Well, here we are, 100 days away from the start of yet another college football season.
And, as much as that’s a national holiday for the rest of the country, it often is a day to dread for Kansas fans. Not only is the interest in this program at an all-time low — and you can say that by any number of measures from season ticket sales to message board traffic and everything in between — but the idea of actually attending a football game and, heaven forbid actually staying to watch it, seems to have become something people get mocked for around here.
That only makes a hard job harder for second-year coach David Beaty and his Jayhawks, who, like every other college football team in America, have been working their butts off since the end of the 2015 season in hopes that the work they put in during the down months will pay off in the fall.
Knowing that it’s going to take more than the abstract promise of continued improvement to get KU fans fired up for another football season, let’s look at six reasons to get excited about the arrival of game day, exactly 100 days from today.
1. Game 1 is winnable. Big time. Not only should the Jayhawks be favored to beat Rhode Island in the opener, they should do it. It’s been a long time since KU put a hurting on an opponent in a season opener and there’s no better way to get the fan base jacked than by putting up a big number and rolling to a comfortable rout during Week 1. During the final four seasons under Mark Mangino, KU won its opener by an average of 38 points. In the six seasons — and three head coaches — since Mangino left town, KU has won four openers by an average of 14 points and lost two. Nothing would be more helpful toward getting things turned around than an old-fashioned butt-kicking on Sept. 3 at Memorial Stadium.
2. New offenses can be fun. Especially when they’re Air Raid offenses designed to get the ball to playmakers in space and operate at a pace that puts the defense on its heels. Forget about what you saw last year and consider KU’s 2015 offense the bridge between Charlie Weis’ pro style packages and what Beaty believes KU can run. If you show up on Sept. 3 and see more of the same, head back to the car and take that cooler full of cold beverages to the pool or the lake. But at least show up and check it out. Who knows? Even though KU does not have the talent it had during the Todd Reesing era, this new-look offense might remind you a little of that and you just might like it.
3. KU’s defense figures to be much improved. We saw evidence of this in the spring, when the KU defense most often got the better of the offense during scrimmages and the spring game. And I’ve heard some chatter about defensive coordinator Clint Bowen really getting his crew to buy in to what he wants to do. Some of the credit for that goes to experience. Some of it goes to the leaders like Fish Smithson, Joe Dineen, Marcquis Roberts and Brandon Stewart. And some of it goes to the addition of linebackers coach Todd Bradford and his ability to work well with Bowen and the other defensive assistants. Time will tell just how good this group actually can be, but you can expect to see a confident crew that takes the field with some bounce and swagger on Sept. 3.
4. Time to meet the new faces. By the time Sept. 3 rolls around, you’ll have read plenty about cornerback Kyle Mayberry, defensive linemen DeeIsaac Davis and Isi Holani, linebacker Maciah Long, cornerback Stephan Robinson and defensive end Isaiah Bean. But this will be your first chance to actually see them play. You never know when KU’s coaching staff is going to land that player or pack of players that might be responsible for jump-starting a turn-around. Could he be on the list of names above?
5. The weather should be gorgeous. I know it’s a long ways away still and weathermen and women don’t normally forecast 100 days out, but if history tells us anything the opener should be very nice. According to usclimatedata.com, September is one of just two months each year in which the average high temperature in Lawrence is in the 70s. And they don’t play football around here in May, so why not take advantage of that?
6. Tailgating, man. My esteemed colleague Gary Bedore has called KU’s tailgating atmosphere one of the best decisions the athletic department ever made. Remember, there was a time not that long ago when fans were not allowed to consume adult beverages and enjoy one of the best parts about college football anywhere near Memorial Stadium. That changed back in 2001, and today, even when the likelihood of KU winning a game inside the stadium is low, the buzz outside the stadium is high, both from a participation perspective and the way the whole scene makes the areas surrounding Memorial Stadium, from the hill to the parking lots, look like a big time college football environment.
In the next 99 days, we'll have all kinds of info and analysis of the season ahead, but hopefully what you just read will whet your appetite just a little for that season opener against Rhode Island that is closer than you think.
In case it didn't, here are a few recent comments from Beaty on the opener...
"We gotta win some games. And that starts with one. We are focused on going 1-0 against Rhode Island I honestly don’t even know who else is on our schedule. I am focused on that game. And our kids are too.”
