Editorial: Girod’s support a big risk

Douglas Girod’s first major decision as chancellor of the University of Kansas isn’t going to be popular with the university’s dwindling base of football fans.

Nor should it be.

In a message titled “Football and Our National Aspirations,” Girod reiterated his confidence in athletic director Sheahon Zenger and coach David Beaty, committing to the duo for a fourth football season after three that, even by Kansas standards, haven’t been good.

“Nobody denies the challenges we are having on the field, but I maintain my belief that Sheahon and Coach Beaty have the right long-term vision and are doing things the right way,” Girod wrote. “Our focus now is empowering them with the tools they need to fulfill their vision.”

The tools are a $26 million indoor practice facility in the short term and renovations to Memorial Stadium and other athletic facilities in the long term to be paid for by a five-year, $350 million fundraising campaign.

“A competitive football program benefits the entire university and our academic mission,” Girod wrote. “We need to remain a strong member of the Big 12, and football is key to that.”

Girod is right; remaining a member of the Big 12 is critical to the athletic department, and a competitive football program is vital to conference membership. But facilities are step two in being competitive. Step one is getting the right coach.

No doubt Beaty shares Girod’s national aspirations for football. The effort and enthusiasm are there. But every Saturday, there is increasing reason to doubt that Beaty — and by extension, Zenger — can turn the program around.

Beaty had no experience as a head coach when Zenger hired him. Granted, Beaty was thrown into one of the worst situations in the country, so when the Jayhawks went 0-12 and got outscored by an average of 46-15 in his first season, patience was warranted. When the team went 2-10 and beat Texas (the Jayhawks’ only win over on FBS opponent in Beaty’s tenure) in 2016, Beaty got a contract extension and a pay raise. That raised eyebrows, but maybe Beaty would, to borrow a phrase the coach likes, “earn it” in year three.

It hasn’t happened. The Jayhawks are 1-9 entering Saturday’s game against heavily favored Oklahoma. They are being outscored 42-20, a step back from the average margin of 37-20 in 2016. KU hasn’t been competitive in a game since beating lower-division Southeast Missouri State in the first game.

Beaty has coached 34 games at Kansas, losing 31. He has the worst record of any major college coach still on the job. There are 128 FBS teams, and statistically the Jayhawks haven’t cracked the top 100 on offense or defense with Beaty as coach.

Attendance continues to drop — it was 21,797 in 50,000-seat Memorial Stadium for the Baylor game and likely will be less on Saturday. Attendance has declined every year for a decade, creating a tough environment in which to raise $350 million.

Girod said Zenger and Beaty have the right long-term vision for KU football. For the program’s sake, let’s hope he is right, though it’s getting awfully hard to see what the chancellor does.