Spending my entire adult life reporting on sports usually means I seek other topics, often true crime, when looking to become lost in a book. When I make exceptions, it's often to educate myself on a work-related topic.
Since Kansas technically runs an Air Raid offense, I decided to give "The Perfect Pass" by S.C. Gwynne, a shot. Friend Joe Reitz, retired University of Kansas faculty member and founder of Lawrence Family Promise, a wonderful charity designed at helping homeless and low-income families to reach sustainable independence, lent me his copy.
A beautifully written, well-researched, breezy read that centers on the origins of the Air Raid through the careers of the offense's creator, Hal Mumme, and sidekick Mike Leach, the most famous Air Raid practitioner.
Leach, then 28, and wife Sharon had one child and another on the way when Leach went to work for Hal Mumme at Iowa Wesleyan. Leach was armed with a law degree, but not interested in a suit-and-tie career when, fresh off coaching in Finland, he accepted a $12,000 salary, plus free housing, a "moldy one-room trailer."
Wrote Gwynne: "Located in a junk-strewn trailer park, it was engulfed by three-foot high weeds. The bedroom was carpeted with grubby, two-inch-deep, blood-red shag. The ceiling fan was mounted so low that the blades would sometimes hit Leach in the face when he crossed the room."
From such humble beginnings, Mumme and Leach went on to change the way football is played.
The offense, when taught and executed properly, stretched the field horizontally and vertically in such a way that teams with lesser talent were able to score improbable upsets.
Rob Likens, David Beaty's first offensive coordinator at Kansas, and Doug Meacham, are among the Air Raid assistant coaches mentioned in the book.
I still don't understand the Air Raid offense, but I grew an understanding of why KU's version of it doesn't work. Two sentences on page 156 hit me like one of those thanks-I-needed-that cold slaps in the face from the old Skin Bracer after shave commercials: "As offensive line coach, Leach was an integral — Hal often thought the integral — part of the passing attack. If (Dustin) Dewald didn't get three or more seconds, there was no offense."
There you have it. Neither Likens nor Meacham was the source of the failure of the Air Raid at Kansas. If the blocks aren't there, the air is filled with three-and-out failures. (A noticeable increase dropped passes didn't help either).
Beaty inherited a roster sorely lacking in offensive linemen. The quantity of blockers has been upgraded, but so far the quality hasn't kept pace. Will that change with an extra year of growth in the weight room and in mastering technique on the practice field? We'll see.
Center Mesa Ribordy, who came to KU as a walk-on tight end, has been KU's most consistent offensive lineman. The Jayhawks will have 11 offensive lineman who came to KU on scholarship, all but one (Jacob Bragg) recruited since Beaty took the job, participating in spring football.
It's not known whether Kansas will stick with the Air Raid. This much is certain: If the offensive line doesn't improve significantly, there is no offense.
Nicholls State and Kansas were in the market for football coaches at the end of their disappointing 2014 seasons. Kansas hired David Beaty, receivers coach from Texas A&M. Nicholls State opted for Tim Rebowe, safeties coach at Louisiana Lafayette.
Beaty inherited a program coming off a 3-9 record, a seven-year bowl drought and a roster sorely lacking in offensive linemen.
Rebowe inherited an 0-12 squad located in Thibodaux, Louisiana, that had finished last in the Southland Conference for four consecutive seasons.
Three years into the job, Beaty has a 3-33 record. He hasn’t been able to establish a strong recruiting footprint in either his native Texas or Kansas, which led to an aggressive turn toward Louisiana. At the moment, 2 of 6 verbal commitments from The Boot still list Kansas as their top choices, but cornerback Coe Harris and running back Pooka Williams are being aggressively pursued by big-time college football programs.
Rebowe is 16-18, including 8-4 this past season when his team lost to South Dakota in the first round of the 16-team FCS playoffs.
Obviously, Louisiana produces far more football prospects than Kansas. Even so, it’s impressive how disciplined Rebowe has been in sticking to his hyper-local recruiting approach. In his first three recruiting classes, 58 of 64 signees came from Louisiana.
Why should anybody in Kansas care about what's happening with an FCS school from Louisiana? KU opens its 2018 football season Sept. 1 vs. Nicholls State in Memorial Stadium.
Curious as to whether Rebowe had the good fortune of inheriting a strong class that as seniors led the Colonels to an 8-4 record in 2017, I did some research on geauxcolonels.com.
Unfortunately for Kansas, not the case.