“It’s the most important game in the history of our program because it’s the next one. Period.”
“We’re gonna focus on winning one game at a time and putting a premium on winning. Winning is important. So we’re not gonna sugarcoat it. We came here to win and these kids want to win. We’ve worked our (butt) off and the kids have too. They deserve it. So we just gotta keep earning it.”
ESPN.com recently wrapped up its annual look at the post-spring position rankings among Big 12 football teams and, to no one’s surprise, Kansas finished at the bottom.
There is good news here, though, KU fans — the Jayhawks did not rank dead last at every position. And let’s face it; it would have been real easy for the Big 12 bloggers at ESPN to pencil in the Jayhawks at 10 each time and move on from there.
Good for them for not taking the lazy approach, something that surely was made particularly more challenging given the fact that, because of the current state of the KU program, those guys aren’t around KU enough to really know what the program looks like top to bottom and inside and out.
The Jayhawks ranked dead last at six of the eight positions ESPN.com examined, all four spots on offense (QB, RB, WR, OL) as well as defensive line and special teams.
The Kansas linebackers, led by returning starters Joe Dineen and Marcquis Roberts, ranked 8th out of 10 and the KU secondary, which features second-team all-Big 12 pick Fish Smithson and a host of young talent, ranked 9th out of 10, giving KU an average ranking of 9.6 over all eight positions.
It’s hard to argue with any of their rankings. As you know, the Big 12 is a dynamic quarterback league and neither Ryan Willis nor Montell Cozart have shown enough to be ranked above any of their counterparts at this point. KU’s running back corps lacks depth and proven talent and the receivers, though talented and packed with potential, remain largely a work in progress.
KU’s offensive line was the worst in the league last season by a long shot and will have to prove that all of that talk we’ve heard about that group getting stronger and making one of the biggest leaps this offseason is warranted.
As has been examined a lot on this site during the past few weeks, KU’s special teams ranked at the bottom of just about every important category in the third phase of the game last year, making its placement at the bottom as easy as any of the rankings in the entire exercise.
I applaud them for giving KU’s linebackers the love they deserve — it wouldn’t surprise me for a second if this group actually performs close to the Top 5 than the bottom when the season plays out — and I also think bumping KU up a spot from dead last to ninth in the secondary was kind given that the secondary features a bunch of young and still unproven bodies.
If there’s one area that could — and I strongly emphasize could here — be wrongly ranked at the bottom, it might be the defensive line. The KU D-Line still has to prove it and has a long way to go, but the addition of a couple of key juco transfers (Isi Holani and DeeIsaac Davis), the growth of edge rushers like Dorance Armstrong, Damani Mosby and Anthony Olobia, and the junkyard dog play of Daniel Wise, Jacky Dezir and D.J. Williams could give KU its best set of run stoppers and pass rushers in the trenches in years.
It should be noted that even if KU’s D-Line makes a jump and delivers a great season, the absolute highest it could probably climb in one year is 8th. Remember, this is the Big 12 and the conference routinely cranks out NFL Draft picks from that position.
Overall, I thought the ESPN.com positional rankings were a fair representation of where KU currently sits and those guys did a nice job of continually pointing out that it looks as if the talent and depth within the KU program is being upgraded, slowly but surely.
Recruiting news, be it on the basketball front or the football trail, always seems to drum up serious interest from fans of Kansas University athletics.
And this week certainly has provided plenty of excitement. Second-year KU football coach David Beaty and company landed three oral commitments from athletes in the 2017 recruiting class, including local standout Jay Dineen, the younger brother of current KU linebacker Joe Dineen and a senior-to-be at Free State High in Lawrence.
Wide receivers Kaltuve Williams, of New Orleans, and Reggie Roberson, of Dallas, rounded out the commitments — thus far — bringing KU’s total in the class of 2017 to six, four of which are three-star prospects according to Rivals.com.
While all of the accolades and numbers associated with these players certainly speak for themselves, one of the more subtle moments of the aftermath of their commitments might be just as interesting to KU fans.
A couple of hours after Dineen committed to Kansas on Monday night, his mother, Jodi, a former KU volleyball player herself, posted a photo of Dineen at KU’s Anderson Family Football Complex, presumably during one of his visits to campus.
In it, Dineen is sporting his Free State letter jacket and holding a football helmet that features a wild design representing the Kansas mascot — big blue eye, shiny red sheen, gold facemask.
