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.
By the time I started writing this, the Kansas football program had already sent out its weekly email notifying the media about the Monday Zoom call with Les Miles, which, this time, was arranged to preview Saturday’s season finale against Texas.
I would’ve sent a separate email if I were them. And I would’ve needed just four words to do it.
“That’s a wrap, folks.”
At 0-9 overall and 0-8 in Big 12 play heading into the finale of an entirely forgettable season, the Jayhawks have a laundry list of reasons that they could call off Saturday’s game against the Longhorns, which is currently scheduled for 2:30 p.m. in Lawrence.
COVID-19 protocols dictate teams in the Big 12 have a certain number of players at each position to be able to compete, and given the Jayhawks’ recent string of injury issues, opt-outs and trips to the transfer portal, the team has to be right on the line at a couple of positions.
No need to push it. Call it a season.
COVID-19 testing could be another reason to pull the plug. And this one exists as a factor on both sides of the fence.
Texas temporarily paused all football activities on Sunday after announcing that five people within the program — three players and two staff members — tested positive after last weekend’s game.
We haven’t had an update on the number of KU football players out because of a positive COVID-19 test or related contact tracing issues in a while, but it’s been pretty common at programs across the country throughout season and it’s safe to assume that at least some of those KU players who were on the recent did-not-dress list may have been out because of the virus in one way or another.
Who’s going to argue with COVID as a reason to scrap this matchup, which was already postponed once? The first step is already in place with UT's pause. This would be easy.
And then there’s the even more obvious reason to end the season early. It’s one that’s a little bit tougher to embrace for the true competitors out there, but it probably should be considered all the same.
Texas just dropped 69 points on Kansas State and did it by winning the second half 38-13 and racking up 608 yards of total offense.
There’s no guarantee the Longhorns (6-3 overall, 5-3 Big 12) will do the same to Kansas. But there’s also no reason to think they couldn’t.
Two UT running backs alone ran for 311 yards and six TDs against the Wildcats in Manhattan. The Jayhawks currently rank 119th out of 127 teams in rushing defense.
Given those realities, the Texas backs probably could run to Lawrence for the game and still have enough left in the tank to go out and win another game.
I don’t know about you, but a close call on the road against Texas Tech serving as the final act for the 2020 season sure sounds a lot better than a drubbing at the hands of Texas.
Nobody at Kansas would come right out and say that’s why they would be calling off the game, of course. But a little look-yourself-in-the-mirror moment and a creative action plan could achieve the desired outcome without needing to openly wave the white flag.
Heck, the Jayhawks already had Senior Day, so you're not even taking that away with this move.
It’s probably a moot point in the grand scheme of things. No matter how this season ends — a 3-point loss at Tech, a 40-point home loss to Texas or anything in between — very few Kansas fans are going to view much of the 2020 KU football season as a sign of progress or something to build on.
Hard to blame them for that. The scores were rough, the stats were even rougher and there were very few bright spots along the way.
They did exist. But you have to really want to see them to care. Many fans don’t. Again, hard to blame them for that.
Several freshmen and underclassmen made a significant impact this season and many proved they can play at this level. If they can become the foundation and help bring others along with them in the years ahead, things actually could start heading in the right direction again.
I know, I know; you’ve all heard that one a time or 10. But one of these decades it’s going to be true.
We’re getting off topic now.
The bottom line is this: I have to think that nobody on either side would object all that loudly if this weekend’s game never happens. (By the way, there's been talk that this weekend's OU-West Virginia game might get canceled to give both teams playing in the Big 12 title game two weeks to prepare.)
KU could close the book on 2020 and remember it as a season that ended with the Jayhawks having a chance to drive down the field for a game-winning touchdown on the road in the Big 12. Not bad.
Texas, meanwhile, doesn't get anything out of playing the game. Iowa State and Oklahoma already have clinched berths in the Big 12 title game and all the Longhorns can do by playing at Kansas is pick up another win for UT coach Tom Herman, whose future in Austin has been a hot topic of late.
