Friday, November 9, 2018


Matt Tait: Best advice for KU AD Jeff Long: Go with your guy

Kansas athletic director Jeff Long looks up into the stands late in the fourth quarter of the Jayhawks' 27-3 loss to Iowa State, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas athletic director Jeff Long looks up into the stands late in the fourth quarter of the Jayhawks' 27-3 loss to Iowa State, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018 at Memorial Stadium.


I ran into Kansas Athletic Director Jeff Long on Tuesday night in Indianapolis, and while chatting with him before KU’s basketball victory over Michigan State we talked a little football, too.

Specifically, Long asked — joking I’m sure — if I had any tips for him as he began the process of leading KU’s hire of yet another football coach. I laughed off the inquiry in the moment but have been thinking about it ever since.

I might not be well versed in actually conducting coaching searches. But I’ve done my share of covering them.

And if I’ve learned anything in my coverage of the process — as well as from watching what unfolded after each hire was made — it’s that there’s nothing worse than watching the ship go down with someone other than your guy.

Former Kansas Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger had guys. And he didn’t hire any of them. Partly because he wanted to try harder. Partly because he wasn’t always given the support to do so. And partly because the timing just didn’t seem right.

Don’t get me wrong. At the time he announced each of his football hires, Zenger believed that bringing Charlie Weis to town and hiring David Beaty, given the limitations and financial situation, were good moves for Kansas.

But there’s no doubt in my mind that if he had just made the move to acquire on one of the coaches he was closest with, the Kansas football program would be in a much better position than it is today.

Mark Stoops, Justin Fuente and Jeff Monken were three of Zenger’s guys. Jim Leavitt, for whom Zenger worked when the two helped start the South Florida program from the ground up, was another.

Zenger was close with all four, had worked with or considered hiring all of them at various stops in his career and knew what made each coach tick and how each coach operated. That kind of comfort and familiarity is never automatic and always takes time to build. And there’s no telling how much it could have helped Kansas.

Stoops now leads the 12th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats. Fuente is 23-12 overall in his third season at Virginia Tech. Monken, who has been mentioned as a potential candidate for the current KU opening, has Army at 7-2 this season, with a near upset at Oklahoma in his recent past. And Leavitt, who coached linebackers for the San Francisco 49ers for four seasons after being fired at South Florida for improper treatment of players, has worked his way back into hot commodity status thanks to the passing of time and successful stints as the defensive coordinator at Colorado (2015-16) and Oregon (2017-present).

That’s not to say any of the four would be enjoying the same success today if they had come to Kansas. There are challenges and obstacles and factors at KU that aren’t present everywhere else, issues that make the job as hard as any in college football.

And while that fact might scare some away from pursuing the job, it also should serve as inspiration for Long to hire the man he knows best, the coach he wants to go to battle with under such extreme conditions.

If that man is Les Miles, go get him. Whatever it takes.

If there’s someone else out there who Long believes will do better, who he feels he has a better connection with and can be more real with, then call an audible and go get that guy.

Because no matter who Kansas hires and regardless of what his resume or background looks like today, all of it will become irrelevant on Day 1, when the new coach steps into his office at the Anderson Family Football Complex and begins to sort through all that makes rebuilding Kansas football such a monster task.

No matter whose name is on the wall outside of that office door, there will be dark days, scary times and trying moments. And Long will feel them right along with the new coach. Isn’t walking through a Haunted House easier to stomach when you have a friend’s hand to hold onto?


Dale Rogers 2 years, 3 months ago

Really good article and I agree completely.

Jeff Coffman 2 years, 3 months ago

There have been some really good choices in the past and in all three cases we settled for choices that should not have been in the top of any of the hires.

The one thing I believe the coach needs to do is clean house with the assistants. Too many hold overs from prior staffs.

Bryan Mohr 2 years, 3 months ago

Odds of success are greater with someone from the Snyder or Stoops coaching tree. This article supports that. Zenger worked under Snyder. I still don't understand how he failed to hire a Snyder guy. I guess Beaty was sort of connected through Mangino, but was never an OC or DC at the P5 level. Good luck.

