one of many big plays that didn’t start out so hot for KU. It pumped pride into the stands, the sidelines, the program.
Kansas hasn’t had a lot of tangible reasons in recent seasons to feel proud.
“Maybe from the outside there aren’t reasons to be, and I could understand how people see that,” said Smiley, a serious guy who attended a recent career day at the Booth Family Hall of Athletics, despite having such a busy schedule. “I have always been proud to be a Jayhawk. However, there has been a new sense of pride and enthusiasm about being here. It’s great and it’s refreshing and it’s totally with coach Bowen.”
“We’ve adapted to his mentality and his outlook on this place and put that in an external showing. I think it’s definitely something that we can build on, something we can use, and have used, to be competitive,” Smiley said. “Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to finish these games, but it’s pretty apparent that we’ve improved.”
Kansas is 1-5 under Bowen, all in Big 12 games. Now that NBA commissioner Adam Silver has stripped the taboo from discussing sports wagering, it’s only appropriate to point out that KU is 5-1 under Bowen against the spread. That’s such a rare number because Las Vegas and the betting public usually adjust to such things, but it’s been so long since KU has been competitive in the Big 12 that it’s difficult for even the professional forecasters to absorb.
“I think it fits. I think it fits,” Smiley said of Bowen coaching KU. “It feels right for everyone involved. It doesn’t take long to be around this place to say, ‘You know what, that works.’ There is something about it. I can’t put my finger on it. It’s not readily apparent to me I guess, but it’s something. It’s there.”
Maybe it’s as simple as a smart, tough, driven football player coaching so long and for so many head coaches at his alma mater, absorbing what works and what doesn’t, and relentlessly applying what works.
Jimmay Mundine was the happiest guy in the stadium when Smiley made what Smiley called, “definitely the favorite play of my career,” because he knows how hard his backup works. Mundine pointed to another reason Bowen has made such a positive change in such a short time.
“I really think it’s coach Bowen getting guys better, mentally and physically,” said Mundine, who danced his way to a remarkable career day, making tackler after tackler miss him. “Guys just want to give more for him and go all out for him.”
It’s like anything in life, if a person’s work with you makes you better at what you do, you’re going to want to work all the harder for him and your tolerance for pain increases.
The university hasn’t always exhibited a great deal of self-esteem in regard to its football program. No louder way of reversing that inferiority complex exists than believing in one of your own, believing your eyes, which are telling you that there is no better fit for the job than the guy who has it, even if your ears don’t want to hear it.