ESPN’s Marc Stein sent a jolt through the Kansas University basketball world on Wednesday when he Tweeted that the Houston Rockets are “intrigued” by the idea of Bill Self as their next head coach.
As many have mentioned on Twitter already, just because the Rockets are intrigued by Self does not mean Self is intrigued by the Rockets’ opening. What’s more, Stein has a long list of names on the Rockets “wish list” and most of them are guys with NBA experience, which the Rockets seem to value in their search.
Sure, it’s possible that Self could one day explore the idea of coaching in the NBA. Many believe that it’ll happen eventually in San Antonio, where his good buddy R.C. Buford runs the team. And even Self has talked about what a special situation Oklahoma City is, in his home state, with a couple of world-class talents like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But those jobs are not available at the moment and I just can’t imagine Houston being the situation that makes Self jump.
So, without further ado... 10 reasons why Bill Self is not leaving Kansas for the Houston Rockets:
1. Josh Jackson – There’s no way Self worked as hard as he did to land Jackson to say goodbye before he ever gets the chance to coach him. Especially not in exchange for the roster the Rockets have.
2. Big 12 title streak still in tact – We all know that it’s March success that gets remembered, but this Big 12 title streak is a big deal and there’s no reason to think it’s going to end any time soon. It’s not like he’ll stay to see it through the 27 in a row (or will he?) but I think passing UCLA and putting that kind of stamp on the history books is meaningful.
3. Have you seen James Harden “play defense” – Enough said. The guy is an amazing offensive talent, but he has no interest in playing defense — or even faking it — and I can’t imagine Self or anyone else getting through to him and changing that. And we all know how Self feels about players who don't play D.
4. More hardware, please – I’ve always thought (and heard) that winning a second national championship means a lot to Self. And until he gets one, I can’t see him going anywhere. There have been a lot of college coaches who have won one title. A lucky run, a hot streak or one strong recruiting class or player can deliver the trophy. But the coaches who have won multiple NCAA titles put themselves in elite company and I believe Self wants to be and belongs in that group. Add to that the fact that KU is positioned to be right there again at the end of the 2016-17 season and it’s easy to see him sticking around.
5. Tyler Self – It’s not as if Self’s son still being on the roster would prevent the coach from taking an amazing opportunity elsewhere. But it is a factor and this is not an amazing opportunity. Tyler has come this far and I can’t imagine Self choosing to bail during his son’s final season on the team.
6. Dwight Howard has to be a factor – Self loves big guys, but I don’t think he would love Howard. The Houston center has been a big time problem everywhere he’s been for the past several years and, even though he possesses all the talent and physical skill in the world, there’s just something missing there and I can’t imagine adding the Howard headache to your daily duties would be something anyone who already has a great job would want to take on.
7. Seniors matter – Much the same way Roy Williams had a hard time saying goodbye to Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison the first time he was offered the job at North Carolina, I think it would be tough for Self to say goodbye to guys like Frank Mason and Landen Lucas. Those two might not be as talented as Hinrich and Collison, but Self has been through a lot with both of them and respects them so much. Ditching them would be tough to do.
8. Money – I’m not sure what the Rockets could or even would offer to pay Self, but you can bet Kansas would do everything in its power to get close to that number to keep him around. So don’t think that this decision — if and when it ever happens — will be about money.
9. Big fish, little pond – Self likes being the man and as long as Kansas is winning he always will be the man in Lawrence, not to mention college basketball. Moving to Houston puts him in the position of having to compete — in a much bigger market — with the likes of the up-and-coming Houston Astros and the Houston Texans. Sure, Houston will support a winner in any and every sport, but those two programs are in great shape right now and definitely steal some of the thunder from the Rockets on an annual basis. There’s nothing stealing Self’s thunder in Lawrence and it just keeps rumbling louder and louder year after year.
10. Because he’s the friggin head coach at Kansas – Year after year, people love to discuss Self heading to the NBA. And it may happen some day. But it also may not. Self has a great gig, is king of the world in Kansas and has this thing rolling. Besides, just last year he talked about how he thought the program was on the verge of turning a corner for landing a ton of big time recruits. Why would anyone leave a situation like that?
Can't speak to the NBA aspirations of either one, but sources say two college coaches who intrigue the Rockets are Shaka Smart and Bill Self— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) May 5, 2016
When people used to talk (and probably still do) about a school’s footwear of choice playing a role in the decision-making process of top-ranked basketball recruits, I used to think they were crazy.
I mean, are we really living in a world where a young man might pass on going to Kansas because the Jayhawks are an adidas school and he would prefer to wear Nike?
I guess in some ways we are. And as sad as that is for so many reasons, it still is not entirely true.
After all, that was the scuttlebutt during the recruitment of Andrew Wiggins a couple of years ago. Because Wiggins’ Huntington Prep crew wore Nike, there was talk that the Jayhawks had no shot at landing him because he was not going to wear adidas.
