Yet another disappointing season for Kansas football. It came and went like clockwork as few had realistic hopes of anything better.
True, Turner Gill took us to new lows in 2011, but the fall pattern of Kansas sports is well documented and is not unfamiliar to anyone. Football's frustrations invariably give way to basketball's triumphs and most fans realistically--if not even willingly--accept the fact that we have been relegated to single-sport status. This is the way of it at Kansas. Always has been. So after a season which garnered national attention for embarrassing losses, the overwhelming evidence along with a cursory examination of history should suggest optimism for the future of Kansas football is patently absurd.
Only it doesn't.
Memo to Toto: "we are DEFINITELY not in Kansas anymore", at least not the Kansas you are used to. The change has been so slow as to be almost imperceptible, but the fact is that the culture surrounding football is changing among the athletic department and the fans themselves. But think back ten years ago. Fifteen, if you can remember that far. Twenty? Thirty? Kansas has never witnessed a four-year period where the interest generated in football was greater than the last four. In that time Kansas had both its best season--with an Orange Bowl victory in 2008--and its worst (last season), as well as firing two coaches and currently hiring its second. The emotional swings as well as the process of conference realignment, which places a premium on schools' football programs, leads to a change in the way fans even at a basketball school perceive football. So don't lose the forest for the trees. Zoom out and allow yourself to be appropriately shocked that fans GENUINELY care and are armed to the teeth with opinions about the direction of the program. Consider that Kansas...yes, "Kansas"...fired it's head coach after only two years, declaring loudly to all that we are fed up with being bottom feeders. These facts in and of themselves roll very naturally into a changing culture of football in Lawrence, and you can bet that the the urgency and importance of hiring a capable coach in the face of such realities is not lost on Sheahon Zenger.
But let me take this a step further. I will put myself out on a limb to say the Jayhawks stand at the precipice of becoming a two-sport school and, ironically, Turner Gill will later be thanked for it (considering how the dismal performances under his watch have driven up passion which will lead to major improvements, beginning with a coaching search that will be much more responsible than last time). For his part, Gill, never an X's and O's coach himself, certainly didn't draw up "improvement" this way on paper, but we'll take it. There is little question but that high expectations for the future of football has stubbornly remained even throughout Gill's troublesome two-year stint. This fact can be credited to the importance of the Orange Bowl win four years ago. Fans and boosters got a taste of a carrot called success and had it rudely yanked away. Simply put, it's clear to see they want it back. Thankfully, our athletic director is a football man and he will make decisions during his tenure that bolster the program at every turn. I'd bet my money that he wants desperately to shed the label of a "basketball-only school".
A football AD, a new coach, surging fan and booster interest, great facilities and the emphasis on football across the college landscape may create the perfect storm to build a no-name football program into one with a few things to brag about, thus giving Kansas fans a stake in college athletics all year 'round. Count on it. It's coming.