Wednesday, December 15, 2010

One year in the making: Reasons for hope, fear after coach Turner Gill’s roller-coaster KU football season

New Kansas University coach Turner Gill watches the first half of the April 24 spring game at Memorial Stadium. A considerably larger crowd — featuring his parents — is expected today for his first real game as the Jayhawks’ head coach.

New Kansas University coach Turner Gill watches the first half of the April 24 spring game at Memorial Stadium. A considerably larger crowd — featuring his parents — is expected today for his first real game as the Jayhawks’ head coach.



KU head coach Turner Gill watches from the sideline in the first quarter Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010 in the home opener Kansas against North Dakota State at Kivisto Field.

Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of the date that Turner Gill was introduced as the next football coach at Kansas University.

Gill, a former star quarterback and assistant coach at Nebraska, came to Kansas after a four-year run at the University of Buffalo, where he turned the Bulls from a perennial bottom-feeder into conference champions.

At the time, Gill’s hire was met with mixed emotions from several people close to KU. Many believed his charisma and sterling reputation would be just what the program needed to move forward from allegations of misconduct that led to the departure of former KU coach Mark Mangino. Others, citing Gill’s 20-30 overall record as a head coach, wondered if the success he had in the MAC would translate to the Big 12.

So here we sit, 365 days later, without any clear answers, but plenty of ammunition to begin forming them.

During his first season in Lawrence, Gill’s Jayhawks (3-9) were wildly inconsistent. The lows came first and were more prevalent throughout the season, as KU kicked off the Gill era with a 6-3 home loss to FCS opponent North Dakota State. The Jayhawks also opened conference play with three consecutive shellackings, falling to Baylor, Kansas State and Texas A&M by a combined score of 159-24. Kansas closed the season with a 35-7 loss to archrival Missouri at Arrowhead Stadium.

Sprinkled in between all of the lowlights were a Week 2 victory against Georgia Tech, the defending ACC champions who were ranked 15th in the country at the time; and a comeback victory against Colorado in which the Jayhawks trailed, 45-17, with 11 minutes to play and went on to win, 52-45. The 35 points in the fourth quarter and the 28-point comeback both were school records.

Though many — including the coaching staff and players — were disappointed with the way the season played out, the prevailing thought was that it was unfair to judge him based on one year. After all, Mangino was just 2-10 during his first season (2002) and, five years later, was the consensus national coach of the year. Time will tell if Gill, who often speaks of a burning desire to build “a winning dynasty” at KU, will follow a similar path. But, while we’re waiting, here’s a look at what we’ve learned about Gill.

Reasons to hope

• When searching to put the best talent on the field, Gill is not afraid to move players around. Several players changed positions this season and, although not all of them were home runs, a few — Keeston Terry and Bradley McDougald to safety and Toben Opurum to defensive end — seemed to make the Jayhawks better and have the defense in better shape for the future.

• Gill has made no secret he wants his offense to be based around the running game. Personnel made that difficult this year, but the Jayhawks were more balanced than in recent years and the offense seemed to be at its best when the ground game was effective. True freshman James Sims (742 yards and nine TDs) is an emerging star and, with red-shirt Brandon Bourbon and incoming freshmen Darrian Miller and Dreamius Smith on the way, Gill already has recruited fast and talented backs to join Sims in carrying out his mission. That’s not the only good news on the recruiting front, either, as several players who red-shirted in 2010 or will be true freshmen next season should improve upon KU’s lack of depth and speed.

• Word coming out of the football complex is that the offseason conditioning program already is off to a much better start than it was during Gill’s first offseason. Not only are the Jayhawks continuing to work on building strength, they’re also running more, something they did less of last winter, when compared with the work they did under the old staff.

Reasons to fear

• Many were turned off by Gill’s stoic nature on the sidelines and in front of cameras. Those who covered Gill as a player and coach have said that’s just the way he is. However, when trying to energize a fan base that has lost faith and is quick to head to the exits, more emotion might help.

• Gill and his staff mismanaged the quarterback position throughout 2010 and still don’t have a clear-cut, Big-12-caliber starter at the position. Missing out on juco prospect Zack Stoudt, who chose Ole Miss over KU, hurt. Now, the Jayhawks might enter 2011 having to pick between Jordan Webb and Quinn Mecham. Both started multiple games in 2010, but neither player performed well enough to win the job.

