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Kansas great John Hadl reflects on position switch


An All-American running back, John Hadl obviously didn’t let that get to his head. He had enough humility to look at two running backs on his team and figure they could beat him out. So he paid a visit to coach Jack Mitchell’s office.

Sitting in a leather chair in his Williams Fund office, where he holds a job as closer extraordinaire with the big-ticket donors, Hadl explained how that visit went: “I just walked into his office and said, ‘You’re looking for a quarterback. Why not give me a try? We’re running the Oklahoma split T so I’ll be like a running back anyway.’ He said, ‘OK.’ Then of course when he talked about it he said that the coaches had discussions about it and decided this would be the best option.”

Hadl became an All-American quarterback and had a great career at the position with the San Diego Chargers and Los Angeles Rams and also played with the Green Bay Packers and Houston Oilers.

What motivated Hadl to take the bold step of visiting his coach, the same coach who convinced Hadl’s father it was in the best interest of his son to switch his commitment from Oklahoma to Kansas?

“Curtis McClinton and Bert Coan were flying past me in practice every day,” Hadl said. “I figured I better change positions because those guys were so much faster than I was.”

Hadl said he never regretted turning down Oklahoma and legendary coach Bud Wilkinson.

“They would have put me on defense and nobody ever would have heard from me again,” Hadl said.

At Kansas, he played some defensive back, returned punts and once led the nation in punting with an average of 45.6 yards. He had a knack for big plays long before he made so many for the Chargers. At KU, he returned an interception 98 yards and had a 94-yard punt.

Hadl also has the distinction of having been Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young’s first professional head coach with the Los Angeles Express of the USFL in 1984, and Hall of Fame QB John Elway’s first professional quarterbacks coach with the Denver Broncos in 1983.

On the topic of position switches

For a man who weighs 218 pounds, fullback Brandon Bourbon runs so swiftly and exhibits so much agility that it’s tough not to picture him playing linebacker. Excluding quarterbacks, Bourbon ranks fifth on the team in rushing attempts (11 carries, 38 yards), behind James Sims, Tony Pierson, Taylor Cox and D.J. Beshears.

Couldn’t Bourbon help the team more at linebacker? One of the nice things about KU first-year coach Charlie Weis is you can ask him a question like that and he’ll give an honest answer. So I asked and he answered.

“If Brandon Bourbon were good on defense, he’d be playing defense,” Weis said. “OK. I love when people say, ‘God, he looks like he’d be a great linebacker.’ Well, come to practice and you’ll get answers to some of those questions.”

The early segment of Tuesday and Wednesday practices were open to the media this season, so I went out to Wednesday’s practice. Man oh man, you should have seen Bourbon get low and hit hard during a running back drill in which the players blast what looks like a boxing heavy bag.

“Those are the type of things you don’t do during the season,” Weis said of switching positions. “Those are the type of things if you’re going to give it a shot you do it in the spring time when you can do it full-time. I don’t think in a week or two, you can transfer a player from one side of the ball to the other. You can, if you see a guy buried in the depth chart, where there is no end in sight.”

Weis sounds as if he believes Bourbon will help Kansas carrying the football before he graduates.

“Remember, the kid’s only a sophomore and he’s got a lot of time left here,” Weis said. “OK? But the kid’s a natural runner and he’s playing at a position where there are a lot of good players. But if you’re buried in the depth chart and it’s the spring time and you want to take a look, that’s the time to do that. But based off the evidence I see I think he’s playing the position he’s best suited for.”

Must an athlete want to play defense to become a good defensive player?

“Well there’s hitting and then avoiding hitting,” Weis said. “So offensive guys are trying not to get hit. Defensive guys are trying to hit. So when you’re spending your whole life trying not to get hit and then have to go start hitting, it’s not usually a good match, in case you’re wondering.”


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