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Sunday, August 8, 2021

Why OC Andy Kotelnicki views KU football offense as 6-headed dragon

Offensive Coordinator Andy Kotelnicki coach talks with media members on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 at the Anderson Family Football Complex.

Offensive Coordinator Andy Kotelnicki coach talks with media members on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 at the Anderson Family Football Complex.

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New Kansas football offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki made sure during his first preseason press conference to keep an air of mystery surrounding the specifics of what the Jayhawks have been up to at camp so far.

But the longtime Lance Leipold assistant didn’t mind speaking more broadly about some of his philosophies, which included an explanation of why he calls the offense a “six-headed dragon.”

“You have your core plays, which we won’t open up the whole playbook here for you, for the opponents, but you say, ‘Here are the six things that we’re going to master,’” Kotelnicki explained on Sunday, following KU’s fourth practice.

“We’re going to be able to do (these six things) on any personnel grouping, any formation, any kind of motion, any kind of tempo,” he added. “We’re going to do these six things and we’re just going to keep doing them over and over and over again.”

Because Kotelnicki and the rest of the staff members who followed Leipold from Buffalo weren’t hired until after the Jayhawks completed their spring practice schedule, the six heads on the dragon have to be more basic in the opening days of camp than the former UB and Wisconsin-Whitewater O.C. is used to.

Accordingly, the goal this August isn’t to introduce the players to every single play Kotelnicki has under his visor.

“I think this happens every camp or every year when you talk about what you have to install,” he said. “One of the hardest things to do, especially from a coordinator standpoint, is to hypothesize and project what you’re going to need Week 1, what you’re going to need Week 5, what you’re going to need Week 10 and so on.”

Instead of trying to predict the future, Kotelnicki said he and KU’s offensive assistant coaches want to make sure the plays being taught during camp are executable for the team’s players and their strengths.

Thorough repetitions right now with the offense’s core set of plays, he added, should allow the Jayhawks to be flexible schematically going forward, as certain packages grow this season, based on the personnel.

“Here’s the base offense,” Kotelnicki said of what he had presented to the players through four practices. “We know we need that. We know this is going to be good against all of these defensive schemes, it’s going to cover all the bases. Let’s get good at it.”

For the players, Kotelnicki knows all of this repetition and consistency may feel like “the enemy,” but he reminded them on Saturday that it is actually exactly what they need at this stage.

Immediately following the team’s fourth practice on Sunday, junior tight end Mason Fairchild said the offensive players understand the importance of the installation process.

“Coach K likes to talk about stacking Legos,” Fairchild said of the approach. “I think it’s been great so far. Obviously a couple days in we haven’t gotten to see what (the finished product) really looks like. But just from what I’ve seen the past couple days it’s been really good. Just learning all of that, getting all the little clicks down.”

For Kotelnicki, determining which play calls need to be introduced now and which can wait is part of his big picture approach, too.

Heading into his 16th season as an offensive coordinator, Kotelnicki said he asks himself the same types of questions each year at about this time.

“Do we really need this now? Or is this something we can wait ’til maybe the bye week to install or after Week 2 to install?”

Through the years, he said he’s learned how to best whittle the playbook down and identify the exact plays that he thinks his team will need in order to win, regardless of the opponent on a given week.

Part of the preparation this summer for Kotelnicki and other members of the KU staff included looking at Big 12 defenses and studying what the Jayhawks are likely to see from a schematic standpoint.

“But what it really comes down to is it’s really not going to be the scheme,” he added. “It’s going to be how we do those things. And that’s what we’re doing out there on the field (at practices).”

With the Jayhawks also learning for the first time this past week what it’s like to practice in a program led by Leipold, Kotelnicki said the players aren’t only learning the playbook, but also about the strain, effort and physicality this coaching staff wants to see from them.

“But it’s been going good,” he said. They’re understanding, they’re picking up the offense really well. There’s not mental errors going on out there right now, which is pleasing to me.”

Kotelnicki also has been happy to see players progressing at many positions through the first few practices of the preseason. Asked if his video reviews of the sessions left him pleasantly surprised by any player or position group, the O.C. paused before explaining why he didn’t want to single anyone out.

“Every group is growing and improving. I think that’s probably what I’m most excited about. From one practice to the next there’s growth. They’re taking the coaching and then they’re stacking them together as we say — stacking good practices and technique together. I don’t want to name any names,” he said, “because I think they’re all evolving and growing.”

