LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) Facing the prospect of a 1-11 record in his first year at Kansas, Charlie Weis is now forced to balance respect for the seniors he inherited from former coaches against a desire to start building his program with an eye toward next year.
In three weeks, the seniors, who have endured three coaching changes and have only 11 victories in four years, will finish their tumultuous careers. With the majority of the depth chart still occupied by seniors, this balance becomes touchy.
Weis is making a final push for the seniors by showing them off to NFL scouts. Just this week, scouts from the Lions, Steelers and Ravens all attended practices.
On the other hand, Weis has turned to younger players and given them the chance to fight for a starting spot as he searches for at least one more victory.
He has dedicated Sundays to this purpose. That’s his day to evaluate underclassmen and search for qualified candidates to move up the ranks. The seniors are released early and the underclassmen get a chance to shine.
“Sunday is the most fun day of the entire week as far as practice goes,” said Weis, who has promoted five players to starting spots this season based on their Sunday performances.
Michael Cummings, a redshirt freshman, is the most high-profile example, taking over the starting quarterback spot from senior Dayne Crist. Freshman Jake Love also climbed his way to the top of the depth chart at linebacker.
“I feel like every time we get a chance to get out there on the field and get better is definitely an opportunity to be seized and made the most of,” said Cummings who has two touchdowns in three starts after taking the helm.
While giving backups a chance to advance, Sundays also mean additional position training for the younger starters.
With Cummings at practice, it also gives him an opportunity to continue building relationships with the running backs and receivers he would be working with next season.
“The experience he is getting right now, the repetition and the leadership is going to build in the offseason,” sophomore running back Tony Pierson said.
Cummings has some competition waiting in the wings from BYU transfer Jake Heaps. For players such as Heaps who traditionally lead the scout team at practice, it gives them an opportunity to run the team’s drills in preparation for next year.
Weis still has some distinct goals for the Jayhawks before the season closes. These range from competing in the second half of close games and playing a complete game on the road to winning one more game.
“We just have to play better, we have to coach better and we have to develop our players,” Weis said. “At the end of the year, they have got to be better than they are right now.”
Despite an array of coaches with NFL resumes, improvement has been slow. However, after 16 years in the NFL and short stints at Notre Dame and Florida, Weis has a plan for building programs.
“Do not ever deviate from the course,” he said. “You have to have a plan and you just have to stick to it. There are going to be a lot of bumps in the road, but as long as you come in and say, `This is how we’re going to do business, this is the way we’re going to fix the problems’ we’ve got to stay focused.”
Weis said his ambitions for next year have already become a selling point for recruits who want to make a difference for a program trying to rebuild.
For now, he will round out the season with the blend of players he inherited and recruited, and give them the best chance to win.
“We have to coach the heck out of the guys we have and then go and get more players,” Weis said.