That, of course, turned out not to be true. Wiggins came to KU, wore adidas everything for 10 months and, after being drafted No. 1 overall in the 2014 NBA Draft, signed a deal to have his own adidas line and become one of the few faces of the company’s basketball brand, joining such NBA stars as Derrick Rose, John Wall, Damian Lillard and, in years gone by Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant.
I’m not a huge shoe guy. Don’t get me wrong. I like the looks of so many of them and enjoy scouting out who wears what and how they look on the floor. But rarely do I commit such information to memory and, when it comes to slapping sneaks on my own two feet, I keep it pretty simple and shoot for comfort, price and functionality as my main criteria.
Benton Smith is our resident shoe guy here at KUsports.com and while I know his shoe game has helped him build a rapport with all kinds of KU athletes during the past several years, I’ve also heard from more than a few people who believe Benton may have a problem. He tends to do that. If you ever run into him or anyone who knows him, feel free to ask about last summer’s phenomenon known as “Jerseys July.”
Anyway, back to the shoes and why I’m even writing this.
As I said, I used to think that these things did not matter. After all, they’re just shoes. And it’s not as if KU, by signing a lucrative, long-term deal with adidas, is asking its athletes to wear low-top Kangaroos with the zippers on the sides that put them at a disadvantage. Nike, adidas, Under Armor, they all make quality shoes that are worn and trusted by some of the best athletes in the world.
So Nike here, adidas there, who cares, right?
Well, evidently at least one former Jayhawk does. Wayne Selden Jr., who, last month, announced that he would forego his senior year and head to the NBA Draft on Monday night posted a photo of himself working out at a training facility in California.
The post, which popped up on Selden’s Twitter feed (@WayneSeldenJ) highlighted the work Selden has been putting in leading up to the June draft and featured a photo of him shooting a jumper in a gym.
There, toward the bottom of the photo, Selden’s shoes jumped off the screen at me. Instead of the adidas kicks that he’s been wearing for the past three years, Selden was rocking a pair of black Nikes. (I’m sure Benton could tell you in two seconds what kind they were).
What does all of this mean? Nothing, I suppose. I just found it interesting that he would be working out in Nikes when he spent the past three years playing and training in adidas gear.
To be fair, this could have been a one-time thing or Selden could be wearing both brands depending on the type of workout he’s doing.
Either way, I guess the shoes really do matter to these guys.
I'm sure a much bigger concern for Selden today, however, is putting in the work required to be selected in this summer's draft.
As things stand today, DraftExpress.com has Selden listed as a second-round pick, No. 42 overall to Utah. Seems like a safe bet that he'll fall somewhere in that range, but if he does enough to impress teams at the pre-draft workouts, he could slide into the late first round and high 20s.
It should be interesting to track his path along with the paths of fellow former Jayhawks Cheick Diallo, Perry Ellis and possibly Brannen Greene.
The speculation from most fans and observers regarding Kansas guard Frank Mason throughout the 2015-16 KU men’s basketball season was that some kind of nagging injury might have been bothering him during various portions of the Jayhawks’ run to a 33-5 record and trip to the Elite Eight.
There certainly were times when Mason, a junior from Petersburg, Virginia, looked a little off of his game and did not play at the same level that he had during his stellar sophomore season.
Mason, like the consistently solid player he has proven to be, always found a way to contribute and, more importantly, always bounced back from those rough stretches, but it seemed to me and most of the people I talked to about Mason throughout the season that he was not playing at quite the same level as a junior as he did as a sophomore.
With the season now in the past and my curiosity racing, I checked out Mason’s stats from both seasons to see how they compared.
The result? It turns out Mason is way more consistent than I even realized.
In the 25 statistical categories kept every season for each player, Mason stayed the same or improved in 20 of them.
The entire lot will be outlined a little later, but, for now, let’s focus on the five categories in which he took a step backwards.
• FG percentage — Mason shot .434 as a junior, seven tenths of a percentage point lower than his .441 average as a sophomore. The interesting thing about this stat, however, is that Mason both took and made more shots during his junior season, with the higher number of attempts creating the slightly lower shooting percentage. It’s also worth noting here that Mason, who played in and started every game during the past two seasons, received the benefit of two more games as a junior because the Jayhawks advanced two rounds farther in the NCAA Tournament. So keep that in mind when reading these stats.
• Three-pointers attempted — Depending on how you look at it, this, too, could have gone down as an “improvement” because Mason took 113 threes as a junior and just 98 as a sophomore. The reason I tossed it into the “got worse” category, though, was because the higher volume of three-point attempts led to Mason shooting a worse percentage.
