Tuesday, July 29, 2014

KU football players shrug off negativity


It takes a special kind of confidence and optimism to represent Kansas University football.

At Big 12 media days in Dallas, surrounded by peers from both traditional powers and sure-to-be Top-25 teams in 2014, senior Jayhawks Nick Harwell, Ben Heeney, Jimmay Mundine and Cassius Sendish spoke on matters of winning, going to a bowl game and turning around a downtrodden program. All the while, they knew many of the people with whom they had these discussions, as well as the outsiders who read or heard their comments, would scoff at the idea of Kansas succeeding on Saturdays this fall.

Their realistic coach, Charlie Weis, gets it, too.

“We haven’t done a thing in the two years I’ve been here,” Weis declared at his Dallas news conference.

Entering his third season at KU, the coach even gave the bullet-point lowlights: the Jayhawks won one game two years ago, only three the next and haven’t won a game on the road in his tenure.

Of course, the on-field product didn’t capture many hearts and minds before Weis arrived, either. The past five seasons (two under Turner Gill and one coached by Mark Mangino), Kansas is 14-46 overall, 3-40 in the Big 12. The Jayhawks’ last road win came in Mangino’s final season, 2009, at UTEP. The year ended with seven straight losses.

Recent history

Season — Overall record (Big 12); coach

2013 — 3-9 (1-8); Charlie Weis

2012 — 1-11 (0-9); Weis

2011 — 2-10 (0-9); Turner Gill

2010 — 3-9 (1-7); Gill

2009 — 5-7 (1-7); Mark Mangino

2008 — 8-5 (4-4); Mangino

2007 — 12-1 (7-1); Mangino

2006 — 6-6 (3-5); Mangino

2005 — 7-5 (3-5); Mangino

2004 — 4-7 (2-6); Mangino

2003 — 6-7 (3-5); Mangino

2002 — 2-10 (0-8); Mangino

So, yeah, linebacker Heeney said, the players realize what those kind of numbers do to a program’s reputation.

“We already know that everyone considers us at the bottom of the totem pole,” Heeney said. “The media, you guys, do. Everyone here (at media days) does. That’s not a surprise to us. We were voted number 10 in the conference (preseason poll). Rightfully so. We won one (Big 12) game last year. You can’t expect to get any respect when you win one conference game. At the same time, it just gives us that much more fuel to our fire, so that way we can prove people wrong.”

Being perceived as a member of a lesser program, Mundine said, didn’t bother him, because he focuses on getting back on the field this fall with the rest of KU’s experienced senior class. The tight end from Denison, Texas, remains convinced the Jayhawks have play-makers who can win one-on-one battles in the Big 12.

“Everyone knows the polls don’t mean anything,” Mundine said. “The polls don’t see all the work we’ve put in since January and where we are now, as far as a team.”

Scoring more, the players know, would be a significant step forward. Kansas averaged 13.9 points a game in 2013. That was just one reason Weis overhauled the offense, handing the keys to new coordinator John Reagan.

Even Heeney, the defensive captain, referenced the offense when talking up KU’s potential.

“We know what we’re capable of,” the senior linebacker said. “And we’re a lot better this year than we were in previous years.”

Weis didn’t want to state publicly how many games Kansas needs to win this season to make it a success, and his players followed his lead. Still, without giving a prediction, wide receiver Harwell said playing in a bowl game is the goal.

“It doesn’t matter (which one),” said the senior transfer from Miami (Ohio), who caught seven passes and a touchdown in his previous team’s 35-21 Bowl win as a freshman. “We’ve got guys on the team who haven’t been to a bowl game, so that’s why I want to help the team go to one.”

The players trust, Sendish added, their offseason work will enable them to buck KU’s losing trend.

“I think we just need to bring the productivity to Saturdays,” the safety said.

Kansas last finished a season with a winning record — overall or in the Big 12 — in 2008 (8-5, 4-4). Heeney and his fellow leaders seem convinced the Jayhawks can do that again in 2014.

“I’ll put my team against any team,” Heeney said.


Doug Cramer 7 years, 2 months ago

The difference between Weis's teams vs Mangino's...Mangino's teams didn't talk to the media about how they would put their team up against anyone. They didn't talk about how they could compete with anyone. They didn't compare themselves with superior teams from the past (2008).

They focused only on the small details that they controlled.

They didn't have to think about being better than any other team in the league. It wasn't part of their thought process. They only focused on executing small details on Saturdays...that gave them the best chances of succeeding. If that execution and focus led to be it. If not...than we took a loss and made adjustments to those small details.