There's obviously very little chance of KU pulling off the upset, but flukey things happen. Would Herman — or anyone at UT, for that matter — really want to risk losing to the Jayhawks at this stage in the season when they don't have to?
“What’s that? You can’t play because your roster is too depleted,” a UT official might say to KU Athletic Director Jeff Long during a phone call this week. “We definitely understand. See you during basketball season.”
“Sounds good,” Jayhawks everywhere might think.
There's an old game plan philosophy that has been used by some of the best football coaches in the country — former K-State coach Bill Snyder included among them — that says you simply cannot allow your team to lose games because of one-on-one talent matchups.
There are just too many ways you can cover your bases in those areas — specifically, offensive tackles against defensive ends and cornerbacks against wide receivers — that both protect the players involved and force your opponent to find another way to beat you.
The Kansas coaching staff has not done much of that this season with its offensive line, and it has cost the Jayhawks dearly.
A quick look back at the Jayhawks' most recent loss to Oklahoma, which dropped KU to 0-7 on the season and featured freshman quarterback Jalon Daniels being sacked a whopping nine times, illustrates one crucial area where Kansas can correct this.
Eight of the nine sacks taken by Daniels came with Kansas using just five players to protect him in man-to-man blocking schemes.
Each time, KU's tackles broke down quickly and Oklahoma's defensive ends staged a first-one-to-the-quarterback-wins challenge that lasted all afternoon and tormented the young KU QB.
On four of the eight sacks, Kansas had a running back next to Daniels in the backfield but used him in play-action and then sent him downfield to run a shallow passing route.
On three of the other sacks, the running back in the game stayed home but chose to protect the middle, where no pressure existed, instead of getting outside to help the tackles.
On one of those occasions, the back actually looked to the outside to help left tackle Malik Clark but chose to hold his ground when two Sooners came free up the middle. He picked one to block, left Clark one-on-one on the edge and watched as all three players eventually got to Daniels.
On the other sack, the Jayhawks used an empty backfield and OU's ends stormed their way to Daniels, one coming inside the tackle and the other with an outside rush.
Seven times the Jayhawks had a player in position to help but did not ask him to do so. Perhaps that's the way the Kansas offense is schemed and it may very well be what the players are taught to do.
And it's admirable that head coach Les Miles believes enough in his offensive tackles to continue to give them chances to perform and produce. But seven weeks worth of data shows that it's past time to start giving them some help on Saturdays instead of encouraging them publicly the rest of the week. We've passed the point of wondering whether these guys consistently can win their one-on-one battles at the point of attack.
After all, what most offenses can get fixed in a couple of quarters or at least during halftime continues to plague the Jayhawks for entire games.
Here are three ways (and there must be others) KU can help protect its quarterback, even if that means cutting down on a few of the options available within the offense. What good are options if your QB doesn't have time to find them?
- 1 - Even when they're asked to run pass routes, KU's running backs can at least hit or chip the defensive ends on the edge on the way out of the backfield. The OU game showed that KU's offense, more often than not, has a player in position to do this. But, for one reason or another, they're simply not doing it. Easy fix. And it should be even easier to emphasize.
- 2 - Like using a running back to chip, KU also could keep one of its tight ends in to block longer, giving the weaker tackle automatic and full-time help. Even just lining up a tight end next to the tackle and having him hit the defensive end for a couple of seconds before releasing would lead to improvement without completely taking away one of KU's passing options. KU's offense has used at least 1 tight end nearly 60% of the time for most of the season, so this fix would not require a major adjustment.
- 3 - The last thing KU could do is run more slide protection schemes. What this basically does is turn man-to-man blocking assignments into more of a zone blocking approach, with each offensive lineman responsible for blocking an area and securing gaps instead of blocking a man. Full-line slide protection is used primarily with three-step drops, so the movement, combined with Daniels looking to get the ball out quickly, could significantly neutralize pressure. Efficiency is crucial in slide protection and it might not be the perfect solution for KU's O-Line. But, if done correctly, it should at least slow down the speed rush of those defensive ends who have been able to tee off on the edge. If the slide protection is done away from the tight end, KU could essentially shore up both tackle spots with one move.