Nicholls State returns 89 percent of its rushing yards and 95 percent of its rushing touchdowns, 95 percent of its passing yards, 100 percent of its passing touchdowns, 79 percent of its receiving yards, 86 percent of its receiving touchdowns.
But will the blocks be there to free the quarterback and running backs to do their work?
The Colonels bring back 4 of 5 starting offensive linemen from the team that lost to Texas A&M by 10 points, an impressive showing, although not as shocking as the previous year’s outcome vs. an FBS opponent. Georgia defeated Nicholls State by two points in 2016.
Oddsmakers don’t always post lines for games pitting FBS schools vs. FCS ones. If there is a line for this one, it’s worth wondering which school will be favored. I wonder if an FCS road team ever has been favored against an FBS school. I’ll try to find out before the day is over.
On one hand, Beaty has a 2-1 record vs. FCS opponents and will finally have a full roster of scholarship players. On the other hand, look at the comparative records from 2014, the year before the coaches took over, through 2017.
Kansas: 3-9, 0-12, 2-10, 1-11.
Nicholls State: 0-12, 3-8, 5-6, 8-4.
The Colonels’ growth curve points steadily up. For the Jayhawks, it’s been down, up, down. It's reasonable to expect it to head back up in 2018, provided defensive linemen Dorance Armstrong return, rather than declare for the NFL draft.
Fascinating matchup between coaches who inherited similar situations, although at different levels of competition, and three years in have had starkly different results.
Twelve days removed from college football’s first December signing period, Kansas ranks next-to-last in the Big 12 with 12 verbal commitments. Only Kansas State, which never does as well in recruiting on paper as on the football field, has fewer (11) verbals.
The rest of the Big 12 members' numbers: West Virginia (22), Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU (20), Texas Tech (19), Iowa State and Texas (18), according to Rivals, which ranks Texas slightly ahead of Oklahoma in its team recruiting rankings, followed by West Virginia, TCU, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Texas Tech, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State.
Eight of KU’s 12 commitments are high school players and four are prospects from junior colleges.
KU head coach David Beaty shared his thoughts during Big 12 Media Days in July on the addition of the early signing period.
“One of the most interesting things for me is when kids are committed and that first period comes around how many of them actually sign and how many don’t, because if they don’t sign then, they’re not committed,” Beaty said.
Tough to argue that point, so it's now or never for KU's most celebrated recruits.
Kansas lost another commitment Wednesday when three-star defensive end Josh Smith of Landry-Walker High in New Orleans, announcement on Twitter that he will “explore other options.”
KU has four remaining commitments who have been pursued by big programs and will be recruited aggressively by schools trying to pry them from their Kansas commitments before early signing day.
Cornerback Corione Harris and receiver Devonta Jason of Landry-Walker High in New Orleans, running back Anthony Williams from Boutte, Louisiana, and quarterback Clayton Tune of Hebron, Texas, all have SEC offers.
Harris announced on Twitter he would choose between Kansas and Mississippi State. Jason tweeted that former Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullens’ still is recruiting him at his new job at Florida. This might mean nothing, but it’s somewhat interesting that Harris just started following new Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt on Twitter.
LSU, Mississippi State, TCU and UCLA have offered Williams at various stages of his recruitment, per Rivals.
Quarterback Clayton Tune from Hebron, Texas, tweeted that Ole Miss offered him a scholarship.
These are nervous times for college football coaches. The early signing period cranks up the pressure because the guess by most is that the majority of prospects will sign now, rather than wait until February.
The first thing I liked reading about Lindsey Scott Jr., quarterback of national-champion East Mississippi Community College, was his height.
He’s listed at 5-foot-11, which means schools that can afford to be picky about such things decided not to recruit him for fear he would have trouble seeing over offensive linemen.
The smaller the pool of interested schools, the better shot Kansas has of landing him.
Mark Mangino had two terrific quarterbacks at Kansas and both could play in 6-foot-and-under basketball leagues without cheating by bending their knees at the official measurement, a tactic that allowed our 6-2 center Joe Trivisonno to play on the Marquette 1978 intramural champions, “The Eraserheads.”
Back to Mangino’s two best quarterbacks.
Bill Whittemore was listed at 6-0, Todd Reesing at 5-11. KU beat out New Mexico to land Whittemore, Duke and Kansas State to land Reesing.
Underdogs can’t get hung up on physical prototypes or they’ll end up with a roster full of players who look good coming off the bus, warming up and posing for photographs for the media guide, but can’t play a lick.
