Kansas University football coach Charlie Weis pulled back the curtain on Thursday morning’s practice, allowing members of the media to observe an actual practice for a little more than an hour.
The session began promptly at 6 a.m. and when it wrapped just after 7:15, those in attendance walked away with a better understanding of what Weis’ coaching style is all about.
From the look of things, the first-year head coach who was hired in December did not hold anything back. From honest assessments of individual players’ efforts to an extremely organized practice schedule and eyes that did not miss a single thing in front of him or behind him, Weis ran his team through an hour-long session that started earlier than normal because of the Kansas Relays.
Here’s a quick blow-by-blow report of how Weis works during KU’s practices:
As a group of half a dozen reporters and photographers hang out by the Memorial Stadium gate waiting for the all clear, Weis approaches on a golf cart. He goes over the logistics of the day’s schedule and takes time to point out the portions that might be most interesting and fun to watch. According to him, that’s the 2-spot drill, in which wide receivers and defensive backs go one-on-one on one end of the field while the linebackers and offensive linemen do a variation on the old “Oklahoma drill” in which the lineman is asked to block the backer long enough for his running back to score. After the quick tips, Weis talks about how he had a sleepless night and kept looking at the clock every hour. He specifically points out that he was wide awake at 2:55 a.m. anticipating the early practice.
Weis: “Go ‘head, Scott.”
The first horn sounds and KU strength coach Scott Holsopple starts screaming. His bark, at this point in time, is tame but plenty loud as he leads the Jayhawks through 12 minutes or warm-up running and stretches.
One member of the media arrives at the southwest gate a little late. Explicit instructions were handed out weeks ago and on them it stated that anyone arriving after 6:00 would not be let in. As one KU media relations staff member decided to allow entry to the tardy party, Weis, from around midfield, throws his arms into the air and then looks down at his watch. The man sees everything.
Three minutes of team warm-ups. It’s a shorter, faster version of the stretching and involves more stuff like sprinting over bags and around cones. As the action unfolds around him, Weis stands right in the thick of it, screaming, “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go,” and “Gooood morning. Wooooooo.”
From the middle of the field, Weis keeps his head on a swivel and takes in all of the position drills. At one point, while watching the linebackers work on dropping into pass coverage, Weis gets on linebackers coach DeMontie Cross for the way he’s throwing the errant passes.
“Is this the bad ball drill,” Weis asks, not expecting an answer. “That’s what it looks like to me.”
Cross’ passes improve.
Another horn marks the beginning of another drill, this one takes a little more time to set up and, although he’s not the one throwing the cones down onto the field, Weis is orchestrating the whole thing.
“The ball’s on the 25 so set the cones up there (points to the 20).”
When a little confusion sets in, a manager attempts to move the cones.
“No, the cones are right. Come on.”
Two minutes later, the drill begins. “We ready to roll,” asks Weis, a hint of displeasure over the wasted minutes leaking through.
During the Oklahoma drill, Weis stands between the two groups and turns his body to watch each side go. Good comedy comes from this, as Weis has plenty of commentary for plenty of players, most of it brutally honest.
“That’s easy to do when you weigh 150 pounds more than him,” Weis tells senior offensive lineman Duane Zlatnik after a pancake block on linebacker Huldon Tharp.
“Come on, Marquis. Run with some power,” he tells wide-receiver-turned running back Marquis Jackson after Jackson’s first turn carrying the ball.
Later, to one of his staff members, he bluntly states, “Do me a favor with the match-ups so we don’t have to have him in there. It’s a waste of breath.”
Finally, after a less-than-impressive effort by an offensive lineman, Weis yells, “You’re probably the best towel-waver in the place. I’ve heard you’re really good at that.”
Most of the rest of what Weis says cannot be printed.
Weis stops the Oklahoma drill to instruct. This takes all of 30 seconds but is critical in his eyes and it’s clear that he would’ve spent 3 minutes or 30 minutes if it were necessary. It wasn’t.
Back into the drill.
Another horn sounds and Weis shifts to special teams drills. The Jayhawks spend the rest of the practice working on special teams. This includes kickoff and punt return, kickoff and punt coverage and field goals.
The field goal kickers had a rough day, missing quite a few. Weis is not pleased. After one miss, the KU coach barks, “You’ve got one job to do. Put it through the uprights. Don’t gimme close.”
Although practice is now in the hands of his assistant coaches — special teams coordinator Clint Bowen is running the drills but nearly every other assistant coach is very hands-on during the process — Weis still controls the show. As he walks slowly toward the action from the far sideline, his booming voice fills the empty stadium that now is partially lit by stadium lights and partially lit by the rising sun.
Punt return. Senior Daymond Patterson lets a punt get past him and hears about it. “I know it’s a knuckle ball, Daymond, but you still gotta get back,” Weis says.
“Good coverage, McCay,” Weis shouts toward sophomore wide receiver Justin McCay, who stops in his tracks and is unsure of whether he should run over to his coach or run off to the other sideline to fall in line. Weis repeats himself, McCay nods and then sprints to the other sideline.
“Let’s Gooooooo,” Weis bellows, clearly agitated by the fact that the next group is not ready in a timely manner.
It’s time for the final drill, a field goal kick with no line and no rush. Kicker Ron Doherty, long snapper Justin Carnes and holder Blake Jablonski are called to the 34-yard line at the north end of the stadium. As Jablonski sets in his spot, Weis stands three feet away. Talk about pressure. It’s a 44-yard field goal with nothing on the line, but it means everything. As Doherty goes into his routine, Weis calls timeout to ice him. Doherty’s teammates laugh hysterically.
A few minutes later, Doherty’s back out there. No timeout this time. Just a kick. And a miss. The KU players were ready to rush their kicker in celebration but the miss sends them back to the sideline. Doherty makes the next one and a mini-celebration ensues. Not good enough, Weis says.
“When you win a football game, there’s supposed to be a celebration that looks like a celebration,” he screams. “And that was a pile of crap. I believe in practicing everything, including winning. That’s what this is all about. This isn’t about you guys jacking around over here, this is about third game of the season, you’re sitting here 2-0, you’re playing TCU, you haven’t won a conference game in eight years and you hit a field goal to win the game. Act that way.”
With Weis’ words fresh in their minds, the team watches Doherty’s next kick with a little extra interest. Doherty makes the kick and a full celebration follows. Doherty is dog piled near the spot where he kicked the ball, water bottles are emptied onto his head and the Jayhawks form a tight circle and jump up and down celebrating the mythical victory.
Next practice: Tuesday.