Weis bringing a tough approach to Jayhawks
Ever since Charlie Weis was introduced as the new coach it became apparent the former NFL assistant and one-time Notre Dame coach was intent on changing the football culture at Kansas.
The Jayhawks quickly learned that no more Mr. Nice Guy would be walking the hallways, or now, conducting practices. That was basically the approach taken by Turner Gill, who was fired after winning one Big 12 game the past two seasons and closing his tenure with 10 consecutive defeats last season.
"Rather than set specific goals, I think you have to have one general goal," Weis said. "Any time you come in as a new coach, rather than sling arrows at the previous staff, what you have to do is you have to break the team down and then build the team back up. That's what the offseason's been and that's what the spring is going to be all over again."
Weis attempted to instill discipline in every phase, going as far as to call himself the academic liaison between the football program and campus. Workouts were intensified and practices will be too, designed to weed out veteran players who do not want to work hard and embrace the new mindset Weis desires.
"It was very easy to get the players to buy in because they didn't have an alternative," Weis said. "It was either buy in or quit. Those were their two choices."
A new leader emerged too, frankly because he is new to the program but not new to Weis' system. Dayne Crist, a Notre Dame transfer, will take over as quarterback and is participating in spring drills after transferring in for the spring semester.
"He makes all of the other offensive players better," said Weis, "and every one of them will tell you the same thing. I'll tell you when you know a kid is special is the day he walks in and the players look at him as a leader and he hasn't even done anything yet."
That also reflects the state of Kansas football. The Jayhawks were flattened throughout most of Big 12 play a year ago and are grasping for any leadership qualities. Crist, who possessed outstanding potential when he was recruited by Weis to Notre Dame, yet never starred after the coach was dismissed and then worked the past two seasons as an offensive coordinator in the NFL (Kansas City Chiefs) and college (Florida), is getting a new start himself as a fifth-year transfer who already has a degree.
He is a significant upgrade at a position where the previous starting quarterback, Jordan Webb, was granted his release. The pro-style attack Weis will begin implementing this spring, as he also holds the title of offensive coordinator for the Jayhawks, will be different in nature from the spread attacks that dominate the Big 12. The run game he creates will feature a fullback, as well as a wealth of existing talent among backs who provided the most depth on the Kansas roster. James Sims is the returnee who has the inside track at the starting job.
Defensively, the makeover begins under former Dallas Cowboys coach Dave Campo, who was hired as coordinator and will be in charge on that side of the ball while Weis tinkers with the offense. The defense was the worst in the country a year ago, allowing 516.4 yards and 43.7 points on average. Some experience returns, yet with Weis, any depth chart is fluid.
"The most important thing we need to do on defense is create a fundamentally sound defense," Weis said. "If you can't get lined up right and be fundamentally sound, you have no chance."
Although he will not be eligible to play in games this fall because of NCAA rules, BYU transfer Jake Heaps is serving as the backup quarterback behind Dayne Crist during spring camp. Weis said the opportunity for Heaps to take reps behind Crist, a senior, was too important to his progress and impacted the decision by Weis to have him practice as if Heaps could play. Heaps is "leaps and bounds ahead of the other quarterbacks in the program," Weis said. The main emphasis at the QB position during the spring will be for Crist to familiarize himself with other members of the offense, while exerting the leadership qualities Weis said are clearly evident in the Notre Dame transfer.
Like everyone who follows Kansas athletics, Weis was transfixed by the Jayhawks' basketball run in the NCAA Tournament, where they reached the Final Four after a victory over North Carolina in the Elite Eight. "How exciting is that? Kudos to coach (Bill) Self and the staff and the team, and good luck," Weis said. Oddly, the first basketball game Weis saw after his introduction as Kansas football coach was a regular-season matchup on Dec. 10 against Ohio State. That same team was the opponent the Jayhawks faced in the national semifinals. "I hope there's more fun yet to come," said Weis, who spoke of the downtown celebration in Lawrence following the basketball win against North Carolina.
The demands first-year coach Charlie Weis places on existing Kansas players could result in considerable attrition, so it will be interesting to see how the Jayhawks handle depth issues that could result. ? Pressure will be on QB Dayne Crist to perform in his lone season at Kansas, The fifth-year transfer is responding well to the challenge and eager to be an initial point man in the team's transition under Weis, but can he deliver on the field after being plagued by turnovers throughout his career? ? Just how much can a defense improve after getting thoroughly steamrolled as the nation's worst unit a year ago? S Bradley McDougald is a veteran who can step up, but does Weis want to only put his own recruits in such influential roles?
LB Michael Reynolds Will move to an outside linebacker position in the new 4-3 base scheme installed by coordinator Dave Campo. "In this league, you need to get fast guys that can play in space," Weis said, indicating Reynolds had impressed coaches with his speed but still needed to prove himself fundamentally.
S Brian Maura The sophomore was previously used as a wide receiver. The Jayhawks need depth in the secondary, though, like most other returnees, no assurances exist that Maura will get to make an impact after changing sides.
QB Dayne Crist The Notre Dame transfer took over as the Kansas starter as soon as he agreed to rejoin Weis, the coach who recruited him to play for the Irish. Crist is being used in some capacity as a coach, attempting to familiarize the Jayhawks with Weis' system while assuming leadership responsibilities without ever playing a down for Kansas.
"You need to have the team playing with confidence by the time you play a game. But now's not the time I'm worried about their confidence. I'm worried about them doing things the right way. I'm worried about them practicing the way we want them to practice, and I'm worried about them being fundamentally sound." Kansas coach Charlie Weis.