LAWRENCE, Kan. — John Reagan has what could be the most uncomfortable job in major college football: He’s the offensive coordinator at Kansas, hired by coach Charlie Weis to replace — Charlie Weis.
Weis had a chance to see what Reagan could do firsthand the past couple of seasons, when his Rice offenses helped engineer two wins over the Jayhawks. So when Weis decided after last season that he wanted to hire an offensive coordinator and spend more time overseeing the entire program, he reached out to the up-and-coming coach with the Kansas ties.
The response from Reagan? Well, call it a simple case of "if you can beat `em, join `em."
"From the very first phone call with Coach Weis, he said he wanted to give up control of the offense and spend his time being the head coach," Reagan said, "and he wanted me to come in and run the spread offense, and that’s exactly what he’s done. He’s allowed me to do what we want to do."
That’s why the potential for a lot of uncomfortable moments has vanished.
"He’s sat back and saw things and mentioned them, and mostly philosophically. When you have a guy that’s won four Super Bowl rings, you want to learn something," Reagan said. "But it is our offensive staff’s offense. It’s not our offensive staff with an asterisk on it."
Besides, the two offenses could not be more dissimilar.
Weis prefers to run the kind of pro-style offense that made a star of Tom Brady with the New England Patriots. He likes big quarterbacks with bigger arms who can sling the ball all over the field, preferably to a flotilla of equally big, rangy wide receivers.
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The problem is finding the right personnel in the college game. There simply aren’t many young quarterbacks and wide receivers with those skills or that pedigree. So the past two seasons have been a struggle for the Kansas offense, which has churned through several quarterbacks while failing to score enough in the points-a-plenty Big 12.
Reagan runs a version of the spread in which the quarterback tends to be an athlete capable of running, not only on designed plays but when things break down.
Those kinds of players tend to be a more plentiful in the college ranks, where many quarterbacks in high school run option or spread offenses. And the Jayhawks just happened to have one already on their roster in sophomore Montell Cozart, their new starter.
"What we’ve done now is add an extra runner with Montell," Weis said. "He fits John’s scheme way better than my scheme, because in my scheme the quarterback is not a runner."
The Jayhawks certainly could use an extra runner these days. They’ve already lost their top two running backs, Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox, to season-ending injuries.
"I ran this a little bit in high school, so I’m more familiar with the spread," Cozart said. "When Coach Reagan came in, it gave me more confidence. And this offense is a lot more fun."
Reagan bounced around for years before making a name for himself with the Jayhawks under Mark Mangino. He was in charge of the running game from 2005-09, a period over which the long-suffering program had some of its best seasons and pumped out several NFL players.
He spent the past four seasons at Rice, helping lead the Owls to a Conference USA title in 2013. Last season, they had one of the nation’s top running attacks.
"I feel like it is more simplified than Coach Weis’ offense, and I like it a lot more," said wide receiver Tony Pierson. "Coach Weis, you have a long sentence that you really have to think about what you have on the play. This is much more simple."
The big question will be whether it’s more effective. Kansas will begin to find out when it opens the season Sept. 6 against Southeast Missouri State.