KU doesn’t need the next Gus Malzahn; it needs the next Drew Brees
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — What’s the right answer? The Hot Mid-Major Guy, a young and fiery sort with Big 12/Big Eight roots? Turner Gill crashed, then burned. The Safe, Experienced Hand, a wise, veteran offensive guru with a Super Bowl pedigree? Charlie Weis promised Augusta, only to deliver divots.
Kansas football has tried archetypes, leaned on profiles, stuck with sensible Plan A’s or plausible Plan B’s. And for five years running, it’s been egg after egg after egg after egg after egg.
Maybe the answer is already under our noses in current interim coach Clint Bowen, a native son and KU football alum who bleeds crimson and blue. Word on the street is that players love him, although an 0-4 record and getting outscored by an average score of 39-17 in those four tilts would seem to purport a rather funny way of showing those affections.
Multiple outlets reported Wednesday that KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger had roped the services of Chuck Neinas and his search firm to help with the hire. Which is more than encouraging: Neinas’ last big role locally was a crucial one, riding in to rescue the Big 12 during The Great Realignment Panic of 2011-12 as interim commissioner, building a consensus and helping to broker a profitable peace before handing the baton to Bob Bowlsby.
If KU’s perfect someone is game, Neinas’ group will find him. Or vet him, at the least. But in the meantime, we’ll also offer up one constructive word to keep in mind: Texas.
And five more: Texas, Texas, Texas, Texas, Texas.
Don’t run away from what you are. The Big 12’s gravitational pull left metro Kansas City for greater Dallas nearly two decades ago, and Nebraska’s exit, specifically, reflected an undercurrent of resentment at the southern shift of power. KU, like Kansas State and Iowa State, used to sit near the heart of the throne; now they’re geographic outliers.
To the west, the Wildcats’ Bill Snyder, an ageless 75, doesn’t seem to be going anywhere but up. To the east, Mizzou’s Gary Pinkel now has SEC money to play with. But that’s OK. Because as with Florida and California, there’s more than enough studs in the Lone Star State to go around.
Consider this: In 2013, at least 12 different NFL teams — including the Chiefs — started, at one point or another, quarterbacks who played high school ball in Texas. Since Mark Mangino’s departure, the one position that seemingly everyone else in the Big 12 can get right while the Jayhawks haven’t is under center. The last great KU signal-caller, Todd Reesing, was an undersized gunslinger from Austin.
If you can’t find me another Art Briles, find me someone who has his Rolodex.
Someone who can open up the pipelines to Texas, someone who can find me kids who want to beat the Longhorns more than life itself because the Longhorns thought they weren’t good enough. They’re out there, by the dozens, chips on shoulders just waiting to be bagged and sealed.
From 2007-10, the Jayhawks had an average of 32 Texas preps on their roster. Under Weis, from 2012-14, that number dipped to 28.3 per team.
Now we know, we know, we know. What kind of difference does four kids make? Every roster, every recruiting cycle, is unique. It depends on the player, depends on the position, depends on the need. Although …
Aqib Talib, Texan. Dexton Fields, Texan. Dezmon Briscoe, Texan. Marcus Herford, Texan.
So there’s four. Right there.
You have to know the territory. Ex-Colorado coach Gary Barnett, to moot one candidate, knows it back to front — but at 68, would he have any more left in the tank than Weis did at 58? It’s the kind of gig where you might end up sleeping on a cot in your office, assuming you’re sleeping at all.
The consensus is that 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is a dead man walking in San Francisco, that each confounding loss drops another nail into the coffin, and he thought about the KU job after Mangino left in 2009. He knows the territory, too: Harbaugh’s in-laws are from the area and the former NFL quarterback was one of many celebrity visitors to Allen Fieldhouse over the last few years. Still, visiting Lawrence for kicks and trying to build a football program there that can roll with Bob Stoops are separate beasts entirely.
That fit is out there, somewhere, hidden between the hashmarks.
So turn over rocks, make the calls, dig ’til your nails go dark, but don’t lift your eyes far from Texas. When KU was winning the Orange Bowl in January 2008, Gus Malzahn was the offensive coordinator at Tulsa; Briles had just taken the Baylor job after a five-year stint at Houston. The next man in at Lawrence doesn’t necessarily need to be the next Don Coryell. But he’d better know about 50 high school coaches who can groom, or at least spot, the next Drew Brees.