Jayhawks fans hope they have more to cheer about this season.
Kevin Jairaj/Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
LAWRENCE, Kan. — David Beaty claims he understood the magnitude of the rebuilding job he faced when he left his comfortable job as an assistant at Texas A&M to take over the long-downtrodden Jayhawks.
Then, he became the first head coach to go 0-12 in school history.
It was less an indictment of Beaty’s ability than a sign of how far the program had slipped since 2007, when it went to the Orange Bowl. Mark Mangino’s firing and the failed hirings of Turner Gill and Charlie Weis resulted in staff and roster turnover that left the program in shambles.
Beaty never used any of that as an excuse, though. That’s not his way. He simply began to build, trying to lure junior college and high school talent to a school known for its hoops.
"You know what? It is a difficult job, but all of these jobs are difficult," Beaty said. "But I tell you what, it’s a great opportunity. We know where we are headed and our players do as well."
Where is that? Well, winning their first game together would be a good start.
The Jayhawks open the season Sept. 3 against lower-division Rhode Island, and it will likely be the only game they are favored to win. The rest of their non-conference schedule includes bowl teams in Ohio and Memphis, followed by the Big 12 round-robin that includes trips to Baylor and Oklahoma.
"I feel like everyone has a chip on their shoulder. We’re ready to get out there," quarterback Montell Cozart said when asked about all the recent losing. "Coming from high school where we were competing for a state championship, I feel like for me as a person, I’ve been on both sides. It helps you grow as a person and a player as well."
As the Jayhawks prepare for Year 2 under Beaty, here are some of the key story lines:
SEASON OPENER: Not only does Rhode Island play in the Football Championship Subdivision, the Rams won only once last year. It’s hard to come up with an easier opener for a team desperate to win.
"The most important game for us is the first one," Cozart said. "We’re looking forward to that."
KEY GAMES: The first order of business is winning a game — any game. The second is winning a Big 12 game, something that hasn’t occurred since Nov. 8, 2014. The Jayhawks came close last year, losing 23-17 at No. 13 TCU and 30-20 to Texas Tech, but were also blown out in the rest.
Their best chance this season may come against Iowa State on Nov. 12.
QUARTERBACK BATTLE: Kansas lost its top three QBs to season-ending injuries a year ago, and Ryan Willis had mixed results in eight starts as a freshman. Cozart and Willis are joined in the race for the starting job by Carter Stanley, perhaps the most physically gifted but also the least experienced.
"The competition is going to go into fall camp," Beaty said, "and as soon as I decide what I need to see to know there is a clear divider — and there will be — we’ll make a decision."
STAFF MOVES: Several assistants left for other jobs in the offseason, resulting in five new coaches. But the biggest change may be this: The head coach has taken over an offense that averaged 331 yards per game a year ago, among the worst totals in major college football.
Beaty, a disciple of the "air-raid offense," has plenty of experience on that side of the ball, helping direct Texas A&M’s high-powered attack and also running offenses at Kansas and Rice.
"As a head coach, there’s a lot of things that go along with building a program that it’s hard to manage all of it," he said. "We were able to get those things in place, we’ve got the foundation laid now and that was the plan, the whole way through. As soon as I felt like we got it to where I needed it to be from an organizational standpoint … I was going to jump back into it."
PREDICTION: Kansas should give Beaty his first win against Rhode Island, but don’t be surprised if it picks off someone else along the way. The Jayhawks have more talent on the roster than at any point in the last five years, a good omen for Beaty’s rebuilding job.