Could this be the unofficial unveiling of a new KU football helmet for the 2016 season and beyond? It obviously won’t be KU’s permanent helmet, but maybe it’ll be used for one of those throwback or gimmick games, when the team wears something out of the ordinary to get the players and fans fired up and, of course, sell more merchandise.
Over the years I’ve seen a bunch of fan mock ups of what KU’s football helmets should look like. Some have been pretty slick and others have fallen just short of horrendous.
This helmet that Dineen is showing off, at least to me, lies somewhere in between the two and I wouldn’t mind for a second seeing the Jayhawks take the field for a game or two wearing these bad boys.
I tried to get ahold of a couple of people in the football office who might be able to provide more details, but they were out. Beaty and a few others are in Tulsa tonight talking to KU supporters in the Sooner State so it’s possible they were en route as I wrote this.
I'm guessing it's just one of those one or two-of-a-kind helmets they make up for recruiting purposes and won't actually be used on game day. I know KU and pretty much every other major college football program likes to create these types of things to get the recruits jacked up when they come tour campus.
I’ll jump back on here with an update if/when I get some kind of answer. For now, enjoy imagining what 100 of these helmets might look like lining the west sideline at Memorial Stadium.
Throughout his time as the head coach at Kansas, head football coach David Beaty has been a master at getting out and visiting fans.
From Kansas City to Dodge City, Wichita to Topeka and a bunch of areas in between, Beaty and some of his staff have pounded the pavement to meet and shake the hands of as many KU football supporters as they could possibly find and their interactions always have gone over very well.
Fans who entered the meet-and-greets frustrated by the recent struggles of KU football have come away excited about the future and fired up by Beaty's words, message and plan.
Monday night in Colorado, Beaty joined former KU great and current Denver Bronco Chris Harris at a sports bar in Denver, where both the coach and the former KU cornerback talked to the fans that showed up about the state of Kansas football entering 2016.
Beaty talked about how much his team had improved thus far under his leadership and emphasized how the team's focus has remained on getting better every day and was fixed on the season opener against Rhode Island on Sept. 3.
Having Harris participate in the event was no doubt a big pull and it also should have come as no surprise. Even though he has been gone for several years now, Harris has remained a strong supporter of his alma mater and continues to bang the drum for Kansas football on Twitter, by returning to games and practices and in NFL locker rooms.
"We believe in him," said Harris of Beaty. "All the KU guys, all the alumni guys that played at Kansas, we all believe in him and we loved him when he was there. He gave us so much energy."
The following, courtesy of Kansas Athletics, is a quick video that gives you a feel for how Beaty operates during these outings, which will continue throughout the offseason as the Jayhawks work with strength coach Je'Ney Jackson and his staff to get better in the weight room and Beaty and company prepare for preseason camp in August and continue to hit the recruiting trail.
We were blessed with the best tonight pic.twitter.com/V2Thqnf25b— Kansas Football (@KU_Football) May 10, 2016
As you may have read yesterday, the Kansas University football team has changed up its open-practice policy and limited how much we can see this spring.
Because of that, the “What Caught My Eye” blogs that many of you have come to enjoy during the past six years have gone by the wayside, with most of the media portion of practices this spring being limited to stretching and a special teams drill or two — the same thing, day after day.
In an earlier blog, I promised to come up with something to fill the void and that’s what this is. Instead of “What Caught My Eye,” it’s “What Caught My Ear.”
As I hustled around the room to get to as many players and coaches as I could during the player availability sessions this Wednesday and last Wednesday, I did so with the dog days of summer in mind. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn a few tidbits about the progress of this team at this point along the way.
Here’s a look at a few things that caught my ear...
• LaQuvionte Gonzalez has definitely emerged as a team leader and seems to be dying to hit the field to show what kind of play maker he is. Most guys I talked to said “Quiv” is the fastest dude on this team and Gonzalez himself said, as difficult as it was to sit out last season, it made him appreciate his opportunity to play this game more than ever before and positioned him to make the most of every opportunity, every rep, every drill and every game in 2016. There’s not a ton of known commodities to look forward to with this team this fall, but Gonzalez should definitely land on that list.