2 potential starters still out

Two key players on the KU roster missed their fourth day of practice in a row on Sunday morning, when junior running back Velton Gardner and sophomore defensive end Steven Parker once again appeared on the team’s unavailable list.

Gardner and Parker have been the only players to miss all four practices of the team’s preseason camp to date. Leipold, who hasn’t spoken with reporters since the end of the first practice on Thursday, didn’t have an update on their status at the time.

The only other player who didn’t suit up for Sunday’s practice was redshirt freshman linebacker Alonso Person, who also missed the first practice, but was back in uniform for two days before reappearing on the unavailable list.

Comments

Dirk Medema 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Interesting that they’re practicing on Sunday morning.

Also interesting that the topic in the title (6-headed dragon) was never actually explained or really even discuss.

Rodney Crain 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Flipping Game of Thrones, it's not enough that the last few seasons sucked (both the TV series and our team). Dragons are now part of Football? When does it Stop??? The bar is low, you have a lot of rope this season, expectations - none. No need to blow Dragon smoke up our, wait, just coach'em up Kotelnicki. We are with you every step of the way!

Barry Weiss 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I'm sorry, we need to see some results before we call anything we do a six headed dragon.

Joe Ross 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I came to the comments to post this very thing. Turns out my thoughts are just an echo.

(Just an echo...)

(Just an echo...)

Dale Rogers 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Is there no optimism in any commenters on this site? So much pessimism. Yes, I know the past lends to pessimism. But good thing the coaches and players don't share that pessimism. Such negativity would just drag them all down. Sheesh.

Rodney Crain 3 months, 4 weeks ago

"stacking Legos", a toy for 4 and up? I think the coaches are saying anything they can think of that does not sound like the cuboard is empty.

Dale Rogers 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Or perhaps these are catch phrases they have used before to help players understand and to buy in to the concept of learning a little and practicing that until you have it down, then learning the next building block and so on until you have a finished product. Somewhat similar to the concept of synergy.

Rodney Crain 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Dale I could accept, starting from scratch, building blocks, starting over, creating a foundation, implementing a better way, begining to end... any adult cliche. These are young men, not a grade school team.

The most important persuasion tool you have in your entire arsenal is integrity - Zig Ziglar

Charlie Gaughn 3 months, 3 weeks ago

I'm optimistic that we'll show some competitiveness this season. I'm also concerned about the 4 game red shirt rule. How many players will elect to transfer after game 4 and use their red shirt year? Hopefully we've seen all of that we're going to but if that happens it would be devastating to the program.

Bryan Mohr 3 months, 4 weeks ago

6-headed dragon was explained. They are going to master 6 things and be able to execute from any formation they run. Good. That's what KU football needs. Do something - do anything - with excellence.

Dirk Medema 3 months, 4 weeks ago

“Anything or 6 anythings.” That’s explained? That’s a really low bar.

Dale Rogers 3 months, 4 weeks ago

He also said he's not giving the media the playbook. These guys know what they are doing. We'll see those six anythings when it is game time.

Benny Armstrong 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Considering when the coaching change took place and the fact that this staff didn't exist in the spring, coupled with the NCAA restrictions/limitations in the summer and I think that this seems like a really good approach. Further to this point, the idea of focusing on only a handful of concepts and attempting to master them makes a lot of sense in the college game where you have restrictions on practice time and coaching interactions. It becomes an issue of maximizing the scarce resource that is time and using it to your advantage.

I realize that if you have a complex playbook that it distracts your opponent and forces them to spend part of practice on something that may or may not even be called and in theory gives you an advantage. But the flip side to this that you have to consider is how long it takes for the offense to learn each play and master it to the point that it can confidently be called/run in a game situation. If you hypothetically have 100 plays installed in the offense, but you only call 25 of them with any frequency, wouldn't you be better served to only have 25-30 plays and practice those so that they are near perfect versus spending time on learning 100 plays, a majority of which will never be used? Obviously this doesn't limit week to week wrinkles that may be added depending on the opponent, but that should be much simpler when you have the basics of the play perfected.

Dale Rogers 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Very well stated. As for the week to week wrinkles, Kotelnicki said they are studying all the opponents for the upcoming season and deciding what they need to install and when. These guys are on top of it. I believe they will get the best out of this team that is possible given the short time and current talent. I'm far more optimistic with this coaching staff and current players than I have been in the past. I have been optimistic before past seasons but now I am also enthusiastic that we have the right pieces in place to get this turnaround started. Started, not accomplished. But on a good path to eventually making this team successful.

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