You NEVER heard Mangino or his players make promises or speculations about how the season would go. You never saw them in front of the media having fun with the interview experience...or focusing on making buddies with Keegan or Tait. It was about football and making the most of their talent levels.

It was ALL about focusing on the items that they controlled. And I'd be willing to bet that Mangino absorbed some of that philosophy from Coach Snider.

Joe Ross 7 years, 2 months ago

I have thought this privately for a long time but until now never said much about it. Mangino did something I like to call "variable control". You consider all the factors that affect the outcome of a game, filter out ones you can't do anything about, and attempt to manage the remaining variables as best you can. It's not a perfect system for a lot of reasons. Sometimes, for example, players don't employ the right strategies in given situations as they were taught. At other times, decision-making on the field comes into play. At still other times, how your personnel on the field matches up with another team's slightly shifts the ability to execute a plan. No, the system wasn't perfect; but it lead to moderate success on the field. And if you think about it, one has an intuition that if you emphasize/pay attention to detail, a team is more likely to be successful. A team's raw ability or skill level may be low but at whatever level that is, their performance can be optimized. Even if you're working with a highly skilled group, there are still things which must be done to maximize their output. Many of these things fall under the umbrella of variable control. If you listened to Mangino in post-game press conferences, it's clear the guy had an understanding about the minutiae of the game. Why is this important? Because that kind of understanding is required so that appropriate adjustments can be made. Consider Turner Gill, by contrast. He never had the same feel, and when asked direct questions about what needed to change his answers were largely generic and ambiguous. "We'll address that in practice."

But I also agree with the lack of making promises on performance. I dont have an issue with them feeling a certain rapport with the kusports reporters (unless their writing is clouded by the kinship). Sometimes, and especially at this level, I assume that players may give more thorough and honest answers when they feel comfortable with their interviewers. But your point about making promises is well-founded. At least excessive promises--stated explicitly or implied--that amount to what we all know is "hype". We've been disappointed by it before. Taking a believe-it-when-I-see-it approach does not equate with negativity, though some would have you believe otherwise.

Joe Ross 7 years, 2 months ago

You forget yourself. No one, least of all me, is saying the players shouldn't have a positive attitude and confidence. If the ship is ever going to right itself, it will begin with those ingredients. You disparage Mangino's teams, and yet he is arguably the most successful coach at Kansas. It's an odd pairing of realities and yet it is so; therefore, your attempt at being dismissive falls disappointingly short.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 7 years, 2 months ago

Several good comments here. I have been an Oklahoma fan since the days of Bud Wilkinson and really do not much relish the idea of another contender with the likes of Texas, Oklahoma State, and recent contenders like Baylor and Kansas State. K-state, now there is a program that has experienced great success in football! Ditto for Baylor.

But it makes for an interesting league.

But Kansas has never approached this status, they had a good chance with Mark Mangino, but the leadership in the athletic department failed them again. The revolving door on the coach's office has a lot to do with the problem. The players obviously want change, but I agree that they talk too much. The article several days ago on the player that is working on some sort of "app" for his toy phone really rankled me, they need to be concentrating on blocking, tackling, passing, catching the pass and protecting the quarterback, not fooling around with silly internet "apps" Action on the field would be more useful.

There is something basically wrong with the KU football program. I keep wondering if it may be linked to the basketball program which gets most all of the journalistic ink her in Lawrence. They perform greatly during the regular season with it's yearly gaggle of high school one-year wonders, but then flop in the national tournament. Probably from basic inexperience of the one-year wonders. That needs to change, too.

Jay Beakum 7 years, 2 months ago

A “toy” phone? You realize that toy phones run apps that sell for billions of dollars don’t you?

And since when do we have a problem with a player doing well off the field? It’s college not the NFL. You are there to go to school. The kid is a damn genius if you ask me. He’s got a good business going before he even graduates.

Anyway, the guy is a backup kicker for God’s sake, it’s not like he’s the starting MLB.

Aaron Paisley 7 years, 2 months ago

The kid who is developing the app is the back up kicker who is a walk on. The obviously doesn't have an NFL future and is actually putting his education to use and working on something that could make him a wealthy individual capable of financially investing KU football.

John Fitzgerald 7 years, 2 months ago

I think at this point I've heard enough about Mark Mangino.

Len Shaffer 7 years, 2 months ago

What do you mean, Mark Mangino? Haven't you heard that his name is now Saint Mangino -- at least according to those like Doug Cramer and Joe Ross?