• Speaking of speed, I keep hearing about sophomore running back Taylor Martin and how much faster and better he looks this season. Martin, who was a star in Texas at the prep level, didn’t get a ton of opportunities to carry the ball and showcase his game last season, but it sounds like he’s healthy and much more comfortable with the speed and complexities of the college game this spring. Given the lack of depth at KU’s RB position, that qualifies as very good news for this team, provided Martin can carry it over to preseason camp and then the season.
• Speaking of running backs, we learned this spring that juco transfer lead back Ke’aun Kinner played hurt all of last season. He had a torn labrum in his left shoulder entering college and it never fully healed while Kinner stepped into a heavy load with the Jayhawks during his first season in town. I talked to Kinner this week and he said he’s healthy now and feels great. I doubt it will impact much in terms of how he runs, but it should help in areas like pass protection, stiff-arms and those sorts of things.
• As far the quarterbacks go, you know by now that Ryan Willis was severely limited this spring because of a right wrist injury and that wrist issue will keep Willis out of Saturday’s spring game. Because of that, Montell Cozart — who lists himself at 90-95 percent healthy — got the first chance to run as the top quarterback in Beaty’s new “more of a true Air Raid” offense. It should be interesting to see how Cozart looks on Saturday and it will be good to talk to Beaty about Willis’ progress, too. At this point, if you made me bet, I’d bet on Cozart starting at quarterback in the season opener against Rhode Island. But it’s still very early and a lot could change in that department. As for the other QBs, I didn’t hear much about Deondre Ford, Keaton Perry or Carter Stanley this spring and newcomer Dagan Haehn is still recovering from his knee injuries and has been a non-factor. The only other intriguing player at this position is Louisiana athlete Tyriek Starks, who will report to campus in June.
• Here’s a quick look at a few names who have earned “Player of the Day” honors this spring: — Offense — James Sullivan (RB), Emmanuel Moore (WR), Tyler Patrick (WR), Austin Moses (WR), Darious Crawley (WR), LaQuvionte Gonzalez (WR), DeAndre Banks (OL), Jacob Bragg (OL) and Jayson Rhodes (OL). — Defense — Stephan Robinson (CB), Joe Dineen (LB), Damani Mosby (DE), Chevy Graham (CB), Tyrone Miller (S), Anthony Olobia (DE), Fish Smithson (S), Derrick Neal (CB), Osaze Ogbebor (LB) and Greg Allen (S). — Special Teams — Keith Loneker (LB), Joe Dineen (LB), Josh Ehambe (DE), Chevy Graham (CB), Matthew Wyman (K), Damani Mosby (DE) and Ben Johnson (TE). Joe Dineen and Damani Mosby were both two-time winners and Chevy Graham was a three-time honoree.
• Defensive end Dorance Armstrong continues to impress and is looking to build on a solid freshman season. But the biggest thing he’s focusing on right now is adding weight. D-Line coach Michael Slater said he wanted Armstrong to add some bulk so he can stay on the field and hold up.
• New special teams coach Joe DeForest said the vibe around KU today reminds him a lot of the feeling in Stillwater, Oklahoma, when he joined Les Miles’ staff at OSU at the beginning of the Cowboys’ rebuild in 2001.
• Offensive coordinator Rob Likens said the carry-over from last year’s initial installation to this year has been phenomenal. There has not been much time devoted (and/or wasted) on reteaching fundamental things about the Jayhawks’ offensive, defensive and cultural philosophies.
• Regarding the new offense, the main thing I keep hearing over and over about it is, "it's easier." They're also talking about how much fun it is and how it presents great potential for big plays all over the field. That, as much as anything, should be on full display during Saturday's spring game.
• As for last year’s 0-12 season, the Jayhawks have not forgotten about it and are eager to use it to drive them and fuel their fire this season. Having said that, they definitely are not dwelling on it and seem to be operating like a new team with a fresh start. That’s no surprise given the fact that this group actually held up pretty well mentally while going through that winless season. Obviously, none of this means more wins are automatically on the way, but, from the mental side of things, this team appears to be in good shape and continuing to move forward — however slowly — in its attempt to strip away the culture of losing that has hung over the program since the end of the Mark Mangino era.
• The spring game is set for 1 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium and the weather forecast is fantastic. 67 degrees under mostly sunny skies with 0 percent chance for rain. It will be windy, so keep that in mind when looking at kicks and deep balls. And also be forewarned that this year’s spring game won’t actually be a game at all, more of an extended scrimmage. I’ll have a little more on that in my preview story later tonight.
