Minnesota coach Jerry Kill has a strong record for turning around losing programs. He is a native Kansan, from Cheney to be exact. He played college football in Kansas (Southwestern). He coached college football in Kansas at Pittsburg State and Emporia State. Plus, he has a colorful personality.
In short, if Kansas decides it would rather have an experienced head coach than interim head coach Clint Bowen, Kill would be the perfect choice to tackle the challenge of reviving a football program that just finished its worst five-year stretch in history.
Kill, 53, is in his fourth season at Minnesota and has the Golden Gophers (8-4) headed to a bowl game for the third season in a row.
Everywhere Kill has coached, he steadily produces better records from year-to-year.
Saginaw Valley State: 6-4, 7-3, 7-3, 9-2, 9-2.
Emporia State: 5-6, 6-5.
Southern Illinois: 1-10, 4-8, 10-2, 10-2, 9-4, 9-4, 12-2.
Northern Illinois: 6-7, 7-6, 10-3.
Minnesota: 3-9, 6-7, 8-5, 8-4.
Now that he has Minnesota moving in the right direction, why would he want to take on an even bigger challenge in trying to get Kansas back into bowl games when playing a schedule that features facing every Big 12 team every season?
Excellent question. But if he is interested in the job, don’t look for him to coach the Gophers in a bowl game before moving. He left Northern Illinois without coaching in a bowl game and took most of his staff with him when he headed to Minnesota, including defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys, who made a strong impression when he took over as acting head coach when Kill took a leave of absence as he recovered from seizures. Kill four times suffered from seizures on game days, but has not had any such issues this season.
Claeys, from Claeys Center, also is a strong candidate for a head coaching job.
If Sheahon Zenger decides that Clint Bowen is not the best man to reverse the fortunes of a football program in the midst of its worst five-year record and saddled by a 2015 roster woefully thin in quantity and quality, look for the following in the background of the coach to whom Zenger turns:
1 - A leader with a background working on offense.
2 - A coach who knows the Big 12’s most fertile recruiting areas of Texas and Oklahoma and would have concrete ideas on how to assemble a staff that has well-placed contacts.
3 - A man with experience leading a turn-around program.
4 - Inside knowledge of what works and what doesn’t in the KU football program.
Third-year Memphis coach Justin Fuente never worked for the KU football program, but he meets all the other criteria.
Fuente, 38, inherited a program that had a 5-31 record in the previous three seasons and, according to the Associated Press, had 51 scholarship players upon his arrival, a figure similar to what KU will have this spring.
Typically, it takes at least three years to show positive signs when starting in such a deep hole. The Tigers (8-3 overall, 6-1 in the American Athletic Conference) are riding a five-game winning streak. Unless upset by UConn on Saturday, the Tigers will win the conference and have their first-game winning streak since 1969. Fuente went 4-8 and 3-9 in his first two seasons at Memphis.
His three losses this season: At UCLA, 42-35, at Ole Miss, 24-3, at home vs. Houston, 28-24.
A native of Tulsa, Fuente played quarterback at Union High and then at Oklahoma. He won the job and lost it a couple of times with the Sooners and then transferred to Murray State, where he excelled.
Fuente was hired by Illinois State as quarterbacks coach in 2001. By the time Zenger was hired as ISU’s AD, Fuente was the offensive coordinator. He left there for TCU.
He doesn’t have the Kansas ties that Clint Bowen, Ed Warinner and David Beaty bring to the job interview, but Utah State head coach Matt Wells does have similar passion, a trait the past two KU football bosses lacked, and he has experience as a head coach.
Wells has been at the school four seasons, worked as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach in 2011, and was recruiting coordinator/quarterbacks coach in 2012. He is 18-8 as a head coach, not including his five seasons spent as Navy’s head coach of the junior varsity squad (1997-2001), a secondary job to working as an offensive assistant.
A native of Sallisaw, Oklahoma, Wells, 41, played quarterback for Utah State, from which he graduated in 1996. After Navy, he spent five seasons at Tulsa (2002-2006), where his duties included recruiting coordinator. Two seasons at New Mexico, a year at Louisville, back to New Mexico for one season and then off to his alma mater to coach for Gary Andersen. During his time as Andersen’s OC, Utah State amassed impressive passing numbers.
