Thursday, December 21, 2017

Tom Keegan: Blueprint used by military academies suits Kansas football

In this Nov. 4, 2017, file photo, Army quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw runs past Air Force defenders for a touchdown in the first half of an NCAA college football game, at Air Force Academy, Colo. The Black Knights (8-3) enter the 118th meeting with Navy on Saturday as a bowl-bound team again, holding a better record than the Midshipmen (6-5) for the first time since 2001. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

In this Nov. 4, 2017, file photo, Army quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw runs past Air Force defenders for a touchdown in the first half of an NCAA college football game, at Air Force Academy, Colo. The Black Knights (8-3) enter the 118th meeting with Navy on Saturday as a bowl-bound team again, holding a better record than the Midshipmen (6-5) for the first time since 2001. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)


The second time athletic director Sheahon Zenger hired a football coach for Kansas, he challenged himself to think outside the box.

Zenger wondered if the right approach might be to hire someone who would do something radically different from any other Big 12 football coach, so different that he would recruit different types of athletes and wouldn’t be going head-to-head on the recruiting trail against schools with far higher standing in the national hierarchy of college football programs.

What, Zenger wondered, would happen if KU had a triple-option coach who runs the football the majority of the time?

The thinking was that Big 12 opponents would have to prepare for something foreign to defensive coordinators throughout the pass-happy conference and KU wouldn’t have to stand at the end of the line for recruiting quarterbacks, pass-blockers and receivers.

Triple-option teams can afford to play with smaller slot backs, linemen and quarterbacks — they don’t have to see over the linemen if they’re running most of the time and on the run when passing.

Zenger identified just the coach who could pull that off, and he and the selection committee secretly interviewed Air Force’s Troy Calhoun, a terrific, detail-oriented football coach. Some wondered whether Calhoun’s zero-tolerance policy for behavior and academic missteps was a better fit for a military academy than for Kansas, a fair question. Charlie Weis tried a zero-tolerance approach with Turner Gill recruits who were on shaky ground academically and in some cases behaviorally. He dismissed so many players that he fell into the trap of overloading on recruits from junior colleges, a slippery slope that makes regaining footing difficult.

It’s questionable whether Calhoun would have come for $800,000, a salary that would have prevented Willie Fritz, the planet’s best fit for the Kansas football job, from becoming a candidate. (By the way, Fritz, a Kansas City-area native who rebuilds every program he inherits, is getting a five-year extension from Tulane and just signed five Texas high school players, including a trio of three-star recruits.)

Zenger also was prohibited from pursuing Justin Fuente because then-chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was not going to approve any coach who had a buyout on his contract. Then at Memphis, Fuente had a $500,000 buyout. It’s $15 million at his current school, Virginia Tech.

Anyway, back to Zenger’s flirtation with making Kansas a run-first, triple-option football program.

Kansas is the last place among 10 Big 12 schools that a quarterback suited for a spread offense wants to attend, because it’s been so long since the Jayhawks have had an offensive line that makes QB a safe position to play. Why is that? Because it’s the last place that offensive linemen want to play.

So Kansas ends up recruiting bodies with big frames and quick feet and tries to develop them into gritty football players. The proven blockers already have been scooped up by the time Kansas pores over the leftovers.

The beauty of recruiting for a run-first, triple-option quarterback is that KU could recruit proven tough guys for the offensive line and not worry whether their bodies look like the rest of the blockers in the Big 12. They could take smaller O-linemen and put an emphasis on toughness and quickness, traits that can compensate for lack of the wingspan needed to pass-protect. Pass-happy Big 12 coaches wouldn’t be interested in those prospects and KU would compete against military academies for offensive linemen. They can win more of those recruiting battles.

It’s not a strategy for building a Big 12 champion, but if executed properly, it would give KU a better shot at reaching the six victories needed to become bowl eligible.

It would take guts to make such a radical move because of all of the criticism that would come from so many corners.

Zenger came close to pulling the triple option, but he found Beaty’s potential to recruit Texas prospects too enticing to pass up. KU signed 13 Texas preps in Beaty’s first year on the job, then eight, then three last season and just one this week.

The Air Raid offense hasn’t worked in large part because of poor blocking. If it doesn’t work next year and Kansas is in the market for a new head coach, finding a coach who has had success using the triple-option to upgrade a losing program is a path worth exploring.


Jeff Coffman 10 months ago

So Zenger basically picked two head coaches that have performed worse than any of the other options that were hired at other universities. All of the choices were serious contenders 3 and 6 years ago. Girod signed off on extending Zenger and Beaty after consistently not meeting their own standards.

