Though it might seem the end of such a rough season would bring a little relief, that wasn’t the case for Kansas University’s football team.
In addition to the sadness of saying goodbye to 20 seniors after Saturday’s 35-7 loss to Missouri in Kansas City, Mo., the end of the 2010 season marked the beginning of 2011.
“It’s a continuing deal, evaluating our football team and also recruiting,” said Kansas coach Turner Gill, who finished 3-9 overall and 1-7 in Big 12 play during his first season with the Jayhawks. “Recruiting’s always going all the time. We’re all disappointed. We didn’t win this ballgame. We didn’t have the season we would like to have had. Guys are sad, too. Especially the seniors. The last time you put on that uniform, that’s a different feeling.”
But because this was such a young Kansas team — KU’s season-ending, two-deep depth chart featured 20 sophomores and freshmen — there were very few tears in the locker room following Saturday’s loss and a heavy dose of optimism about the future.
“It’s definitely been a hard season,” senior Chris Harris said. “We’re very young. We had a lot of new coaches. The way (former KU coach Mark) Mangino ran his (program) is totally opposite of how coach Gill ran his. So it’s something that we had to get used to. But I see a bright future here, and the program is just gonna go up.”
Some of that mind-set came from the fact that so many key players on this year’s team are scheduled to return in 2011. Most of it, though, came from something much more important.
“It’s not the way we wanted to finish, 3-9, sending our seniors out on that note,” sophomore safety Bradley McDougald said. “But, I mean, we fought all year. We stuck together; that’s the main thing. We just gotta come in next year (ready to work), and it starts right now, the offseason. That’s gonna be the biggest thing, making sure guys are getting bigger, faster, stronger for next year.”
Sophomore cornerback Greg Brown agreed with McDougald and said, if anything, he was upset, not relieved, the season was over.
“I felt we played with harmony and came together and played as hard as we could,” Brown said. “We’re ready for next year. We start workouts next week, so I just hope everybody goes hard.”
Added Gill, asked if he knew how long it would take to get things going in the right direction again: “I’m anticipating next year. I don’t know what’s gonna take place with the wins and the losses, but we will be a better football team next year. We will get this thing turned around.”
Recent history is not exactly the best indicator for what’s ahead. Of the last three head coaches to lead the Jayhawks — Glen Mason, Terry Allen and Mark Mangino — Mangino and Mason each improved dramatically during their second seasons. Mason opened 1-10 in 1988 and followed that up with a 4-7 mark in 1989. Mangino started 2-10 in 2002 and jumped to 6-7 in 2003, which included a trip to the Tangerine Bowl.
Allen, on the other hand, finished 5-6 in 1997 and dropped off to 4-7 in 1998.
Gill, who improved from 2-10 to 5-7 from Season 1 to Season 2 at Buffalo, offered up the following evidence for why he believed the best is still ahead.
“I can’t say every game we had the same intensity,” he said. “But I thought our guys played hard in every ballgame. They were in tune with what we were doing. They were engaged with us as a coaching staff. I like the way they came to work on Sundays and Tuesdays. They were ready. Their eyes were focused on us, and they were like, ‘Give me information. Teach me. Teach me.’ And that’s what we want to see from our guys.”