Coaches often downplay the importance of spring football, particularly the spring game, but significant developments do take place during the 15 practices.
It was during the spring of 2007 that Todd Reesing beat out Kerry Meier for the Kansas University starting quarterback job, a development that greatly strengthened both ends of the passing game because Meier developed into a record-breaking KU receiver.
Based on coach Charlie Weis’ “too close to call” comment about the quarterback competition, this could be looked back upon as the spring of Montell Cozart, since he’s running in a dead heat with Jake Heaps.
If Cozart had not gained the valuable game experience a year ago, after Weis decided midway through the year not to red-shirt him, he wouldn’t have had enough first-hand knowledge about where he needed to improve. Not even the hardest-hitting, liveliest practices can simulate game action. Heaps would have a stranglehold on the job had Cozart red-shirted in 2013.
Yet, if Cozart wins the job and develops into a three-year starter, some will bemoan the “burning” of his red-shirt year, the same lament so often expressed regarding Todd Reesing’s limited play during his freshman season.
Reesing never has been one of those voices.
“People always ask: ‘Aren’t you disappointed? You could have had another year.’ My response to that is, if I hadn’t played that game, I wouldn’t have had the chance to compete for the starting job the next year,” Reesing said over lunch during the basketball season. “Kerry was clearly the starter. Going into the next year, that wouldn’t have changed if I hadn’t had a chance to play. It was a blessing in disguise.”
In Reesing’s first two-and-a-half seasons as a starter, KU went 25-6. His career ended on a bizarre seven-game losing streak, the second half of that stumble overshadowed by an investigation into coach Mark Mangino’s treatment of players. After the season, Mangino accepted a $3 million buyout and Reesing never again played football.
“It was a weird deal,” Reesing said of the investigation during late autumn of 2009. “I don’t really know where it stemmed from. I’m sure there were mixed feelings by players about coaches, but there are mixed feelings by players about coaches on any team. Some coaches coach hard and you get yelled at.”
Reesing had thick skin and great self-confidence, both of which made his shortcomings compared to prototypical Big 12 quarterbacks irrelevant.
“It’s kind of part of the deal,” he said. “You know what you’re getting yourself into when you’re playing football. I never had an issue with coach Mangino, never felt that he ever crossed any lines.”
It all happened so fast.
“We started out great that year, had a rough few weeks and then that happens and it kind of implodes at the end of the season,” Reesing said. “Next thing you know we’re bringing in a whole new coaching staff. Too bad to see things end that way, especially after having the best year in the school’s history two years before that.”
Reesing, now working in his hometown of Austin for KU graduate and Lawrence native David Booth at Booth’s company, Dimensional Fund Advisors, remembered what bothered him perhaps the most about the fallout of the Mangino ouster.
“It was tough to see for all the other coaches, guys who really busted their (tails) for years to build Kansas up to where it was at and then to be out of a job after one year because of all that and a new coaching staff being brought in,” Reesing said. “Guys had to move families and look for jobs.”
Clint Bowen found work at Western Kentucky and then North Texas before returning to Kansas to work for Charlie Weis. Bowen is KU’s defensive coordinator. John Reagan joined Weis’ staff in December as offensive coordinator.
“Excited to have them back at Kansas,” Reesing said. “Hopefully, they can get it turned around. Coach Reagan, I knew him real well. He’s a great coach. He’s had a lot of success coaching the offensive line and being a play-caller at his previous job (Rice).”
Reesing said Reagan was offensive coordinator Ed Warinner’s “right-hand guy. He’s got a lot of expertise and a lot of experience, so I think the offense is in good hands.”
Reesing, a very bright thinker and clear communicator, painted a vivid picture of what playing under Warinner was like.
“He really pushed players hard in practice,” Reesing said. “He wasn’t always the most fun guy to be around in practice because he was yelling and he was hard on people. He wanted people to give their best and thought that was the best way to get it out of them. Every coach has their different approach to practice.”
Warinner’s worked well.
“Him making us go at fast speeds and us being uncomfortable in practice because of the yelling and all that, when we got to the game, it was a much more controlled environment,” Reesing said. “You didn’t have people yelling at you. It wasn’t as fast-paced, so things actually slowed down in the game.”
Interesting. The absence of weekday mayhem created a Saturday clarity.
“I think the way he made us practice — the yelling, the fast pace we went at — was so wild that when we got to the game we were relaxed and worked at a fast pace, but it seemed slow to us,” Reesing said. “He really was a huge catalyst for that Orange Bowl year and the success we had the next year. The offense he put in, the style of play we had on offense, was a lot because of his ideas, his leadership.”
Warinner worked for a head coach who gave him a general idea of what he wanted and let him decide how to get there.
“His belief was, you don’t make your players fit an offense; you make your offense fit your players,” Reesing said.
Reagan practices that belief as well. And he’s working for a head coach who fired himself as offensive coordinator and is letting Reagan run his no-huddle, spread offense the way he thinks it should be run. Humility isn’t a word often used in the same sentence as Charlie Weis, but that’s the precise quality it took from the head coach in order to put the right guy in charge of the offense and let him have the deciding vote on personnel matters.