Whittemore played in the Tangerine Bowl, which interestingly was played in a stadium called the Citrus Bowl.
Reesing led KU to victory in the Orange Bowl and the Insight Bowl.
Jason Swanson, listed at 6-foot, led KU to victory in the Fort Worth Bowl.
The next thing to like about Scott is that he has only burned one year of eligibility and will have three remaining seasons after selecting a school from among Kansas, Texas-San Antonio, Tulane and Western Michigan. He red-shirted during his one year at LSU.
My guess is that Scott has thick skin because he excelled under EMCC coach Buddy Stephens the central figure in the popular Netflix series that followed two Lions seasons.
Stephens is a yeller and a screamer, a cusser and a fusser, despite trying to tame his act in Season 2.
Scott’s dual-threat capabilities count as another plus.
If KU can land Scott and Clayton Tune, who intends to graduate early and participate in spring football drills, David Beaty would have four quarterbacks, including holdovers Peyton Bender and Carter Stanley, competing for the starting job heading into spring football.
That’s a good thing, as long as Beaty names a starter by the end of spring football.
Tune originally made a verbal commitment to Kansas, then opened up his recruitment the night KU produced 21 yards in total offense in a 43-0 loss at TCU. He verbally recommitted to Kansas last week, but doubts arose to the strength of that commitment when he tweeted on Thursday: “Thankful to have received a scholarship offer from Ole Miss!”
Kansas had been recruiting dual-threat QB Victor Viramontes, but he committed to Minnesota.
The Big 12 has a remarkable 80 percent of its members heading to a bowl game. Baylor (1-11 overall, 1-8 in Big 12 play) and Kansas (1-11, 0-9) are the lone exceptions.
A disappointing season extended KU's bowl drought to nine years. No other school from a power-five conference has a drought of longer than four years and Oregon State and Syracuse are the lone schools to go that long without the extra game and practices that go with it.
KU's attendance dropped for the ninth consecutive year, to 25,165, despite Kansas State and Oklahoma drawing a large number of fans to Memorial Stadium.
At what point does the school's conference affiliation become jeopardized by the football program's inability to compete?
“That’s not something that’s ever been (a concern)," KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger told me in an interview in his office last week. "We’re a strong institution in many, many, many ways, and strong in this athletic department. Granted, we don’t have the wins in football right now, but all else is going well.”
Kansas last participated in the postseason on New Year's Eve 2008, when the Jayhawks defeated Minnesota, 42-21, in the Insight Bowl in Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. That improved Mark Mangino's bowl record to 3-1. His 2006 team also was bowl eligible but was not invited to a game.
A look at the bottom 20 power-five schools in terms participation in bowl games during the length of KU's drought:
|School||Bowls since 2009 season
|1 - Kansas||None||Nine years
|2 - Colorado
|3 (tie) - Virginia
|3 (tie) - Indiana
|5 (tie) - Purdue
||2011, 2012, 2017
|5 (tie) - Wake Forest
||2011, 2016, 2017
|5 (tie) - Cal
||2009, 2011, 2015
|5 (tie) - Illinois
||2010, 2011, 2014
|5 (tie) - Oregon State
||2009, 2012, 2013
|5 (tie) - Syracuse
||2010, 2012, 2013
|11 (tie) - Iowa State
||2009, 2011, 2012, 2017
|11 (tie) - Kentucky
||2009, 2010, 2016, 2017
|11 (tie) - Maryland
||2010, 2013, 2014, 2016
|11 (tie) - Vanderbilt
||2011, 2012, 2013, 2016
|11 (tie) - Washington State
||2013, 2015, 2016, 2017
|16 (tie) - Duke
||2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017
|16 (tie) - Texas Tech
||2009, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017
|16 (tie) - Ole Miss
||2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015
|16 (tie) - Rutgers
||2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014
|16 (tie) - Tennessee
||2009, 2010, 2014, 2015, 2016
Obviously, no two situations are alike when coaching changes are made in college football. Some coaches inherit worst situations than others. David Beaty inherited a tough challenge in large part because predecessor Charlie Weis recruited too many transfers and left the cupboard bare, particularly at offensive line.
Still, I thought it would be interesting to see how other schools that made coaching changes after the 2014 season have fared.
All computer rankings have flaws, but I've always considered the Sagarin predictor to be the best in both college football and basketball.
|*Coach no longer at that school.