Executing any of the above would not guarantee any improvement. But one would think that it would give Daniels a better chance at success and, at the very least, would help keep him from having to run for his life every other snap.
Question: Does being down two scores with 7 minutes to play against a ranked opponent qualify as progress for the Kansas football program?
Answer: It depends on who you ask.
For my money, it does. Or at least it did. Two late ISU scores and a furious fade by the Jayhawks last Saturday set the final margin at what we’re more accustomed to seeing from this program and made those small and very relative signs of progress harder to see.
But in that moment, with KU down 38-22 in the fourth quarter with the ball and a glimmer of hope, the Jayhawks could have taken a snapshot and pointed to the situation as something positive.
In a year full of outcomes and Saturdays that have been almost all negative, that's significant — as much for the players and coaches as for how it might help KU fans hang in there.
I noted that on Twitter on Saturday — in real time — and was both applauded and roasted by understandably frustrated KU fans, many of whom only looked at the 52-22 final score and not when the tweet was sent.
One follower, after some light ribbing, even mentioned that they had fallen so out of touch with the program that they were unaware that trailing by two scores midway through the fourth quarter was something fans could get behind.
“I guess I've lost touch with how low expectations have become,” the person wrote.
Expectations are absolutely that low. Anyone who thinks otherwise has not been paying close enough attention to the struggles endured by this program and just how bad things have gotten.
The whole exchange got me thinking more about reasonable and fair expectations for this program. Again, getting a good answer for where to set those for the rest of the season really depends on who you ask.
From those inside the program, it's the old Mark Mangino philosophy of chopping wood. That group believes that as long as you keep your head down, play hard and work to get better every day, that represents enough progress for right now.
“Of course the end goal for every team is to win games,” freshman quarterback Jalon Daniels said Monday. “But all we can do is keep working on the field, keep working in practice, keep working in the film room and just keep studying everything that we can.”
From the perspective of the long-suffering KU fan base, the expectation that's most common — among a wide range of far-fetched hopes and reasonable reality — is for KU to at least be competitive, even if that does not lead to victory.
Give this group credit. After a decade of watching the same old mess, it would be really easy to be in the all-or-nothing camp. But there are enough KU fans out there who truly do understand the steep climb the Jayhawks are still facing.
From the perspective of KU coach Les Miles, who shares Daniels' way of thinking, the expectation for the final four games of the 2020 season is tied to better execution on the field during practices and on game day, regardless of the age of those who are playing.
“It's always the little things that impede your progress,” Miles noted earlier this week. “I wish I could've (set) our expectations on victory early in my career because I would've decided that we would've won them all. The issue is expectations are the little things that you need to get accomplished so that when you step onto the field you're comfortable playing.”
Freshmen like Daniels and others, on both sides of the ball, are getting closer to that these days. And each ugly loss or lost opportunity, as painful as they might be to watch, does carry with it the potential for growth.
While that might not make the Saturday beatings any easier to stomach or the alter what Kansas fans are hoping to see, it really is all you've got right now.
“We've had a lot of freshmen play,” Daniels said. “So, as a freshman, you need a lot of experience in order to better yourself. That experience is something I've always wanted and now that we have a lot of freshmen that are on the field the progress will show.
“Of course we're always going to put our 100% all on the field,” he added. “The score may not show that, but, as a team, we're always working and always trying to progress.”
The old saying surrounding Kansas football and the coach who is in charge went something like this: Find a way to win five or six games a year and they’ll build a statue for you.
This, of course, was what people said long before the decade of despair that has tested the patience of even the most loyal Kansas football fans and brought the program to near-historic lows.
Today, after KU’s latest lopsided loss to Sunflower State rival Kansas State, the saying should probably be amended: Just put a competitive and respectable product on the field and they’ll keep you around.
