Columbus, Ohio — Five years into his eight-year reign as head coach of the Kansas football program, Mark Mangino determined the time had come to speed up the tempo of the offense and flood the field with receivers.
Mangino recruited Ed Warinner, who had served him as offensive line coach and then left for Illinois, to return to KU as the offensive coordinator. The next order of business involved using the spring of 2007 as a two-man quarterback competition between incumbent Kerry Meier and challenger Todd Reesing.
“We charted everything,” said Warinner, now co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach at Ohio State. “Every breath they took at practice was charted. Every throw, every drill, everything. At the end of that, Todd was about 5 percent better in all the statistical analysis.”
More than data contributed to defining Reesing as the ideal man to execute Mangino’s general vision that was tailored by Warinner.
“Todd had some charisma to him,” Warinner said. “He had some intangibles, some leadership. He had an uncanny ability to have real great awareness of what was going on. He loved the game, the X’s and O’s part of the game, the strategy of it. He got why this play was being run vs. this play.”
And Reesing had more than just a good brain inside his undersized body working in his favor.
“He had a little bit of risk-taker in him, a little bit of river-boat gambler, a guy who would live on the edge,” Warinner said. “And that was kind of who he was, and you have to have that. So I always thought my job was risk-management. Todd would go all in on every play and sometimes you don’t want to do that. So my job was to make sure we were playing smart and being real efficient and to help him to know when to take those chances.”
Meier switched to receiver, joining Dezmon Briscoe and the Mangino-to-Warinner-to-Reesing-to-Meier-and-Briscoe chain of command resulted in the most productive three-year run of passing offense in the history of Kansas football.
“There were some plays that he made in his career that take a lot of guts and a lot of confidence to step up and pull the trigger ... ,” Warinner said of Reesing. “You go back and look at them and it’s just amazing. That was his gift. That whole intangible, real smart.”
During a 12-1 2007 season that ended with a victory in the Orange Bowl, Kansas ranked second in the nation with 42.8 points per game and the offense produced a school-record 479.8 yards a game. Even during a 5-7 2009 season — marred by Reesing playing with a groin injury and Mangino’s authority with the players being undermined by an investigation into his treatment of players ordered by athletic director Lew Perkins — the Jayhawks passed for a school-record 310.3 yards a game.
Warinner was quick to point out that Reesing had plenty of tangible talent as well.
“He had great skills now; nobody could spin it like Todd,” Warinner said. “He was really accurate and he could throw from a lot of different launch points. His feet didn’t always have to be set. His arm was in a different spot a lot of the time. We trained all that because he needed to do that. The size he was, to get the ball in the right places safely, you’ve got to be able to be more versatile.”
The NFL didn’t have any interest in Reesing, but Warinner wouldn’t have traded his quarterback for so many bigger players who received plaudits from scouts.
“In a pure setting with no stress, no pass rush, no internal clock, no bodies to throw around or through or over, there are some guys who can look phenomenal,” Warinner said of what he calls combine quarterbacks. “But then you put four or five guys rushing, and checking the protection and understanding the coverages, and they hide those things so well now. That’s what Todd could do.”
In the manner a skilled pool player sees shots bar hacks can’t, Reesing had extraordinary vision.
“Sometimes, I’d stand behind him in practice and I couldn’t see how he could see it — little bits of movement of jersey colors — I’d say, ‘Why did you throw it there?’ He would say, ‘I could see where he was looking.’ And he was looking at him so I threw it to (another receiver). Little things,” Warinner said. “He’d say, ‘His hips were turned one way, but he was looking over here, so I knew he couldn’t make the play over there.’ Little things that are third-and-fourth-level quarterback play.”
Reesing, according to Warinner, made him a better offensive coordinator in more ways than by accurately executing scripted plays and using his creative feet and brain to go off script to make big plays on the fly. Reesing, Warinner indicated, made him better from the moment the coordinator reported to work early in the morning to the moment he went home late at night.
“He challenged you in a good way,” Warinner said. “All he wanted to know was why? ‘Why are we doing this?’ If it made sense to him, he was all in. So it made me be really smart about how you coach him. You were well-prepared when you’d go into meetings. You’re right on top of your game. There’s no guess work and your stuff better be pinpoint on. And so he forced me to be at my best every day because he was that sharp. And I forced him to be at his best, so it was two really highly competitive people and neither one wanted to look bad ever, so we were always prepared.”
Prepared and remarkably productive.