Does the geography make sense? The off-the-cuff answer would be no. A deeper probe suggests Wells did a nice job of either maintaining or rekindling the Texas recruiting ties he established during his time at Tulsa. Nine players on the Aggies roster are from Texas.
Consider for comparison purposes that Chad Morris, the highest-paid assistant coach in the nation who came to college football after 16 years as an extremely successful high school football coach in Texas. He works for Clemson, which does not have a single player from the Lone Star state on the roster. Morris and Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman are considered the leading candidates at SMU, but Herman might be in play at Florida as well.
Wells has gained a reputation as an outstanding recruiter and has handled the transition from assistant coach to head coach well.
Ohio State lost four starting offensive linemen, including three NFL rookies, from last season’s team. It showed in a 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech in the season opener for both teams.
That seemed like a distant memory when the Buckeyes went into East Lansing and buried then-No. 8 Michigan State, 49-37, nine weeks later.
Clearly, Ohio State offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner knows how to develop linemen. He knows offense, period. As he showed in three years at Kansas with Todd Reesing at quarterback, he also knows how to coordinator a pass-happy offense.
Everywhere else he has been, the lines he has coached produced big rushing numbers. The Buckeyes rank 14th in the nation with 263.1 rushing yards per game.
Warinner coached on offenses that led the nation in rushing at Army (three times) and at Air Force. He worked twice for Mark Mangino, first as offensive line coach and then after returning from Illinois he was offensive coordinator. With Reesing standing short and playing tall and Warinner coordinating the spread offense and calling the plays, KU had its three best offenses in history in terms of yards per game and passing yards per game.
He spent two years at Notre Dame and has been at Ohio State the past three seasons.
Warinner has worked under head coaches Brian Kelley and Urban Meyer, considered two of the best in the business. At Michigan State, he worked as a graduate assistant for defensive coordinator Nick Saban, who stands at the top of his profession.
Starting with 2007 at Kansas, the teams for which Warinner has worked the past eight seasons have posted a .740 winning percentage.
Can he recruit? Rivals.com thinks so and named Warinner a 2014 Rivals Top 25 recruiter.
Warinner’s daughters, Madisyn and Merideth, worked at the KU football complex.
Warinner has proven all can as an assistant coach and is primed for his first head-coaching job. His chances would be better of that happening at KU if not for Bowen making such a good impression thus far. Sometimes, possession is nine-tenths of the law.
Finally, Charlie Weis’ strategy of recruiting transfers from four-year schools has significantly upgraded one unit of the Kansas University football program.
Receivers Nick Harwell (Miami of Ohio) and Nigel King (Maryland) have had a chance to show their talent since Michael Cummings took over at quarterback, halfway into Clint Bowen’s first game as interim head coach, at West Virginia.
Sophomore Montell Cozart played the first four games and half the fifth game, so he and Cummings both have started four-and-a-half halves.
Cummings faced tougher competition (West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Baylor, Iowa State) than Cozart (Southeast Missouri State, Duke, Central Michigan, Texas, West Virginia). The remaining three games (TCU, at Oklahoma, at Kansas State) give Kansas the toughest remaining schedule in the nation, according to computer rankings.
A look the quarterbacks’ numbers:
Cozart...... 64-128-701-50.0%-5.48-5................ 61-128
Cummings 94-158-1,160-59.5%-7.34-5............ 103-142
Now a look at the top three receivers, including senior tight end Jimmay Mundine:
Harwell In halves started by Cozart: 16-121-2
Harwell in halves started by Cummings: 21-280-2
Mundine in halves started by Cozart: 10-119-0
Mundine in halves started by Cummings: 23-281-2
King in halves started by Cozart: 6-92-0
King in halves started by Cummings: 17-276-0
Since Cummings took over at quarterback, Mundine (281), Harwell (280) and King (276) are within a five-yard span in reception yardage totals, an indication of how well Cummings has spread the wealth.
Before Harwell and King came to KU, the Jayhawks didn’t get much production out of transfers Dayne Crist and Anthony McDonald of Notre Dame, Jake Heaps of Brigham Young and Josh Williams of Nebraska. UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard remains third on the quarterback depth chart.
A pair of players who took advantage of the rule that enables graduated players to transfer without sitting out a year have done well after leaving Kansas. Defensive back Tyler Patmon played well for the Oklahoma State Cowboys and recently had a pick-six for the Dallas Cowboys.