Brett McCabe 2 years, 3 months ago

Well said. It’s going to be a struggle, make sure you’ve got the guy you want to compete alongside every day.

Kevin Robert Fest 2 years, 3 months ago

The KU administration has to get it right this time. They cant afford to go through another 3 or 4 average or horrible seasons. They have to be competitive soon. What does the Mtn West get for TV money or the AAC? That's what KUFB could be looking at when realignment comes around. Basketball can't sustain all the other sports at KU, so football has to be competitive soon or lose other sports due to lack of funding. Then lose student athletes to KU because those sports are gone. This is one big trickle down effect. Get it right no more going cheap or stupid coach hires. Not everyone will agree with the hire regardless of who is chosen, but hopefully a lot of thought by Long and others make for a solid choice.

Michael Maris 2 years, 3 months ago

"Former Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger had guys. And he didn’t hire any of them. Partly because he wanted to try harder. Partly because he wasn’t always given the support to do so. And partly because the timing just didn’t seem right."

So, in this paragraph, the portion (of the sentence) about "the timing just didn't seem right", I guess that would reference Dave Doeren potential hiring? Which lead to Zenger trying to overthink his initial hiring of a new Football HC (and that lead to the hiring of Charlie Weis).

The part about not being given the support to hire the guy he wanted to hire, goes back to what I've said numerous times. If the Powers that be, are not giving the AD the ability to hire the personnel (that the AD wants to hire), then they (the powers that be) have been the main culprit of the multiple terrible football seasons that the entire Jayhawk fan base has been enduring since the 2009 season. And, that needs to STOP. They've been micro-managing the football program for FAR to LONG.

Matt Tait 2 years, 3 months ago

The timing, if I recall correctly, was mostly an issue with Leavitt. It was just too close to him being fired from South Florida for Zenger to even consider him. But had things been different, there's no doubt in my mind that Leavitt would have been Zenger's first — and possibly only — call when he hired Weis.

Chris Bailey 2 years, 3 months ago

I don't understand this at all. I mean what did they pay Weis? That was a TERRIBLE hire and apparently he had support for it. Then after that went south he hires Beaty an unproven position coach who has never proven he can even lead as an OC or DC. He rode the coattails of other coaches which is really how he was able to land this job. How Zenger interviewed anyone else and chose Beaty is beyond me. How he went with him and passed on DD a second time is inexcusable and one of the many reasons he is no longer employed by the university. I'm sorry but I just don't buy this as being an excuse for Zenger. This debacle is ALL on him. Now Long is tasked with the job of making the right choice and having one shot only. It's safe to say that Michael is right and just another reason why no one wants to support a losing team nor donate millions to a the stadium project. We had better hope for the sake of the university that KU makes the right hire this time because if we don't we're gonna be without a partner in the next round of conference realignment.

Matt Tait 2 years, 3 months ago

I think you read too much into this one... Wasn't making an excuse for Zenger at all. Was merely pointing out that his decision to go against his gut cost him — and the program — dearly.

Chris Bailey 2 years, 3 months ago

Yeah after I thought about it, and read others comments, I figured that out. You can only edit your comment for a few minutes and it was too late to retract it by then. Anyway,I know we will all be extremely happy to see a new coach and the program go in a new direction. Thanks for the reply.

David Robinett 2 years, 3 months ago

As much as I’d like to see a young guy who could be here 20 years, perhaps competence is the main thing. So if we can keep the Louisiana pipe line running with Les Miles, and retaining Tony Hull, a good five or seven years out a Les Miles might be just what the doctor ordered.

Randy Bombardier 2 years, 3 months ago

Excellent take. I agree 100%. We all have our opinions but I would gladly defer to THIS AD's judgement. We now have the right chancellor and the right AD. I have high confidence that it will be done correctly. No excuses needed. In the past I believe there was more lip service to how important this is. I do not see that now.

I expect the hire to excite the fan base and the boosters to the point of rapidly improving attendance and mind blowing succes for the facility fund drive.