• Gill’s team struggled mightily in the third quarter of games this season, especially in Big 12 play, where they were outscored, 97-17. Part of the problem can be attributed to poor conditioning and a lack of depth. But the team’s halftime adjustments — or lack thereof — often seemed to be the bigger culprit. Major improvement in all areas is a must in 2011.


jhwkfan162515 3 years, 3 months ago

While Mr. Gill's personal integrity is admirable, I am not impressed with his ability to coach. This KU team beat Georgia Tech, but GT turned out to be overrated. They also beat New Mexico State, but anyone can do that. And they beat Colorado, but played like crap for three quarters; that 35-point fourth quarter was a fluke (a fun, enjoyable fluke, but a fluke nonetheless). But when you lose 6-3 to an FCS school, when you make average teams like Baylor and K-State look like national title contenders and get blown out by them, when you don't seem to understand the significance of rivalry games against K-State and Mizzoodle, and when your team is so disorganized that you run out of timeouts early in the fourth quarter, that casts serious doubt on your coaching abilities. I don't see this team doing much next year, especially now that we have to face EVERY school in the conference from now on. Fire Turner Gill!


johnnyphoton 3 years, 4 months ago

Anytime I get on this web site my first stop is the football recruiting web page. I'm making an assumption that, based on Coach Gill's character, the athletes he brings in will be intelligent and well-rounded players. Oh, and likely they'll be student athletes. Hoping my hunch is correct.

Crying out for Mangino is nice, but come on, dude got lucky when he struck lightning in a bottle, a.k.a. Todd Reesing; otherwise, his teams would have been .500 at best. Get real ya'll.

Coach Gill, if you don't get three years it'll be a crime. But Coach, I do recommend you get a highly talented QB for 2012. Considering you were a great QB in your own right, seems to me you ought to be able to recruit that position?


hailtoku 3 years, 4 months ago

Anyone saying 6 or 7 wins would be nice or predicting anything more than 3 wins is a complete idiot.

That is all.


yovoy 3 years, 4 months ago

6 wins would be nice, and 5 would be okay. I don't expect us to win that many.

I like Mecham, but Webb showed that he understood what to do as the season progressed. He just wasn't able to do it. I'm hoping we get a really top-shelf qb that compliments everyone around him and vice-versa. Mecham would work as a back-up. I DO think that the rest of the team would be able to respond because they learned to deal with playing with a bunch of different qb.


newjayhawk 3 years, 4 months ago

These kids are going to shock you guys. Mecham is a very good QB. James Sims is legit. I would say at least seven wins, with the minimum being six. I was fortunate to be able to watch these kids practice quite a bit. The redshirts were as big as and certainly as fast as the starters. Add in all these pretty good recruits to push the returning players for playing time and you then have a better football team. I think the offense will be solid without a doubt. If they can go thru this next season without all these injuries these kids will win. A lot of the other Big 12 teams will lose stars and studs to the NFL, CFL, graduation and so forth. You will NOT see the same Kansas team that you saw in 2010.


Kirk 3 years, 4 months ago

I'm willing to concede the possibility, in the face of evidence to the contrary, that Gill will shape up, in time, to prove himself a decent coach.

But KU doesn't need a decent coach, it needs an extraordinary one.

I would take Mangino back (in the recently posted hypothetical scenario) if only because he'd already done the learning curve, and knew where he was at.


Layne Pierce 3 years, 4 months ago


I believe you got it right. Gill is not trying to go to the Orange Bowl once, he is trying to get us to the point, where we are expecting to win, not hoping.

As a previous person pointed out, the running game as it becomes a bigger part of our offense, is the key. Bll control and running, take pressure off qbs and the defense.

Take a look at where Pelini took Nebraska, away from Callahan's score 45 give up 60 to a defensively sound team, but in between the running game was revved up. Gill himself mentioned Sizemore, a fullback, 245 lbs, and Jimmy Mundine a short but powerful tight end, who by the way can block..

Add in Tharpe, and Willis at linebackers with Johnson, Terry and McDougal and Smith back in the defensive secondary, and faster defensive lineman, and there is reason to hope. Offensively Spikes, an improved Hawkinson, marrongeli, a healthy Hatch, and Zlatnik, and a bevy of exciting running backs, and there is reason to hope.