Sadly, it seems we might have reached the end of an era here at Tale of the Tait — at least for now.
For the past half a dozen years, as you all well know, I’ve done my best to bring a little bit of insight and analysis from all of the KU football practices that we’ve been allowed to attend.
Sometimes, the input has been rather insignificant and focused on something a coach did or said or how much energy a certain player — or group of players — had to start practice. The always popular song of the day updates also falls into the insignificant category.
Other times, however, we have been able to check out some more interesting stuff such as how an injured player appeared to be moving around, just how big the new lineman really looked in person and what kind of effort was being put forth by the players and coaches during certain drills.
Now, however, those days appear to be done — at least with any consistency.
We’re scheduled to get a chance to see one entire spring practice sometime in mid-April, and that, along with Saturday’s spring game, should give us a decent idea of just how much better the Jayhawks look and perform. Up to this point, we’ve only heard such reports. So you can expect to see some thoughts of my thoughts in the blog after we attend that.
Other than that, though, the portion of practice they have kept open for us has included two things — eight minutes of stretching, five minutes of a special teams/field goal drill followed by a walk to the exits.
We also watched those sessions in the past, but always were able to see at least one or two position drills, as well. From those, you can tell a lot more — though, still, not all that much — about how players were progressing, who was out-working whom and things of that nature.
What we get now is pretty much designed to open the gates for us to get photos and video of certain players and/or coaches we might be writing about and that’s it, which is fine.
It’s completely up to them — specifically second-year head coach David Beaty — how much or little they let the media in, and if they want to keep it limited so their players can just focus on going to work, then so be it.
I just figured you guys should know what’s going on so you don’t think it’s me being lazy when the “What Caught My Eye” blogs are fewer and far between.
No bitterness here. I’ll find something else to occupy my time and also will come up with another blog of some sort to fill the void left by the absence of the What Caught My Eye blog.
Like many of you who I already have heard from on Twitter and via email, I’m bummed, too. But rules are rules so we do the best we can with what access the program does give us.
Saturday after Saturday during a season in which his team averaged just 15 points per game and scored fewer than 21 points in 10 consecutive games to close a winless season, we heard first-year Kansas football coach David Beaty express his disappointment in the KU offense.
“We’ve gotta find a way to get more production on offense,” Beaty would say one week.
“We have to score more points,” he’d say another.
Yet, it never really happened.
In fact, KU’s point total dropped for five consecutive weeks to open the season — 38, 23, 14, 13, 7 — and then started over for a pair of three-game dips during the next six weeks — 20, 10, 7 and 20, 17, 0.
A big reason for that, of course, was the personnel with which Beaty and then-offensive coordinator Rob Likens were working.
A true freshman quarterback. A number of first-year players — both freshmen and transfers — that put KU near the top of the nation in that category. Overmatched offensive linemen. Inexperienced wide receivers.
Whether you chose to squint hard enough to see that some of those players actually had long-term potential or, more likely, simply chose to look away, the issues surrounding the offense were undeniable and made winning games seem like an unlikely outcome.
So, last Sunday, when Beaty announced that he was going to take over play-calling duties and work more closely with the quarterbacks this season, surprise never entered my mind.
After all, as much as I don’t think it’s completely fair to condemn Likens for the dud that was the 2015 offense, he was the man in charge and, as Beaty’s most recent action seems to suggest, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.
Now, here’s the catch. We don’t actually know if Beaty will be able to do this right. He knows the offense extremely well. I don’t have any doubt about that. And he has had success calling offenses as a head coach at the high school level. But this isn’t high school. And offensive success at a place like Kansas is much tougher to come by.
The fear expressed by those who think Beaty is making a big mistake here is that adding the title of play-caller to his already packed plate will spread him too thin on Saturdays and cause all of his other duties to suffer as a result.
Time will tell if that’s the case, but we don’t know yet that it will be, so I think we have to give the man a chance to prove what he can do.
From what I’ve been told about this offense — the “true Air Raid” that Beaty wants to run — it’s not that difficult to understand and operate. It’s based a lot on the quarterback reading what he sees on the field and does not really involve a ton of work from the man calling the plays on the sideline on game days.
Put another way, a lot of the work Beaty will do to call the offense this season will be done in practice, where he will drill into the minds of his quarterbacks every detail of what he wants them to do and present them with every possible scenario they could face on Saturdays.
