Thomas MacVittie was only two-thirds of the way through spring football when he plopped down in one of Mrkonic Auditorium’s numerous seats inside Anderson Family Football Complex.
The University of Kansas quarterback and his teammates had just wrapped up their 10th practice and MacVittie had yet to take off the wristband he uses not to wipe sweat away from his forehead, but as a convenient reminder of the offense’s available play calls.
“These are pretty long,” MacVittie told the Journal-World at the time, glancing down at two laminated notecard-sized lists attached to his wristband, with the name of a different play call printed out on each line.
Although the Jayhawks kept much of the offensive details for Year 1 of the Les Miles era under wraps during media sessions this spring, MacVittie was glad to at least shed some light on the process of learning it all.
KU quarterbacks, MacVittie explained, often reference their wristbands when they’re lined up under center. But the usefulness of the uniform accessory isn’t limited to that situation. The wristbands are most useful for what MacVittie, a junior who joined the program this year as a transfer, described as “the long plays.”
In some situations, the KU offense has two possible plays to run when they line up and the one they choose before the snap depends on what they see from the defense in front of them.
“And we’ve got to check to the right play,” MacVittie explained. “That is what the wristband is for. Those are pretty long.”
How many plays were on there at the moment, with 10 of KU’s 15 spring practices completed?
MacVittie flipped the top flap of plays out of the way and eyed the second card beneath it.
“Umm. Let’s see. We’ve got 34,” the QB replied. “Adding to it every day.”
Throughout the spring, KU’s offensive coaches installed new plays for every practice. And for the Jayhawks who relay those calls to the rest of their teammates before every single snap, that meant huddling up in the QBs room before each of those practices to learn the details.
“This is what we’re gonna go do on the field in an hour,” MacVittie related of offensive coordinator and QBs coach Les Koenning’s typical message during those pre-practice meetings.
“It makes you learn fast, adapt fast and really kind of play on your feet,” MacVittie said of why he appreciated the process. “You can’t be back there thinking. You’ve just kind of got to do. And that comes with preparation, as well.”
Of course, MacVittie took other necessary steps to familiarize himself with the offense, through reviewing practice footage and other measures.
“Every day I come in,” the 6-foot-5, 215-pound QB shared of his spring football study routine. “I think I’m at the facility for probably five hours outside of needing to be. Asking coach to quiz me. Pulling up the film from practice. Kind of getting an edge on any new plays coming in.”
According to MacVittie, quizzes proved to be a valuable factor in his progress. What felt like almost every day throughout the spring, he said, Koenning provided the quarterbacks with brief tests of their playbook knowledge, with the help of senior offensive consultant Brent Dearmon.
Every KU quarterback would be handed a sheet of paper with specific play calls listed. The QBs then had to show off their X’s and O’s abilities by drawing up the plays correctly.
A former reserve QB at Pittsburgh and a starter in 2018 at Mesa Community College (Ariz.), the potential KU starter for Miles’ first season with the Jayhawks, MacVittie said he took pride in doing well on the quizzes, preparing for them by studying the playbook every night.
“They’re random,” MacVittie said of the plays that would show up at test time. “They could be from Day 1, they could be from Day 6. So you’ve really got to know it all.”
By the time the Jayhawks finished up spring football, Miles said they had gone through “at minimum” 50 percent of the offensive playbook. Obviously much more will be installed during preseason camp in August.
Just as he did throughout March and April, MacVittie expects to memorize it all, and prove his knowledge on quizzes and the practice fields. The expectation, he said, is to master the assignments for all 11 offensive players on every play call.
“The reads, the steps, what everybody’s doing,” he said, “to a ’T.’”
After two years as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Auburn, a historically successful SEC football program that routinely plays in the postseason, Chip Lindsey arrived Tuesday at Kansas, where the Jayhawks haven’t been to a bowl game since 2008 and have won three or fewer games each of the past nine seasons.
So how did Les Miles sell Lindsey on the idea of coming to KU?
A Journal-World request to interview Lindsey has not yet been granted, but the team’s newly hired offensive coordinator answered that question and more during a one-on-one interview with KU director of broadcasting and play-by-play voice of the Jayhawks Brian Hanni.
During conversations with his new boss, Lindsey shared, he learned why Miles is a “great recruiter,” as KU’s head coach laid out his vision for the program, one that involves the Jayhawks competing for “championships” in the future.
“I think he’s the guy to take us to the next level,” Lindsey said, “and just the opportunity to work with him hand in hand, I think, was too attractive and really made it an easy decision for me.”
Of course, now that Lindsey, the former offensive coordinator at Auburn, Arizona State and Southern Miss, is at KU, he will play a significant role in how the Jayhawks’ fare under Miles.
While Lindsey didn’t paint a vivid picture of what his offense will look like in 2019, the first coordinator to sign on with Miles plans to build the Jayhawks’ attack around their playmakers. He said, in the spring, he will get a better sense of who those players are and what they’re capable of bringing to the field.
“We want to create an exciting brand of football,” Lindsey said, “exciting brand of offense, try to create explosive plays and make us an offense that’s fun and exciting to watch — one that recruits want to come play for — and really put our identity in this league and on this university.”
Although at this point Lindsey said he only has watched “a little” footage from the Jayhawks’ 3-9 2018 season, he obviously signed on knowing what kind of weapon KU has in running back Pooka Williams, who rushed for 1,125 yards and seven touchdowns in his freshman season.
“I know about Pooka for sure,” Lindsey said of the All-Big 12 back from Louisiana. “Everybody in the country seems to know about him.”
In the days, weeks and months ahead, KU’s OC plans to get acquainted with the rest of the roster and identify the four or five best playmakers so that he can design creative ways to get them the ball.
At this point it is hard to predict who will be KU’s starting quarterback in 2019. Carter Stanley and Miles Kendrick both have eligibility remaining, while 2018 starter Peyton Bender’s college football career is over.
Given that Lindsey coached current San Francisco 49ers starting QB Nick Mullens at both Spain Park High (Ala.) and Southern Miss, Hanni asked KU’s newest assistant how he would go about getting a “great” QB to Kansas.
“Obviously. quarterbacks are special people, because they’re going to get too much credit, they’re going to get too much blame,” Lindsey began. “They’ve got to be guys that are tough-minded, and those guys that I’ve had in the past, that’s what those guys are. They’re very tough mentally. I think we’re going to create a product here that I think quarterbacks will want to come play in our system, a quarterback-friendly system that I think will be an exciting brand of football to watch. We’re looking forward to finding guys that want to be here at Kansas and do something special.”
On the same day Lindsey said those words, during his first day on the job no less, he extended a scholarship offer to dual-threat QB Robby Ashford, a four-star prospect in the Class of 2020 from Hoover, Ala. — where Lindsey was the head coach in 2007.
The past two years at Auburn, Lindsey coached Jarrett Stidham, who was a four-star dual-threat QB in his high school days. Lindsey said he likely will be on the lookout for mobile quarterbacks he can recruit to KU.
“I think, the way the game’s played today, the defenses are so good, so talented, you’ve got to have a guy that can escape, you know, and make plays in and out of the pocket. I think that’s important,” Lindsey said. “But the number one thing for me is, we want guys that are tough, that are smart, that are intelligent, accurate throwers and, obviously, be able to bring something with their feet, as well.”