Qb wise, I would vote for Meacham, because he seems to be a better game manager, and the team seemed to play better when he started. He does not seem to be good coming into a game.


jgh 3 years, 4 months ago

D@mn, this sucks. God knows when we'll ever see decent football again.

Thanks, Perkins (not to mention all of the nancys within the fanbase who thought that a poke was an unacceptable action on the practice field).

If given the opportunity, how many people (including Lew, if he were still present) would re-hire Mangino today? 98%?


yovoy 3 years, 4 months ago

A couple of things that the article and the banter above got me thinking about:

1) If you have to have either Webb or Mecham on the field (I mean if we don't find a "replacement" or if neither improves enough to distinguish himself from the other), who do you prefer to run the offense?

2) I know that if we had a player or two that were truly "elite" type talented (nevermind the number of stars originally by their names), I'm not sure that we have to wait for them to be "ready". Think of the young guys that always seem to distinguish themselves as frosh or soph. That back at S. Carolina comes to mind. If we have any "true" talent, we don't have time to let it incubate. We've likely got a crew of guys that are going to have to do some OJT.

3) It's difficult to simulate the athleticism, system, and cunning of the other team when you don't have a practice squad that can come close to replicating anything your team might see. In my coaching, the more talent we've had has led to more intense practice (pace and competitiveness and attention, etc), which led to more preparation/confidence, which would ultimately lead to more wins. It's very "chicken-or-egg": you have to have talent to win, and you have to win to get the talent.

I think this article was good. I don't think it was unfair to Coach either way. It took lots of the sniping/griping/fawning/loving that's been going on all over these board, and put it out there.


Blake Post 3 years, 4 months ago

I don't care who is coaching. Give him five years. Took Snyder that long to make a bowl. Took Mangino a bunch of years. Give him five.


jayhawkinnebr 3 years, 4 months ago

We can only hope that Bubba knows a good football head coach.


fhtcchief 3 years, 4 months ago

My understanding is that Mack Brown refuses to play us. After the year they had, they can't afford anymore embarrassment. Tommy Tuberville graciously offered to take TU's place on the schedule.


chalky 3 years, 4 months ago

How many times do we have to play Texas Tech in one year?


nocaljayhawk 3 years, 4 months ago

To fear:

Two more lousy seasons of irrelevance under Gill with KU looking like a bottom-tier program from a non-BCS conference.

This was, and will continue to be, a bad hire that sets KU football back.


jaycard 3 years, 4 months ago

Geez, 100, I couldn't have said it better myself. I think I have a mancrush!!!


Tony Bandle 3 years, 4 months ago

2011 Schedule: McNeese State - Win [Hopefuuly] Northern Illinois - Win [Maybe] @ Georgia Tech - Loss [This one will be ugly-revenge factor] Texas Tech - Loss [ Maybe we sneak up on them] @Oklahoma State - Loss [No way, Jose] Oklahoma - Loss [take the spread] Kansas State - Loss [who will suck more] @Texas Tech - Loss [ crap] @ Iowa State - Loss [nothing goes well in the cornfields] Baylor - Loss [ Hawks overcome by ugly Baylor uniforms] @ Texas A&M Loss [ 12th man/woman too much to overcome] Not at Lawrence, Missouri - Loss [Dammit]

The good news, five of first seven games are at Memorial Stadium. The bad news, four of the last five, aren't!!

If someone has a more positive spin, please share with me.


Pbbut 3 years, 4 months ago

I've been tough on Gill, maybe too much so. The point is that he will likely be here a minimum of three or four years even if the record fails to improve so we might as well support the guy and his players.
My two biggest fears are: 1) He comes off sounding like Mr. Cliche in the prospect's living room just like he does in the postgames and the radio. He's getting commits so he must be doing something right, I just hope they're players; 2) Our football program doesn't show enough improvement and we get run over in some potential conference realignment. That would hamper the entire athletic department, Know what I mean, Vern?


jayhawkinnebr 3 years, 4 months ago

If we keep Gill around then we need to lower the level of competition. We should not be playing teams like NDS, Baylor, or Kansas ST. That is too high of level to compete with. When people say the best thing on the KU field is the band, then I think we have a problem.


John Percival 3 years, 4 months ago

Though many — including the coaching staff and players — were disappointed with the way the season played out... The only people not disappointed with this season should be K-State & Mizzery fans. One game and an awesome quarter don't make a season.