From there, it’s up to the quarterbacks and those around them to execute and make plays. And isn’t that how it’s supposed to be anyway?
Beaty should benefit from something Likens did not have the luxury of working with — better players. Although KU still has a long way to go in terms of upgrading its personnel, just about every position in KU’s offense should be better this season than it was a year ago.
Linemen are a year older, stronger and more savvy. The wide receivers now have some game experience and should have a better understanding of college football. Similarly, KU’s lead running backs are in their second seasons with the program. Tight end Ben Johnson is an ever-improving junior. And the incoming recruiting class features at least one or two athletes who could help right away, with RB Khalil Herbert and WR Evan Fairs being the most likely candidates.
If any or all of those players take a step forward, that should make life easier on Beaty and his QBs.
It may seem like a lot to put on a quarterback’s shoulders, especially an inexperienced one. And other than Montell Cozart, in some way, shape or form all of KU’s other QBs are still very much inexperienced. But this is not the NFL and KU can’t go sign a veteran free agent.
KU also can’t move forward hoping to win games in the Big 12 Conference with the offense it put on the field in 2015.
It’s a bold move, one that could either pay off and make Beaty look brilliant or blow up in his face.
But didn’t he have to do something?
Watch me debate this topic with Journal-World Sports Editor Tom Keegan on an emergency edition of KU Sports Extra:
Spring football is back and the Kansas Jayhawks were out on the practice fields for the first time this spring on Sunday afternoon.
Even though it marked just the second spring under head coach David Beaty, I have to admit there was a sense of stability out there today. And that’s all the more impressive when you consider that there were five new full-time assistant coaches and a host of other new support staff members out on the field.
I think the stability I sensed comes back to what I talked about during all of the coaching chaos last month — as long as KU maintained its key coaches (head coach, defensive coordinator, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach), it was going to maintain some stability.
It looks like that has happened. Not only did things run smoothly like they would at a program with a coach who has been there for years, but they also were very crisp with getting in and out of drills and the players seemed to be very clear on who made up the first team, who made up the second team and so on down the line.
It’s just the first day of spring and it’s not worth reading too much into that. But, if given the choice, you’d much rather have things run that way to open the spring than the alternative.
Here’s a quick look at a few other things that caught my eye on a day when, I’ll admit, even I was a little overwhelmed trying to keep track of all the new faces and new numbers:
• One of the first things I saw and heard out there came from sophomore wide receiver Jeremiah Booker during a warm-up drill. Booker, who looks even bigger than he was a season ago even though he’s listed at exatly the same height and weight (6-2, 195), looked around at his teammates and said, “Where’s the music? We need to get this (practice) pumpin’” Extreme enthusiasm on Day 1 is hardly a surprise, but Booker already has been more vocal than I heard him all of last season. That’s a good sign for the Kansas offense.
• Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen was sporting a pretty fierce beard, something I haven’t seen on him very often throughout the years. I’m sure part of it comes from burning the midnight oil to get ready for spring practice, but the other part probably comes from his extra efforts in helping his wife, Kristie, get her new business in downtown Lawrence ready for its grand opening.
• By now you’ve all heard that returning starter Ryan Willis would be limited this spring because of a wrist injury he suffered while playing pick-up basketball. For those of you who had asked, it’s the right wrist and Willis is wearing a pretty good-sized cast. That did not keep him from getting out there, though. Obviously he was not able to make any throws but he was taking mental reps and participating in as much of the conditioning stuff as he could. In fact, at one point, Beaty worked exclusively with Willis on some kind of pre-snap drill in the north end zone. It was an unfortunate accident but Willis seems determined to not let it set him back too far. With Willis out, Montell Cozart and Deondre Ford got the first- and second-team reps during the fast start period.
• I thought it was pretty cool to see some of the new coaches collaborating on random things. These guys have all worked at a bunch of different places and learned different ways to do things and there’s no doubt that it’ll take a few days to get on the same page. Clearly, though, they’re not shy about asking for help when they need it. Seems like a good group.
• Speaking of the new coaches, defensive line coach Michael Slater seems like he might be good for a soundbite or two. The best bit I heard from Slater on Sunday came during a D-Line drill designed to teach proper hand technique: “You’re working with razor blades not sledge hammers,” Slater shouted. He’s a vocal coach who, like his predecessor Calvin Thibodeaux, is not afraid to jump into the drill to show the proper form when needed. In fact, Slater reminded me an awful lot of Thibodeaux.