Andrew Turzilli, who clocked the second-fastest 40 time on the team, ranking behind only Tony Pierson last spring, has used his speed to make big plays for Rutgers. He has just eight catches for the Scarlet Knights, but three of them have gone for touchdowns and he’s averaging an eye-popping 38.1 yards per catch. Four of his receptions have gone for 36 yards or more and he had a 93-yard TD catch vs. Tulane and an 80-yard catch against Michigan.
Turzilli’s a big target and deep threat, but the way Harwell and King are playing for KU, he would have had difficulty finding playing time.
The temptation for any hot-shot assistant college football coach is to take the first head-coaching offer that comes along, especially if it’s in a glamour conference such as the Big 12.
But with Kansas projecting to have such a weak roster for next season and with so little success in the past five seasons, it will be difficult for any coach to recruit top prospects and win games right off the bat.
A hot coaching prospect’s star fades faster than that.
Baylor coach Art Briles’ remarkable turnaround has been driven by an offense that perennially ranks among the best in the nation.
Philip Montgomery, 42, worked under Briles at Stephenville High, at the University of Houston and for the past seven seasons at Baylor, where he has been the Bears’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the past three seasons.
At Baylor, Montgomery always has the offensive mastermind Briles as a resource, a talented quarterback, fleet wide receivers, talented running backs and an efficient offensive line.
Going from that to the talent at Kansas might be a shock to his system.
Then again, Montgomery has had a front-row seat to Briles’ path from coaching a program with a losing tradition to one that is a perennial power on a national level.
Working for the charismatic Briles, Montgomery has remained in the shadows. He doesn’t appear to enjoy being dragged out of his comfort zone and interviews are not in his comfort zone. He doesn’t do very many of them. That begs the question of whether he would enjoy all that comes with being the head coach, the face of the program. If Montgomery has a colorful personality behind his stoic veneer, he would have to remove the mask as head coach at Kansas, which doesn’t sell out its football games and needs all the promotion it can get.
It also is a bit more of a risk taking a coordinator who works for a head coach whose strength is on the same side of the ball. In contrast to Montgomery, TCU's Doug Meacham works for Gary Patterson, a coach with a revered defensive mind.
On the positive side, Montgomery knows what a good quarterback looks like, having tutored Case Keenum and Kevin Kolb at Houston and Robert Griffin III, Nick Florence and Bryce Petty at Baylor. Those are great ties to talk up in a visit with recruits.
Another plus: More than 20 head high school football coaches in Texas either played for or coached for Briles, so their first call when they coach or play against an extremely talented sophomore, goes to Briles. He can’t take everybody. Maybe Montgomery would get the second call and upgrade the caliber of Texas recruits heading to Kansas.
TCU ranked 88th in the nation in scoring offense in 2013 with 25.1 points a game and ranks second now with 48 points per game. Same head coach. Same quarterback. Different offensive coordinators.
Doug Meacham and former Texas Tech quarterback Sonny Cumbie were hired in December as co-coordinators to install the Air Raid offense invented by Hal Mumme and made more famous by Mike Leach and then Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
Meacham, 49, was hired away from Houston, where he spent one season as the OC. Before that, he spent eight seasons as an offensive assistant at Oklahoma State, his alma mater. He landed that job after coordinating offenses at Samford, Henderson State, Jacksonville State, Georgia Military College.
As an offensive lineman for Oklahoma State, he earned all-conference honors, started 35 consecutive games and blocked for Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders.
Meacham, 49, “is going to be the next hot guy and be a head coach,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy told the Oklahoman in the days leading up to TCU’s 42-9 rout of the Cowboys.
Horned Frogs junior quarterback Trevone Boykin threw seven touchdown passes and seven interceptions and averaged 6.8 yards per attempt in 2013. This season, Boykin has thrown 22 touchdowns, four interceptions and averaged 7.8 yards per attempt under the tutelage of Meacham and Cumbie.
Meacham never has been a head coach. Could he handle the multi-tasking required? Does he have the right demeanor to establish discipline, etc., or is he just an offensive guru? I don’t know, but if you’re doing a comprehensive search, you might as well put him on your long list and try to find the answers to those and many more questions.
