Jayhawks enter season with coach David Beaty under pressure
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — David Beaty has plenty of reasons to be feeling the pressure this season.
The biggest is his record, which is just 3-33 in three seasons at Kansas. His only win over a power school came in 2016, when the Jayhawks stunned Texas to end a long and frustrating Big 12 skid, and there are very few places where a coach will get much support with that kind of resume.
Then there’s the fact that his biggest supporter, Sheahon Zenger, lost his own job earlier this year. Zenger was fired as athletic director after failing to turn around the program, his failed hiring of Charlie Weis perhaps his biggest misstep along the way.
If he’s feeling the heat, Beaty isn’t letting on. He remains optimism personified, his focus trained entirely on helping the Jayhawks climb out of the league’s lonely cellar.
“Our guys have put the work in,” Beaty said, “but they know that’s the price of admission, and there are a lot of things we we’ve learned over the last few years that are going to give us an edge.”
Indeed, the Jayhawks return 91 percent of their offensive production from last season. They have 26 seniors and almost two dozen players with starting experience.
That’s a good place to start if Beaty is trying to impress Jeff Long, the Jayhawks’ new athletic director, and Mike Vollmar, the new associate AD whose job is to oversee the football program.
“He’s got great experience. I know he’s going to help us move the program forward,” Beaty said. “Man, I’m looking forward to working with him. Our conversations have been terrific. I know he’s excited to get here. He’s been down there in Florida, and he’ll be up here pretty quickly.”
He’ll no doubt be in place by the time the Jayhawks open the season against Nicholls State on Sept. 1, giving him time to examine the job Beaty is doing in leading the program.
Beaty has never been settled at quarterback and this year appears to be no exception. Peyton Bender arrived with plenty of promise last season but struggled with consistency, and Carter Stanley fared little better when he was given the reins. Junior college transfer Miles Kendrick threw his name in the mix after arriving this year.
“I love competing with those guys. I love competing with Peyton and Miles, all those guys in the room,” Stanley said. “I think my competitiveness — I’ve always taken pride in being a competitor. Just bringing that and elevating the play of my teammates is my biggest strength.”
Khalil Herbert showed he could be one of the Big 12’s top running backs when he ran for 291 yards against West Virginia, though a hamstring injury slowed him late last season. The Jayhawks also have a legit NFL prospect in wide receiver Steven Sims, who caught 59 passes for 839 yards and six touchdowns last season despite enduring the carousel at quarterback. In other words, the Jayhawks should have plenty of pop on offense.
UNLESS THE O-LINE STRUGGLES
Hakeem Adeniji is one of the best offensive linemen in the league, but he’s returning from offseason shoulder surgery. The rest of the offensive line is a mixed bag, and making sure it comes together in time for the season opener is one of the big tasks in training camp.
“Coach (A.J.) Ricker always says that the five best guys are always going to find their way on the field. You don’t worry about that too much,” Adeniji said. “It’s not too, too big of a deal.”
Beaty brought in a strong recruiting class given the Jayhawks’ lackluster results on the field, and there could be a handful of freshmen that see plenty of time early in the season. Among them are defensive back Corione Harris, a top-300 defensive back coming out of high school, and Louisiana prep star Pooka Williams Jr., who could push Herbert for carries at running back.
The Jayhawks’ season hinges on non-conference games at Central Michigan and against Rutgers. If they win those, they should be off to a 3-0 start heading into Big 12 play, and perhaps that will give them enough confidence to pluck off a couple league games and save Beaty’s job.
“We have to step it up a notch,” Jayhawks safety Mike Lee said. “Most people are tired of losing, and I’m one of them people that’s tired of the losing. So we have to do any and everything we have to change that for us to win more games. When we win more games, then everybody will be happy.”