David Lara 7 years, 2 months ago

Amen. What the hell is going on here? I never thought I would come to hate the man that gave us the best season on record but that's where I'm headed. Constantly reliving that debacle has become wearisome and every time it's brought up again it pisses me off more that he couldn't handle his sh * t enough to A ) use the success as a foundation for the program, B) not completely lose the locker room, or C) not make enemies of everyone that he didn't have control over. People need to stop it with the revisionist history.

David Lara 7 years, 2 months ago

This was supposed to be in reply to Fitzgerald's being sick of hearing about Mangino, not sure how it ended up on its own.

Ryan Moran 7 years, 2 months ago

Here is a reason to be optimistic about the upcoming season.

With an average Big 12 offense, last years team would have been a 5 win, perhaps 6 win team. The defense gave the offense the opportunities that they needed to win games and they couldn't get it done. I think this year we can expect an improved defense that can give the offense opportunities once again. With the pieces KU has right now, Reagan's offense can be average at best, but capable of capitalizing on what the defense gives them. They had their chances to beat Rice, Oklahoma, TCU, and K-State last season. The year before, they had their chances to beat Rice, TCU, N. Illinois, Oklahoma State, Texas, and Texas Tech. With an average offense those could have been a 7 win season in 2012, or a 5 or 6 win season in 2013. This team is not as far off as some of you say they are. I say 5/6 wins this season. Maybe 7 with a bowl win.

Jim Stauffer 7 years, 2 months ago

From a realistic view, I believe Weis has done an excellent job of re-building the roster. Of course we do not have OU or UT talent and we are only beginning this year to attempt to emulate the efficiency of KSU. But the fact is things are much different this year than last.

We have new personnel that were not here last year and the names are on both sides of the ball. We have two coaches who will be central to "fixing" two of the three broken areas that were the major problems of the offense the previous two years.

It has been speculated, and rightly so, that if our offense could sustain a league average of efficiency such as first downs, time of possession, etc. our defense would shine in this league.

Yet there are still those who refuse to even give consideration to this scenario leading to 5 or 6 wins for this team. I understand the media, but the fanbase should be looking for positives and there are plenty.

Weis is a lightening rod for both fans and media. He is honest to a fault. People who every day watch news where every pol is lying and the media is covering for them just cannot accept a man who tells it like it is. Personally, I love this guy. I truly hope he can have success at this level. If he does, he will end up being the most famous FB coach KU has ever had.

David A. Smith 7 years, 2 months ago

The thing that gets me about Mangino/Weis comparisons is that Weis had a lot further to go than Mangino did. I personally don't like the comparisons, because inevitably one gets deified while the other gets crucified. Mangino- I absolutely loved the guy and have amazing memories of some serious football. But, he's gone, and the memory needs to go to bed. Comparing Weis to him glosses over the fact that the situations were entirely different. The cancers (plural) that existed when Weis took over made for enormous challenges. There were office ills, personnel ills, mindset ills, disciplinary ills, fan ills that were both left overs from two previous situations. Mangino only had one previous situation to contend with, and it was bad- but not awful. What Weis inherited- on many levels- is probably the worst situation any KU coach has ever faced.

John Fitzgerald 7 years, 2 months ago

Agree 100% ... now lets drop the comparisons and support these kids! Hell, if we can't support the coach and staff, at least support the kids. They're trying at least!

Brandon Mahon 7 years, 2 months ago

I agree completely with what David said. Mangino came in and had a team that was average and still went 2-10 and 0-8 in the conference his first year with a FULL TEAM! Weis came in and cleaned house of players (over 20]). He has fixed the academics, brought in players who care, fired coaches that were his right hand people and brought in new coaches. Yes, some of his transfers did not pan out like we had hoped but he is trying. He has literally built this team from the ground up. Just like Ryan said before, even with a depleted roster there were games were we could have won. Give the guy a chance, he is making the changes and has not done a bad job recruiting. We as fans need to support the players, and go to every game and stay through. If they players feel like we have their backs and will stand behind them the confidence goes up and so does morale, and maybe you will see even more improvement on the field. We have seen improvement while Weis has been here. I was not on the bandwagon to begin with but I can say I have been excited the last few years. He did not come here to lose, and I believe that he plans on winning here and wants to be here, this is not just another stop. He took the challenge of coming here and turning things around, and a lot of his players want the same thing, all these guys want to be part of history and doing something incredible. So quit being fair weather fans, and show real Jayhawk pride... I have already bought tickets for the first two home games. ROCK CHALK

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