Gary Amble 2 years, 3 months ago

Beautiful campus. Close proximity to one of the countries most vibrant cities for your people. A passionate fan base and ( one day ) a new stadium. Once this program gets off the ground there's no reason why KU can't contend for titles every year --- Glass Half Full

Brian Wilson 2 years, 3 months ago

Exactly right Gary. We have pretty good weather here too! It doesn't get too cold too often. I hope you are correct on the "New" stadium. From what I understand they just want to substantially refurb the old. I hope they tear it down and put up a nice tight and cozy stadium where the fans are on top of the action. Having the space left behind by the track and the way the stands angle back is not very conducive to a rock and roll event especially when the Kansas winds blow.

BTW, tell Lori hello from my wife Linda - her LNB buddy.

Jim Stauffer 2 years, 3 months ago

Thanks Gary. Good to see you at the games as well. Appreciate your support. And you have succinctly stated the obvious. All we need is some professional efficiency and as others have said, this AD and Chancellor appear to be poised to make that happen.

David A. Smith 2 years, 3 months ago

Matt Tait writing football articles again. Maybe I'll come back this way....

Andy Godwin 2 years, 3 months ago

Nice assessment, Matt. I think this might be the first article article that alluded to “...the limitations and financial situation...” multiple times. The coaching candidate pool was not very big when Beaty was hired given the the resources available (I believe Beaty’s initial base salary was $800,000 which I believe would have placed him in the basement of power 5 coaches) and the trend of firing coaches 2 years into their contract. It is likely Long will be given a much bigger checkbook which means he needs to chose wisely.

W Keith Swinehart II 2 years, 3 months ago

Wonderful assessment. Go with your gut, director Long. You won't know until you find out.

Fred Davis 2 years, 3 months ago

I've run the gamut of emotions on this potential hire because for as staunchly as I was against Les Miles as soon as I heard his name - I wavered because people kept saying -- "it's Kansas football, what else do you expect" - and you need Les Miles, what else are you going to get?

And therein lies the problem. "It's Kansas football, what else are you going to get."

As others have said on these comment boards and several other articles have been written - Les Miles has been turned down for at least 3-5 other jobs in the last two years - and none of them involved the kind of work - short of Baylor - that it's going to take at Kansas. And at each other place he was turned down, they went with someone younger - much younger.

But for some reason, 65 is just the right age to turn around the worst program in Division I football. The guy who couldn't adapt offensively - despite being an offensive guy - with an arsenal of the best athletes in college football. Even SEC schools turned him down - see Ole Miss.

Matt, when Jeff Long asked you for tips - you should've looked him square in the eye and said -- Yeah Jeff - I do --

  1. No Les Miles
  2. Someone YOUNG and HUNGRY
  3. Someone well respected behind the scenes
  5. Think Sean McVey - but a college version.

Les Miles isn't going to turn KU around. Period.

Dane Pratt 2 years, 3 months ago

There are challenges and obstacles and factors at KU that aren’t present everywhere else, issues that make the job as hard as any in college football.

Would like to read an article on this topic alone.

Dane Pratt 2 years, 3 months ago

From my lips to your ears. Thanks Matt, I owe you.

Bryan Mohr 2 years, 3 months ago

In reply to Dane, yes, you're right. However, is it any more difficult at KU now than it was for Mangino? Or Snyder at KSU? Is it more difficult at KU than for a MAC or Sunbelt coach? Why can teams like Toledo, Appl St, or Troy be so competitive with P5 schools given equal or lesser resources? Unsuccessful KU coaches and administration have used resources as an excuse. The only valid excuse for Zenger or Perkins is if BGL or a powerful donor refused to let them hire who they wanted. KU has more resources than many smaller FBS teams but has hired the wrong coaches since Mangino. I guarantee KU will be much improved if Mike Stoops, Leavitt, Doeren, Venables, Candle, Monken, Fritz, or Littrell is hired. Weis wasn't very successful given the resources of ND. It's mostly about finding a great college coach. Resources are secondary.

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