• ESPN sideline reporter Holly Rowe, who has done some media training with various KU teams during the past couple of years, was at practice on Sunday, soaking up the sunshine and seeing some familiar faces.
• We get to talk to Beaty after today’s practice so we’ll bring you his thoughts from Day 1 later. The Jayhawks are off Monday and will be back out there Tuesday for practice No. 2. We’ll be out there with ‘em and are supposed to get player interviews after Day 2.
UPDATE: A little less than three hours after this blog was posted, sources told the Journal-World that David Beaty had identified Joe DeForest as his new special teams coordinator. Two down and one to go.
With spring practices slated to start eight days from tomorrow and three coaching vacancies still to fill, Kansas University football coach David Beaty is running out of time.
Or is he?
A little more than a year ago, after Beaty was first hired to take over at Kansas, 41 days passed between the day Beaty was named KU’s next leader (Dec. 5, 2014) and the day the first-time college head coach finalized his coaching staff by announcing the addition of cornerbacks coach/co-defensive coordinator Kenny Perry (Jan. 15, 2015).
Because of the timing of the departure of five full-time assistants from that first staff, Beaty does not exactly have 41 days this time around.
It helps that two of the five already have been replaced, but when you’re in a position like Kansas football, needing every second and every good break to climb out of the cellar, you need as many things as possible to go smoothly 365 days a year.
So, obviously, the ideal thing for KU would be for Beaty to identify three coaches to fill the three openings — running backs, defensive line and special teams — in the next eight days so the Jayhawks have a full staff in place for the start of spring football.
That’s in a perfect world. And this, as we all know, is far from a perfect world.
So if Beaty wants to take the same kind of time he did a year ago to fill out his second staff — and history shows that doing so might result in a few quality hires — here’s how it could work.
While spring football is incredibly important to any program, but particularly to one in the shape that Kansas football is in, it’s still not quite as important as preseason camp in August or even, in some ways, what goes on during the summer with the strength coaches.
There’s a lot of re-introducing of concepts and a lot of individual work. And because nearly a quarter of the 2016 team is not here yet, that’s about all that they can get accomplished. The guys who are here can get a lot out of it but it’s not as if game plans are sculpted and the meat of what the 2016 season will be about can actually be put in place.
With that said, it’s possible that the pieces are in place for KU to get through the spring even if Beaty does not hire for any of the positions in the next month and a half.
Having said that, I fully expect at least two of the three positions to be filled very soon and, most likely, all three.
If they’re not, though, here’s a look at how KU could survive.
• Yes, Clint Bowen is the defensive coordinator, and, sure, you’d love to let him oversee the entire defense and work closely with his position group (safeties) during the 15 upcoming spring practices. But Bowen has been around the block and there’s no doubt in my mind that he could coach up KU’s defensive line for a few weeks if needed. Perry handles the secondary, newcomer Todd Bradford works with the linebackers and Bowen takes the big boys up front. Then, together, away from the field, that trio puts their heads together to talk coordination. Again, we’re not talking game plans here during spring football.
• Along those same lines, offensive coordinator Rob Likens and Beaty himself, who also has experience as a coordinator, have both been around long enough to step in and handle the running backs for a few weeks in the spring. With only second-year back Ke’aun Kinner returning with significant experience, you’d certainly prefer to have a full-time running backs coach work with some of these young players who might have big roles this fall, but, if that can’t happen, or, more to the point, if taking a little more time to make a hire helps deliver the best running back coach KU can get, then letting Likens or Beaty work with the backfield could get you by. Heck, even new receivers coach Jason Phillips, who was brought on board because of his vast knowledge of the Air Raid Offense that Beaty wants to run, could make an impact at the position in the spring.
• We’ve seen it before and plenty of other programs have done it, too. Instead of having just one special teams coordinator handle all of the special teams work, KU could break things down and let each of the coaches who are here handle one aspect of the third phase of the game. Beaty could handle kickoff return. Perry could handle the field goal team. Bowen could take care of punt block, Likens could handle punt return, and so on and so on.
Is this sort of scenario ideal? Absolutely not. Any program would love to see its football staff at full strength, ready to coach with consistency and a united message from the time the first whistle blows.