KCHawk81 3 years, 4 months ago

The talent argument has been made both ways, and I think there is some validity to each. Here's my take: those "star ratings" we're all so fond of are educated guesses based on potential as an upper-classman. Ideally, your great recruiting class is going to be red-shirting and even playing back-up for a year or two. So while our last couple recruiting classes are the best we've seen, I think it's unreasonable to expect those guys to have contributed much in 2010.

Our defensive starters this year, for example, should have been mostly from the 2006 and 2007 classes. Seven 2010 defensive contributors came from these classes--four 3-star and three 2-star players according to Rivals. Meanwhile, look how many guys started or played significant minutes this year from the 2008, 2009, and 2010 classes: Greg Brown, Lubbock Smith, Prinze Kande, Bradley McDougald, Toben Opurum, Tyler Patmon, Quinton Woods, Kevin Young, Keeston Terry. Huldon Tharp is another class of '09 guy that was expected to be our best LB in 2010. All very talented, yes--and all very inexperienced. They would have benefited from a year (or more) learning the system from an experienced player. Add to that the fact that even the experienced players are learning a new system, and I think the "this-team-had-so-much-talent" argument begins to fall apart. Experience matters.


danmoore 3 years, 4 months ago

I can give TG a pass for the following reasons. First season in the Big 12. Even in a down year the Big 12 is vastly superior to the MAC. Bigger, stronger, faster and deeper. Lack of talent. We lost some of our best players from a team that went 5-7. Players adjusting to a new system. I keep hearing this so I guess I’m buying into it as a valid reason.

Here’s where I have a problem with TG. We get absolutely blown out of the water against 3 average teams. I don’t think the reasons above can account for losing by 6 or 7 TD’s and it begs the question, can Turner Gill coach? Maybe he’s a great recruiter, motivator, teacher, etc. but is he head coaching material when it comes to X’s and O’s. He’s our head coach and I’m 100 percent behind him but at this point I will be happy if he can reduce the margin of defeat to a competitive level.


temjay 3 years, 4 months ago

KU football advertising slogan for next year: "If your team loses to us, your coach will be fired!"


Tony Bandle 3 years, 4 months ago

My hoped for formula for next year:

([Big mean offensive line] + [stable of speedy backs]) - number of passes by inexperienced QBs x [ more ball control] / time of defense on the field] = more competitive games.

With as running offense, you must do two things, control the clock and score, neither of which we did much of last season.


jhawkrulz 3 years, 4 months ago

Stoudt passed us up, but I think Mecham was a highly touted Juco QB as well. I think mecham did some good things this year; however, to think that Stoudt would have solved problems is not true. It would have just created more competition that clearly didn't help our QB situation this year.

I think a year of experiene for all of these QBs has been healthy. I just hope that instead of dragging out the QB situatation like he did this year, that he makes a decision so that the starter can get steady reps and become the leader of the team, like we have to have.


patrick_e 3 years, 4 months ago

Gill needs to do away with cell phone, girl, and no-names-on-the-jerseys policies. They may not be THE reason why recruits turn down scholarships, but they certainly cannot be attractive to many recruits.


jbrownjib 3 years, 4 months ago

I think Gill may need two full years to make a winner out of the team. I am impressed that he has recruited so many offensive lineman. You can never underestimate the importance of OL to the running and passing game. I think that it is ridiculus to manage Gill's personality. So what if he is Stoic. Bill Belichick is no Mr. Personality and neither is Bo Pelini. Too me, micromanaging the coaches personality is pure stupidity. Ultimately, winning is what determines whether we love the guy or hate him as our football coach.


Jayjocker 3 years, 4 months ago

Matt the football article is appreciated. All valid points. The QB issue is the most disturbing because even another 3 star or better won't be ready next year. Good reporting on the weight room and running, as conditioning was mentioned a lot last season. Keep'm coming


leonard 3 years, 4 months ago

"When searching to put the best talent on the field, Gill is not afraid to move players around."

It has nothing to do with fear. It's more aptly called groping in the dark because he's a poor judge of talent. After spring ball, off-season workouts and preseason practice there is only one reason for all the mid-season changes...he's clueless about organizing the team's talent.


slowplay 3 years, 4 months ago

We need to fear Gill's stoic nature? and how could Gill have mismanaged the QB's when in the next sentence it's stated that the team did not have a Big 12 caliber QB? He did what he could with what he had, injuries included. You can't win the Kentucky Derby riding a mule.