Meacham has recruited Texas and Oklahoma and with Houston spanned the country seeking the right fits for the Air Raid offense.
Let me start with a disclaimer: When I write about potential fits for the Kansas University football coaching job, which might not even come open if Clint Bowen shows he’s the best man for the job, I’m not saying athletic director Sheahon Zenger is considering the coach. I’m just turning over every stone as would any AD searching for a coach.
Today, let’s consider the profile of the youngest of the 128 Football Bowl Subdivision head coaches.
His name is P.J. Fleck. He is 33. And his Western Michigan football team that went 1-11 in 2013, his first year, is 6-3 and in contention to win the Mid-American Conference title. Fleck is one of three former NFL players (South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury heading an FBS program.
A wide receiver at Northern Illinois, from which he graduated in 2004, Fleck compiled one statistic as an NFL player when he returned a punt 10 yards for the 2004 San Francisco 49ers.
Enough about his playing career, it’s his fast rise as a coach that has generated headlines.
He first worked as a graduate assistant for Jim Tressell at Ohio State in 2006. From there, he went to Northern Illinois and worked as wide receivers coach (2007-09) and recruiting coordinator (2009) and gained a reputation as an energetic, effective recruiter. Fleck spent the next two seasons working for Joe Novak for one season, current Minnesota coach Jerry Kill for two. Next, the ambitious Fleck went to work at Rutgers (2010-11) for Greg Schiano and followed Schiano to the NFL and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2012).
Western Michigan, a Mid-American Conference in Kalamazoo, hired Fleck on Dec. 18, 2012, charging him with the task of rebuilding the program. Nobody had any right to expect him to deliver this quickly.
Western Michigan ranks 37th in the nation with 457.1 yards of offense per game and 36th with 34.6 points per game.
Fleck turns 34 on Nov. 29, which seems awfully young to tackle a Big 12 job. Then again, Ara Parseghian was 32 when he left his MAC job at Miami of Ohio for Northwestern, Woody Hayes 36 when he left Miami for Ohio State and Glen Mason 37 when he left Kent State for Kansas.
A native of Sugar Grove, Illinois, Fleck’s recruiting contacts are in Big Ten country, not Big 12, which didn’t stop Mason from doing well at Kansas.
Turner Gill came to Kansas from Buffalo, a MAC school, and went 5-19 in two seasons.
Sporcle.com has a series of random sports quizzes but before you go there, consider that you might become addicted because racing the clock to fill in all the answers can really get the adrenaline flowing, at least as much as sitting in front of a computer can do that.
Anyway, I stumbled upon one quiz with 24 answers that I found quite interesting. Name the 2008 Orange Bowl starters, including the kicker and punter, for Kansas in eight minutes. With apologies to right guard Chet Hartley and defensive end John Larson, I was able to come up with 22 of them. I do remember Hartley, whose family has a fish farm in Kingman, and Larson, frequently cited as one of the brightest people in the athletic department during his career. I also remember Larson showing rare agility for a defensive lineman when he intercepted a pass in a victory against Toledo.
Now that you have a pretty good head start, give it a shot to see how many you can name. Sporcle lists the position and jersey number and if you type the last name, it will supply the first. It’s interesting to look at from what states the starters on the 12-1 Jayhawks came to KU.
If you want to take the quiz, don’t read the rest of this blog until you have taken it.
Now, let’s look at the home states of the starters then and now.
Orange Bowl team:
Texas: Dezmon Briscoe, Ryan Cantrell, Anthony Collins, Dexton Fields, James McClinton, Todd Reesing, Aqib Talib, Kyle Tucker.
Kansas: Caleb Blakesley, Chet Hartley, John Larson, Adrian Mayes, Brandon McAnderson, Mike Rivera, Darrell Stuckey.
Oklahoma: Russell Brorsen, Derek Fine, Chris Harris, Marcus Henry, James Holt, Scott Webb.
California: Joe Mortensen, Cesar Rodriguez.
Missouri: Justin Thornton.
So 21 of the 24 starters came from three states: Eight from Texas, seven from Kansas, six from Oklahoma. In all, five states were represented.
Now, let’s look take a geographic look at the starters on the current roster.
Texas: Corey Avery, Michael Cummings, Ben Goodman, Nick Harwell, Jimmay Mundine, JaCorey Shepherd.
