First impression says new KU OC Mike DeBord can do the job; but will he be allowed to?
New Kansas offensive coordinator Mike DeBord recognizes the image projected by a little gray hair, a mostly bald head and a birthday in the 1950s.
But he’s pretty comfortable addressing it.
Speaking Wednesday on a Zoom call to introduce him as Les Miles’ newest hire, DeBord was asked whether his recent stop at Indiana (2017-18), another basketball school with winning football aspirations, had prepared him for the job he has now.
DeBord said he doesn’t view schools in terms of them being known for one sport or another. Rather, he looks at them through the lens of what they are today and what he can help them become.
He spoke of KU’s basketball tradition and how it can aid the football program’s rebuilding efforts. And he name dropped legendary Kansas basketball coach Phog Allen and James Naismith’s historic peach baskets.
“I wasn’t around for that, by the way,” DeBord joked. “But I know of it.”
First impressions are a lot like judging a book by its cover; they’re not always accurate and should be met with caution.
But the one DeBord made on Wednesday was much different than what Kansas fans might have expected from looking at an image of him in the newspaper or on the Internet.
Energized, excited and undeniably eager for his next challenge, the veteran college football assistant demonstrated with clarity that he knows how to command a room. Or is it a Zoom?
DeBord’s success at Kansas will be dependent on players, performance and progress, but one of the biggest factors will be how much control Miles allows him to have.
Based on DeBord’s introduction, there’s every reason to believe that Miles is ready and willing to let his new OC run things the way he sees fit.
But even if the third-year Kansas coach is not inclined to let go of the offense entirely, it sounds like the two coaches already are enough on the same page and have enough respect for one another to make that type of interaction matter less than it has in years past.
“We talked every day and we talked at great length,” said DeBord of the conversations he and Miles had during the recent hiring process. “I had a lot of questions. He had a lot of questions. … And we were in agreement on everything. It meant a lot for him to want me.”
It’s easy for coaches to agree on the things they want an offense to accomplish in February. DeBord listed a few of them on Wednesday. Move the chains. Score a lot of points. Win time of possession. Take care of the football.
Obvious stuff there.
But it’s the way you get that done that matters. And DeBord has a plan for that, too.
He wants to install a “player friendly” system that is easy to learn and even easier to execute.
“If a kid knows what he’s going to do, he’s going to play fast,” DeBord said. “And we want to play fast.”
Miles and DeBord will collaborate. Others from the offensive coaching staff will have input, too. And Miles no doubt still will have some say in the way the Kansas offense runs.
But DeBord on Wednesday shared a key part of the framework for what that offense will look like and how it will be built.
“We’re going to put our best personnel out there to win football games,” he said. “Whatever that is.”
None of what DeBord said on Wednesday — or even how he said it — will win Kansas a football game or gain the Jayhawks a first down.
The hard work is just beginning in that area. And, like so many coaches who have come before him, on both sides of the ball, DeBord today only has a fraction of an understanding of how difficult this job truly is, even if he thinks he gets it.
The good news for Kansas fans is that DeBord has a plan and has been around some impressive programs and called games at the highest level of the sport. Put differently, he's a veteran with legit experience and a proven track record.
The better news is that his plan does not appear to be based solely on anything from his past, be it last year, three years before that or three decades earlier.
DeBord’s philosophy for building an offense is rooted in adaptation and open to fitting his offense to the personnel, not the personnel to the offense.
Despite his advanced age (he’ll turn 65 on Sunday) and the fact that his first college coaching gig came in the early days of the Reagan Administration, DeBord appears to be a coach who has grown with the game during all of his stops and years in the business.
“If you don’t change, you’re going to be left behind,” DeBord said Wednesday.
Miles believes he has brought the right man to town to help change the Kansas offense into something competitive. He said Wednesday that DeBord’s addition would make the KU program “much, much stronger.”
Heck, even Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid — the gold standard of football coaching these days — provided KU with a glowing review of the new coordinator’s ability, saying DeBord has constructed “one dominant offense after another” everywhere he has been.
Whether he can keep that streak alive at Kansas remains to be seen. And it figures to be his toughest challenge yet.