I was disappointed in the season, but I saw enough positives to be relatively optimistic for the program. That said, Gill cannot backslide. He needs to show improvement each year.


ahpersecoachingexperience 3 years, 4 months ago

Should of consulted me on the reasons for fear.

1) notice all the empty seats in the picture above


Mike Ardis 3 years, 4 months ago

And Buffalo went 2-10 this year. Quite a program Gil built at Buffalo!


rob4lb 3 years, 4 months ago

We can all complain and speculate on what might have been, but the reality is that Turner Gill will be the head coach of KU for at least the next two years. To come in and say the he inherited a lot of talent is far from accurate. All you have to do is watch the games to see that most Big 12 schools are faster stronger and bigger than KU. Look at Jordan Webb or Quin Mecham. What other Big 12 school has a QB with less talent? We need to see how well this staff can recruit and it will take 2-3 years to figure that out. I'm not sure we should all be jumping off the collective ledge because we were not able to land JUCO QB either. I think our roster contains someone with similar credentials and didn't set the world on fire.


leonard 3 years, 4 months ago

"came to Kansas after a four-year run at the University of Buffalo, where he turned the Bulls from a perennial bottom-feeder into conference champions"

What a crock. Repeating this mantra is just lemming-like reporting...which is the staple of most sports writers.

In four years at Buffalo, Gill produced just one winning season. He followed up his "remarkable" turnaround of conference champions with a lackluster 5-7 season...finishing 5th in the conference with only 3 conference his fourth season in a crummy conference.


Rivethead 3 years, 4 months ago


Come on. You should know better than to compare Gill's first season to Mangino's. It's like comparing fire to ice.

Mangino inherited one (1) D-1 caliber player according to Bob Stoops (a guy who might know a thing or two about what a D-1 caliber player looks like). Mangino inherited a locker room with leaky pipes, rust and God-awful smells. Mangino inherited a AD receptionist that was told that basketball comes first (the man had to beg just to be given his phone messages!).

Turner Gill inherited a team full of 3 and even a handful of 4 star players. Gill inherited 3 year old state-of-the-art facilities, Gill inherited an AD staff that continually kisses his a$$ and gave him a blank checkbook to hire his staff.

You know all of this. As such, you should know better than to make that comparison. Yes, TG needs more time to be evaluated. Let's just leave it at that.


Dyrk Dugan 3 years, 4 months ago

njj, i've said all along...the record of the team could get worse before it gets your record predictions are probably pretty close.

if we go 3-6 in the league, that would be a good record.

and the printed story here is fairly worthless. it's the same 'ol, same 'ol...and i guess the entire LJW staff has adopted the Keegan mantra that we just weren't in shape! good grief, Eureka! make a phone call to the coach....."Coach, your players aren't in shape...that's why we're year, get them in shape."

i mean, give me a break. Let the coach build his program his way....let's see no more football stories from this paper unless it's about a specific recruit...and the signing day stories...until spring ball. and let's focus on the new AD and basketball.


Janet Scott 3 years, 4 months ago

Looking at the 2011 KU football schedule: worst case 1-11; best case 3-9.


up4par2000 3 years, 4 months ago

Zack Stoudt wanted to see his last name on the back of his jersey.


Dirk Medema 3 years, 4 months ago

A big improvement for '11 could come just from the IR. Hopefully, Tharp, Terry, Lewis, Spikes, and even Hatch can be full strength next year. We could have a big, strong, experienced OL to open the way for a crew of speedy backs.


Kevin Studer 3 years, 4 months ago

I agre that Gill needs more than one year. But some of the more alarming issues that popped up have to be fixed immediately if Gill is going to be a legitimate coach at this level; as Tait pointed out, the lack of half-time adjustments is indicative of poor coaching, plain and simple (not, as many apologists like to run with, "weak athletes Mangino brought in"). Likewise, as Tait did not address here but we all remember, the number of offensive failures due to an inability to get plays in from the saideline to the field. Again, this is only attributable to poor coaching. These (and other) Coaching 101 issues need to be resolved immediately.


100 3 years, 4 months ago

We're behind you Coach Gill!!!!!!!


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