Upgraded roster just one part of the ongoing culture change taking place within the Kansas football program
For the entirety of the 16 months since he took the head coaching job at Kansas, Lance Leipold and many around him have talked about changing the culture of Kansas football.
Thanks to a couple of his comments at Wednesday’s annual media day, we now know what at least part of that process looks like.
Early on in his 25-minute news conference at Mrkonic Auditorium, Leipold was asked how returning players who were “recruited over” had responded to that challenge and their new reality. Specifically, the question mentioned running back Daniel Hishaw Jr. and linebacker Taiwan Berryhill, both third-year players in the program.
After raising his eyebrows in reaction, Leipold cut the question short and asked, “How did you word that?” When the phrase “recruited over” was repeated, Leipold listed off a bunch of reasons why that was not the case and is not the idea.
“Nobody got recruited over,” he said. “Guys got recruited to help make this roster better. I want to make sure we understand that. And when those guys are recruited, they’re coming in here to compete. Nobody was promised anything.”
Furthermore, defensive coordinator Brian Borland said the need to upgrade the talent on the roster from Year 1 to Year 2 was not exactly a secret.
“We all know that we need to improve our team and we need to improve it in every way,” Borland said Wednesday. “And one of those ways is just the quality of players at every position. I think everybody’s embraced that and I’m really happy about that.”
The concept of earning it has been kicked around at Kansas for a long time now — so much so that it even became mocked in some circles. But with this coaching staff, and for this group of players, the idea of earning what they get is about more than just playing time.
It’s about time and attention from the coaches. It’s about respect from their teammates. It’s about support from the fans. And, ultimately, they hope and believe it will be about wins.
Leipold said he did not mean to sound defensive when responding to the question on Wednesday. But he also noted that the concept of recruiting being used to replace inferior talent was “part of the mentality that we have to keep changing, inside our program and outside our program.”
As much as recruiting is a never-ending process, it’s not always the only answer. Player development is a key part of any successful program, and Leipold and his staff want the culture of Kansas football in the future to be as much about guys getting better after arriving as it is about better guys coming through the door.
Regarding Hishaw, who Leipold said has had as good a camp as anybody, Leipold said it was ludicrous to think that just because he was here or just because Devin Neal was entrenched as KU’s starter that the coaching staff would not go out and try to add the best running backs it possibly could.
Doing that, and not limiting the pool of talent from which they could pick, led to KU landing Minnesota transfer Ky Thomas, who is expected to play a key role for the Jayhawks this fall.
“Premier programs in college football keep recruiting. Why wouldn’t we do the same,” Leipold asked.
They obviously are. KU’s 12-man transfer class which was ranked in the top 25 nationally by some outlets, is expected to make an immediate impact.
While adding that many new faces invites the potential for some of the returning players to feel like they’re being pushed out, Leipold and his assistants said Wednesday that had not been the case.
“I think all of us would feel a bit of a threat,” Borland said. “But we’ve really tried to help guys see it differently and we have not had those kinds of issues. We don’t have guys here that are bitter or resentful or going against the flow because of that.”
Added Leipold: “If you don’t like competition, I don’t know if Power 5 football’s for you, or college football in general.”
One thing working in KU’s favor here is that many of the newcomers sensed that would not be an issue.
Defensive back Monte’ McGary, a super-senior cornerback from Utah State, said his first impression of the culture at Kansas was that it was rooted in urgency.
“Guys didn’t want to sit around and wait,” McGary said Wednesday. “It’s a sense of urgency, but it’s also take action. Don’t just talk about it, actually be about it. Even on the little things. I kind of felt that as soon as I walked in.”
It remains to be seen how successful this coaching staff will be in its quest to change the culture at Kansas and get the program back on the winning track.
But one thing is already known. The coaches are not going to change who they are or what they believe in to make players of any age or experience level feel more comfortable.
The fact that Leipold and company already have inspired 100-plus players to embrace that says a lot about the culture change that already has taken place.