• Three-point percentage — Mason shot .429 from behind the three-point line as a sophomore and dipped to a .381 three-point shooter his junior season. As mentioned above, the 15 more attempts (again, remember the two extra games) was a big factor for the lower percentage and it’s interesting to note that Mason made just one more three-pointer (43) as a junior than he did as a sophomore (42). In fact, Mason either tied or missed tying by one in seven of the 25 statistical categories: Games started (all), minutes per game (33.5), three-point makes (43-42), turnovers (73-74), steals (50) and blocks (3-4).
• Free throw percentage — As was the case with his three-point shooting, a higher volume of free throws led to a lower percentage for Mason, who shot .739 as a junior compared to .786 as a sophomore. That .739 clip came in 44 more free throw attempts and Mason made 26 more free throws in 2015-16 than he did during the 2014-15 season. Again, you have to take into account those two extra games when considering these and all of his numbers, but, even with that included, Mason exceeded what a lot of his numbers should have been based on his career averages.
• Personal fouls — Mason fouled a whopping 19 more times during the 2015-16 season, hacking opponents 84 times compared to just 65 the previous season. When you consider that his minutes per game and starts were the same as the year before, this stat is a pretty good illustration of just how the way officials emphasized the new rules for fouls (especially early in the season) impacted the game.
So what does all of this mean? As with most stats, it really can mean whatever you interpret it to mean. But one thing that cannot be argued is that Mason, injured or not, was at least as productive as a junior as he was during his sophomore season.
In fact, even his points-per-game average was nearly identical — 12.9 ppg as a junior and 12.6 ppg as a sophomore.
A couple of reasons it might not have seemed that way throughout the season? 1. The better season turned in by Wayne Selden, who replaced Mason as the Jayhawks’ second leading scorer behind Perry Ellis. 2. The emergence of sophomore Devonte’ Graham, who played a much bigger role during his second season with the Jayhawks than he did during his first, which often allowed Mason to do more blending in rather than leading the charge.
Either way you viewed it then or view it now, Mason, as any coach would like to see from his point guard, has been remarkably consistent during the past two seasons and has been the steady driving force behind the team’s recent success.
So what should we expect from Mason as a senior in 2016-17? Here’s a wild guess — more of the same.
— Here's a quick look at the comparison between the two seasons, first in overall stats and second in numbers per 40 minutes. The only stats of the 25 I referenced not shown in the table below are (totals listed in parentheses, with 2015-16 listed first): Games started (38-36), Average minutes (33.5), Average rebounds (4.3-3.9), Assist per game (4.6-3.9) and Average points (12.9-12.6) —
Mason's past two seasons
Mason's past two seasons per 40 minutes
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'
It may have taken a little while, but, late in the recruiting process for the Class of 2016, the Kansas University football coaching staff began to make good on its stated goal of adding more in-state players to the KU roster.
Here's the thing about that quest that KU fans may have forgotten: It's not entirely up to the KU coaches.
There's no doubt that David Beaty, Clint Bowen and the rest of the KU coaching staff can make — and have made — recruiting in-state athletes a greater priority, but those athletes still have to pick Kansas in order for the number of Sunflower State studs on KU's roster to increase.
Given the fact that so many standout Kansans have offers elsewhere — and the fact that the state produces very few D-I prospects on an annual basis — that's not always an easy task. Add to that the fact that KU is churning its way through the worst stretch in school history and it's not at all surprising to hear stories about local kids wanting to go somewhere else, no matter how great of a pitch or offer the KU coaches throw at them.
Fortunately for Beaty and company, that pitch proved to be enough recently for a pair of Free State High standouts, who chose KU over other opportunities. The first came last week, when Free State quarterback Bryce Torneden — who projects as a safety at KU — accepted a late scholarship offer from Kansas and, in turn, said no thanks to North Dakota State, where he had been committed for months.
Torneden's change of heart opened the door for teammate and fellow-Firebird Sam Skwarlo to have a change-of-heart of his own and, instead of walking on at K-State, as was his plan for most of the past few weeks, Skwarlo on Monday decided to take an offer to walk-on at Kansas.
Now, who knows if either player will ever make much of an impact on the KU program. Both are a bit undersized for Big 12 football and both have a long road ahead of them to climb into relevance on the KU depth chart.
But a case could be made that by simply choosing Kansas in the first place Torneden and Skwarlo already have made an impact.
See, these, and others like them, are the types of players that K-State coach Bill Snyder has built his program on during the past few decades. Snyder, of course, also has added all kinds of elite athletes and even a few big time recruits, but for the most part, he's made K-State into a powerhouse with overlooked, underrated, hard-nosed kids who fit his system, many of them coming from within the borders of Kansas.
I don't know the specific numbers off the top of my head, but every year when I prepared to cover the Sunflower Showdown, the number of Kansans on each roster blew my mind. It was always something like 45-17 in favor of K-State.
Adding Torneden and Skwarlo in Lawrence not only sets KU on the Bill Snyder path, with the hope that more soon will follow, but it also takes a couple of in-state prospects away from the Wildcats, making this a double victory for the Jayhawks.