You hang around a sports department office long enough and you’re bound to hear some interesting numbers and not all of them have dollar signs in front of them.
Some of the more compelling statistics produced by the Kansas football team during a 1-11 2017 campaign:
Scott Chasen pointed out on the KU Sports Hour that Khalil Herbert rushed for five more yards (291) against West Virginia than any teammate gained for the entire season. Taylor Martin rushed for 286 yards.
Bobby Nightengale noted that Kansas finished 130th (last) with an opponent punt-return average of 18.3 yards.
True freshman Earl Bostick, who started the season at offensive tackle and converted to tight end, had as many catches as Alabama transfer Daylon Charlot, who started the season at receiver and converted to safety.
Charlot caught one pass for no gain. This was one example of hype for which coaches can’t be blamed. The coaches consistently threw water on the media’s excitement, but we didn’t listen.
Bostick made his first and only catch a memorable one. Bostick’s 8-yard touchdown reception from Carter Stanley cut Texas’ lead to two touchdowns early in the second quarter.
Four schools surrendered more than the 296.8 passing yards per game allowed by KU and one school might come as a surprise: 130 - UConn (333.9); 129 - Kansas State (310.3); 128 - Louisiana-Monroe (308.5), Texas State (297.3).
Stanley had a hand in K-State’s ranking by throwing for 418 yards against the Wildcats.
Another indictment of the KU secondary: Tied for 123rd with four interceptions. KU ranks 128th with a -1.42 turnover margin and 126th with a 28.86-percent success rate on third down. Opponents were successful on 40.11 percent of their third-down plays.
KU averaged 3.1 yards per rush and 5.91 yards per pass attempt. Opponents averaged 4.2 yards per rush and 9.32 yards per pass.
The longest stretch of offensive ineptitude didn’t come in a 38-9 loss to Baylor, which lost its other 11 games, rather in a nine-and-a-half quarter streak that started midway through the third quarter of the 65-19 loss to Texas Tech and dragged on in back-to-back shutouts against Iowa State and TCU. The Jayhawks were outscored 118-0. They gained 129 yards in nine quarters.
On the positive side, Kansas ranked 15th in the nation with 7.42 tackles for loss per game.
Gabriel Rui was responsible for the team’s biggest area of improvement. He made 17 of 20 field goals and nailed a career-high 50-yard kick, one of 10 field goals of 40 or more yards.
Charlotte upgraded its football program from FCS to FBS at the start of the 2015 football season. As expected, it hasn't been an easy baptism for the 49ers, who went 1-11 this season for a three-year record of 7-29.
Even so, that doesn't place Charlotte last among the 128 schools that have been in the FBS division since 2015. That dubious honor belongs to Kansas (3-33).
A look at the 25 FBS schools with the worst records in the past three seasons:
|1 - Kansas||3-33, .083||1-11|
|2 - Charlotte||7-29, .194||1-11|
|3 - Kent St.||8-28, .222||2-10|
|4 (tie) - Ball St.||9-27, .250||2-10|
|4 (tie) - Rice||9-27, .250||1-11|
|4 (tie) - UTEP||9-27, .250||0-12|
|7 - UMass||9-26, .257||4-7|
|8 (tie) - Illinois||10-26, .278||2-10|
|8 (tie) - UL Monroe||10-26, .278||4-7|
|8 (tie) - Rutgers||10-26, .278||4-8|
|11 (tie) - E. Carolina||11-25, .306||3-9|
|11 (tie) - Purdue||11-25, .306||6-6|
|13 - New Mex. St.||11-24, .314||5-6|
|14 - San Jose St.||12-26, .316||2-11|
|15 - UConn||12-25, .324||3-9|
|16 (tie) - Hawaii||13-26, .333||3-9|
|16 (tie) - Syracuse||13-26, .333||4-8|
|16 (tie) - Tulane||12-24, .333||5-7|
|16 (tie) - UNLV||12-24, .333||5-7|
|16 (tie) - Virginia||12-24, .333||6-6|
|21 (tie) - E. Mich.||13-24, .351||5-7|
|21 (tie) - Maryland||13-24, .351||4-8|
|23 (tie) - Buffalo||13-23, .361||6-6|
|23 (tie) - Iowa State||13-23, .361||7-5|
|25 - Miami (Ohio)||14-23, .378||5-7|
Kansas rushed for 12 more yards in the first two games of the Big 12 schedule, vs. West Virginia and Texas Tech, than in the next six.