Three simple questions:

1) Do we think Beaty will coach after 2018? He needs six wins to meet his 2017 goal.

2) Do we want Zenger picking our next head coach, if Beaty does not meet his goal again?

3) Do we want Girod hiring our next Athletic Director, when he signed off on extensions of both of the above?

Kevin Robert Fest 10 months ago

I got depressed just reading this article. Some good coaches who are doing some good things for their programs. Could they have done the same for Kansas? We will never know. But we know what a mess we are in now. Smh what a waste of 3 years.

Andy Godwin 10 months ago

Get your facts straight, Chancellor Gray-Little was in charge when both Beaty’s and Zenger’s contracts were extended. Girod, a military man, inherited those agreements and is taking a careful approach (including financially) to assessing when and if changes will be made. A chancellor’s job is not only to address the football program, he actually oversee the entire university. As stated before, if you want to influence Dr. Girod’s future decisions then bring the money needed to buy out those contracts and provide funds needed to hire their replacements. Fans forget that the chancellor is not going to continue to throw good money away after bad, unless someone presents him with 10’s of million to pay off Beaty and hire an experienced coach willing to put his career in jeopardy by taking over a down trodden program.

Jeff Coffman 10 months ago

I was under the belief that BGL had connected with Girod prior to the extension. Although she signed the documents, my understanding was that Girod was supportive of the move.

He also has retained both of them.

Gavin Fritton 10 months ago

I object to the notion that Zenger was thinking "outside the box" when he hired his "second" coach. Charlie Weis was so far outside the box that he blew it up. Not that he would have fit in it anyway.

Dirk Medema 10 months ago

Thank you for presenting the info and more about salaries, buyouts and the other info that obviously influenced the coaching selection. Not that those with their minds already made up will read and retain any of that info.

Suzi Marshall 10 months ago

Tom, I love reading your stuff but can you please layoff the football columns till at least the spring game. It’s hard enough to deal with the football team in season as it is. Let the fan base forget about football for a few peaceful months so we can enjoy the basketball season.

Brett McCabe 10 months ago

Sizing, I‎t was national signing day this week. Football is still relevant to some.

John Joseph Gorski 10 months ago

Wait wait wait, so Bernadette Gray-Little was not going to approve any coach who had a buyout on his contract, even though the coach was a proven winner, but she would approve a raise and extension to a coach who will get fired as the worst HC in the history of D1 football. This is why the team is such a s***hole. Letting people who know NOTHING about sports make the decisions. So happy she's gone.

Randy Bombardier 10 months ago

I've been saying this for some time. Hence, why i really like Navy. Army and Navy both have that style of play. It would work. It would get us out of the basement and get us 6 wins per year on average. Hope thats our next move.

Chuck Wagstaff 10 months ago

Given his previous decisions, why would we want Zenger deciding what offense we would run? Sounds like another move that could cost the program for years down the road.

Layne Pierce 10 months ago

Its not the players you get, its what you get out of the players.

Rock Chalk

Bryan Mohr 9 months, 4 weeks ago

I'm not against an option system, but I don't view the problem as one of a particular style. Mangino was somewhat successful at KU with a spread offense. Bill Snyder has been fairly successful. The problem is 100% about hiring the right head coach (or the wrong one) and the high-ups in administration are unwilling to admit it (because it would be a self indictment). Instead we hear excuse after excuse (not enough talent, need better facilities, it was the last guy's fault, need more time, BGL wouldn't let me hire just anybody). Here's a quote from Bill Snyder, "We didn't get here by having the flashiest facilities or fanciest uniforms... We didn't get better by recruiting the best players -- only the right ones. We specialize in getting the most out of young men who many thought were too small, too slow, or had made a mistake in the past that cost them dearly". KU needs a Bill Snyder trained disciple. Why Zenger - of all people - can't figure that out or make it happen is beyond me (he worked for Snyder for a long time).

Bryan Mohr 9 months, 4 weeks ago

I looked up Ohio's recruiting class rankings for the past 5 years. Every year KU had a higher ranked recruiting class. Solich and his Ohio team beat us easily. Why? Solich is a better head coach. No other reason. Not facilities. Not recruiting. Not uniforms. Not number of fans in the stadium. Not a coach that is young and popular with the players. Not program revenue. Keegan makes a good point about strategies to be successful against Big12 competition, BUT KU CAN'T BEAT MAC TEAMS!!! ZENGER! GIROD! RICH ALUMNI! WAKE UP!!! IT IS A COACHING PROBLEM!

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