But for the long term health of Kansas football, it’s more important that Beaty continue to search for the best possible coaches he can find rather than just settling for a body, even just a degree or two, so he can fill his staff in time for spring.
Remember, in addition to those three bullet points above, there also are all kinds of quality control coaches and offensive and defensive consultants who can help Beaty and company get by in a pinch.
I have yet to find a single person with interest in the goings on of the Kansas University football program who is willing to say that second-year head coach David Beaty losing five full-time assistants after just one season is a good thing.
But I’ve found plenty who are happy to say that it’s far from a bad thing. And many of them are former KU players who, believe or not, still very much are behind what Beaty is doing and where the program is headed.
A Tuesday report out of Oklahoma indicates that D-Line coach Calvin Thibodeaux will become the fifth coach to leave KU, following Reggie Mitchell, Klint Kubiak, Kevin Kane and Gary Hyman out the door. And that news, understandably, shifted the vibe from the KU football fan base from concerned to flat-out frightened.
It's worth noting that OU has not made Thibodeaux's hire official and a source close to the KU program told me earlier this afternoon that Thibodeaux to OU was not yet a done deal.
Assuming he does eventually accept the job, the bottom line is this: After being hired in December of 2015, Beaty took a great deal of time — longer than most — to put together his coaching staff. The reason he gave for the lengthy search was that he was looking for the right guys and wanted to bring in a good blend of youth and experience, fire and poise, style and substance. For the most part, he did exactly that and the 2015 coaching staff was well-liked by the player, had good chemistry among it and display a strong ability to follow Beaty's lead in the passion and work-ethic departments.
A program that goes 0-12 does not very often get five assistants raided from it the very next offseason. And the fact that that just happened to Beaty is a testament to his ability to hire quality coaches in the first place.
What’s more, in having talked with most of the coaches who left, I really believe nearly all of them would have stayed if not for these specific offers that they received. Klint Kubiak would not have left KU to go work for the Miami Dolphins. Calvin Thibodeaux would not have left KU to go work at Illinois. Kevin Kane would not have left Kansas to be the linebackers coach at Vanderbilt. It took a promotion to defensive coordinator to get Kane to leave and it took the perfect offers to entice the others.
So before you deem this mass exodus a complete and utter disaster — and I understand why it looks, sounds, smells and feels that way — I think you at least have to give Beaty a chance to replace these guys. You never know. He might just go out and hire a bunch of quality replacements.
The jury is still out on whether Beaty can coach or if he has what it takes to get this thing turned around. But I think we can say with some certainty that the man can hire quality coaches. If he couldn’t, do you think any of these other programs — Oklahoma, Arkansas and the NFL among them — would have called on Lawrence, Kansas, to fill their openings?
And this is no knock on the guys who left, I really liked all of them, but it is my firm belief that in wide receivers coach Jason Phillips and linebackers coach Todd Bradford, Beaty already upgraded at both of those positions, mostly because of the experience advantage that Phillips and Bradford have over Kubiak and Kane. What’s to say he couldn’t do it again with the other three?
He may not. And the new special teams coordinator, running backs coach and D-Line coach all could be complete duds. If they are, hammer away. Call it a disaster. Demand changes.
But think about this when you’re waiting to hear who Beaty hires to replace the three remaining spots in the departed five: When Thibodeaux was hired last year was anybody in Lawrence going nuts about his name or the hire? No.
And yet now, with Thibodeaux walking out the door to return to his alma mater, where he, no doubt will receive a hefty raise and have a great shot at pursuing a national championship, KU fans are up in arms that he’s leaving.
It’s an imperfect storm. There’s no doubt about it. But it’s at least worth waiting to see if KU football sails into calmer waters before jumping overboard.
Recent stories from KU's coaching carousel
- Kevin Kane leaving KU for Northern Illinois
- KU running backs coach Reggie Mitchell headed to Arkansas
- Departing aide Mitchell: KU football on way up
- KU WRs coach Klint Kubiak joining father in Denver
- Tale of the Tait: KU football coaching defections not yet a reason to panic
- Tom Keegan: Oklahoma's Bob Stoops holds key to stopping KU football coaching staff door from spinning
- Beaty: Kansas drawing interest of coaches
- AD Zenger: KU well positioned to overcome loss of assistant coaches
- Beaty: Kansas recruits as 'a family'