KU totaled just 467 rushing yards and two touchdowns, averaging 2.1 yards per carry, in games vs. Iowa State, TCU, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma.
The Jayhawks (1-10, 0-8) opened Big 12 play with a 367-yard rushing game against West Virginia, Khalil Herbert leading the way with 291 yards. The next week, the Jayhawks rushed for 112 yards vs. Texas Tech.
Since that game, KU has averaged just 77.8 yards rushing per game.
Back when Herbert had his huge day against West Virginia, he was healthy and so was the entire starting offensive line.
Herbert’s 10-carry, 65-yard effort vs. Texas Tech wrapped up a three-game stretch in which he rushed for 493 yards and four touchdowns and averaged 7.6 yards per carry.
In five games (he didn’t play against Iowa state) since, Herbert has rushed for 155 yards, a 3.1 average, and hasn’t scored a touchdown.
“Khalil’s just been kind of beat up,” KU offensive coordinator Doug Meacham said last week. “He had a couple of really good games, then he just hasn’t been the same physically. He’s had shoulder. He’s had hamstring. He’s had stuff.”
The same is true of Herbert's blockers.
KU hasn’t had its starting offensive line in tact since the Texas Tech game. That’s the last time that, from left to right, Hakeem Adeniji, Andru Tovi, Mesa Ribordy, Chris Hughes and Zach Hannon, formed the starting lineup.
Ribordy missed the Iowa State and TCU games. Hannon didn't play vs. Kansas State and Baylor. Chris Hughes was sidelined for much of the Texas game and all of the Oklahoma mismatch, replaced by Larry Hughes. Similarly, Tovi missed part of the Texas game and didn’t play at all vs. Oklahoma.
Adeniji is the only first-string offensive lineman who has not missed a game because of injury.
How much is Herbert’s performance dictated by the performance of the offensive line?
“That has a lot to do with it,” Meacham said. “And then in that West Virginia game we did some things a little different than we had shown and that kind of hurt them.”
Kansas has a good back in Herbert when he’s healthy and running behind a healthy line, so if those two factors twin up far more often in 2018, he could have a big junior season.
Far too often, athletic directors seeking head football coaches put “hot name” on the list of qualifications.
They do so because they place winning the press conference above building a winning football program on their list of priorities.
So if the hot name of the moment is the coordinator from a national powerhouse program, they like that. If Art Briles before his fall from grace happens to be the coach drawing the most praise at the moment and he used to be a high school football coach in Texas, then having high school football coach in Texas on your resume heats up your name.
Typically, “hot name” takes precedence over the three-word combination that should trump all else: good football coach.
Every time I write about good football coaches who wanted the Kansas job when the last three vacancies surfaced, I remember another, or someone reminds me of another.
Consider the blind resume of, we’ll call him John Doe before revealing his name later in the blog.
In his first assignment as a head coach, at the FCS level, his team’s went 4-7, 5-6, 11-1, 11-2. He stayed for one year at his next job, an FBS school, and then earned a promotion to an SEC program.
Coach Doe inherited an SEC program that made it to two bowl games in the previous eight seasons. He took that same school to bowl games in each of his first six seasons. His team played in three New Years’ Day bowls in a five-year period.
He coached two different schools to victories over LSU in Baton Rouge, once when LSU was ranked No. 1, the next time when the Tigers were No. 8. He moved to another SEC program, had two good seasons, two bad ones and was fired.
Houston Nutt, who played quarterback for Lou Holtz at Arkansas and was head coach for Murray State, Boise State, Arkansas and Ole Miss, wanted the Kansas job when it went to Charlie Weis and again when it went to David Beaty.
He’s working as a broadcaster now and turned 60 last month and last coached in 2011.
Nutt most recently made national news when he gained a settlement in his favor in court. He wasn’t suing Ole Miss for money. He was suing for an apology to restore his good reputation. Nutt alleged a smear campaign designed to pin the Rebels’ NCAA violations on him instead of successor Hugh Freeze.
Nutt won, receiving the following apology last month: “Certain statements made by university employees in January, 2016, appear to have contributed to misleading reports about Coach Nutt. To the extent any such statements harmed Coach Nutt’s reputation, the university apologizes, as this was not the intent.”
Good football coach.
Why do I continue to write about coaches who wanted the KU job in the past? Because I don’t believe the contention of many that the Kansas job is not an appealing one. Don’t buy that for a second. It's a very difficult one, but many good football coaches, Nutt included, would embrace the challenge.