Kansas: Joe Gibson, Ben Heeney, Pat Lewandowski, Michael Reynolds.
California: Ngalu Fusimalohi, Trevor Pardula.
North Carolina: Isaiah Johnson, Nigel King.
District of Columbia: Larry Mazyck.
Illinois: Tony Pierson.
Iowa: Mike Smithburg.
Maryland: Cassius Sendish.
Michigan: Matthew Wyman.
Mississippi: Tedarian Johnson.
Missouri: Dexter McDonald.
New Jersey: Tevin Shaw.
Oklahoma: Jake Love.
South Carolina: Keon Stowers.
Six from Texas, four from Kansas and then a little of this and a little of that. In all, 13 states plus the District of Columbia are represented among the 24 starters.
Just one recruit from Oklahoma, which used to be such a fertile recruiting ground for Kansas and can become so again.
If you have a connection and like the player and person, absolutely offer him a scholarship if he’s from Mars. But the lack of concentrated recruiting is a function of lack of stability on the coaching staff and of a heavy emphasis on juco recruiting and also suggests too much last-minute scrambling took place.
The next staff needs an assistant coach with strong ties to Oklahoma high school coaches. Plus, Kansas walk-ons need to become a big part of the program to keep the numbers high and to improve relations with Kansas high school coaches.
Clint Bowen is just three games into his eight-game tryout as interim head coach of a reeling Kansas football program, so plenty can happen to move the needle in either direction on his chances of landing the job. At this point, he would have to be considered the favorite, but there is no odds-on-favorite, a term that applies to a member of the field having a better than 50-percent chance of winning a competition.
Despite encouraging signs under Bowen — 3-0 vs. the spread, the flipping of an in-state recruit from Ohio State to Kansas — a search committee has been formed and athletic director Sheahon Zenger is keeping an open mind. So it’s worthwhile to look at candidates that make sense and look not only at obvious assistant coaches with KU ties, such as Ohio State’s Ed Warinner, one of the game’s better offensive minds, Texas A&M assistant David Beaty (strong Texas recruiting ties) and Nebraska’s Tim Beck (respected offensive coordinator), but also at those flying under the radar.
Since Willie Fritz's team played on ESPNU on Thursday night, hammering Troy 42-10, let's look at the candidacy of Georgia Southern first-year head coach Willie Fritz.
A Johnson County native, Fritz’s brother, Ed Fritz, is Blue Valley Northwest High’s hugely successful boys basketball coach. Ed’s wife, Ann, is girls basketball coach at Blue Valley North.
Willie played defensive back at Pittsburg State and coached there and at Coffeyville College as an assistant. As a head coach, Fritz turned a Blinn College program that had gone 5-24-1 in the previous season into a national powerhouse. In four seasons (1993-1996) under Fritz, Blinn, a Texas juco, went 39-5-1 and won two national titles.
Fritz then spent 13 seasons at Div. II Central Missouri, where he went 97-47 and took the Mules to heights it never had accomplished. Fritz then went 40-15 in four seasons at Sam Houston State and made it to the Football Championship Subdivision national-title game in 2011 and 2012.
Georgia Southern is in its first season in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Fritz’s Eagles (7-2) lead the Sun Belt Conference and their only nonconference losses were by one point at North Carolina State and by four points at Georgia Tech.
Fritz, 54, inherited a strong roster from Jeff Monken, who bolted to take the Army job a year after upsetting Florida.
Schools normally suffer in the transition year, but Georgia Southern has improved and ranks No. 1 in the nation in rushing yards (3,624), yards per carry (7.32) and rushing touchdowns (46).
Fritz had the guts to veer away from the “Ham Bone,” triple-option attack Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson brought to Georgia Southern 30 years ago when he was the offensive coordinator. Fritz uses a run-based spread offense, which shares some elements of his Georgia Southern predecessors’ offenses.
Fritz's final Sam Houston State team ranked fourth in the FCS in scoring (41.1 points per game) and sixth in rushing. Almost all of the current Sam Houston State roster was recruited by Fritz and his staff, and 89 of the 96 players on it are from Texas.
Fritz earns a $400,000 annual salary at Georgia Southern, good enough for him to stay at the Ritz whenever he wants, but not comparable to what KU will pay its next coach.