That’s where we’re at these days.
And second-year head coach Les Miles continues to believe that’s what the future holds for him and the Jayhawks.
“This team is going to be a good football team,” Miles said after a 55-14 loss to K-State in Manhattan on Saturday afternoon. “... This is going to make them work harder.”
Therein lies the problem, though. The issues facing this Kansas team through its 0-5 start have nothing to do with how hard the Jayhawks work.
It’s all about execution. And on Saturday, KU’s inability to execute — from the sideline to the playing field — not only hurt the Jayhawks but also helped the Wildcats.
That’s something that cannot happen for a program in KU’s position. It’s one thing to lose a game to a top-20 team. There’s no shame in that. It’s another to help them blow you out.
All of the optimism in the world isn’t going to correct that. But, right now, that appears to be all Miles and the Jayhawks have. Optimism that better days are ahead. Hope for the future. The belief that all of these young guys playing today are going to be better for it years down the road.
Time will tell if that proves true. It certainly might. But just saying it over and over doesn’t will it into existence.
At some point, if you want the fans and the community to remain supportive and buy into to your vision, there has to be something they can get behind.
Whether that’s production on the field, decent numbers on the scoreboard or the head coach standing up and saying “This ain’t good enough,” you have to give them something.
No one’s asking for Miles to flip over a table or break a white board with his fist. But something other than the same old song and dance that this is a good football team and it’s going to be even better in the very near future needs to surface.
Miles saying he's had enough is a start. Putting starters on special teams is another tangible act. Even communicating a clear and detailed plan for improvement, though still just words, qualifies as action considering the current state of the program.
Don’t get me wrong, there were a couple of good moments on Saturday. There always are.
17-year-old freshman Jalon Daniels getting the start at quarterback and playing the full game — therein getting another opportunity to learn and lead — was a terrific sight.
Daniels really has a chance to be this team’s QB of the future, and there’s a lot to like about his game. Beyond his physical skills, Daniels has what it takes, mentally, to keep grinding through the kind of adversity he has faced and will continue to face the rest of this season.
In addition, several other young players on both sides of the ball played a significant number of snaps along with him.
And the coaching staff, perhaps prodded by injuries at the punter position, showed early in the game its willingness to set the tone with the aggressive mindset of going for it on fourth down a couple of times.
Those are all good things that can help lay the foundation for the future.
In many ways, KU may actually have had more individual talent than its opponent on Saturday. But the Wildcats have a clear and established culture. It was born under Bill Snyder, and current coach Chris Klieman has done well to maintain it while bringing his own flare to it.
Kansas doesn’t have that and may not for a long time.
More important than choosing who to start at QB or deciding what to do on fourth-and-one, building that is the biggest challenge of Miles’ job from here on out. And it will take more than optimism to construct.
We’ll see if he can do it.
For nearly three full quarters of Saturday’s 38-17 loss in Morgantown, W.Va., the Kansas football team did all that its disgruntled fan base has ever asked it to do.
Before Leddie Brown’s 87-yard touchdown run put the Mountaineers up 24-10 with 3:37 to play in the third quarter, the Jayhawks had managed to hang around.
Credit for that goes to D.J. Eliot and the KU defense, which did everything they could to keep Kansas in it, from turnovers and big hits to snapping their chin straps up and running back out there all afternoon.
But the Jayhawks got absolutely no help from their offense and therefore never really had a chance once the Mountaineers (3-1 overall, 2-1 Big 12) took the lead after gifting Kansas a 10-0 head-start to open the game.
Maybe you were surprised that the Jayhawks (0-4, 0-3) were able to hang around as long as they did. Fair.
Maybe you were even encouraged by some of the individual efforts. Good for you. Or maybe you stopped watching a long time ago. Hard to blame ya.
Either way, as the season continues to deliver disappointing results for the Jayhawks, those of us still watching continue to try to learn about this team.
Most of it leads to questions for which there are just no answers.
Here’s what we learned this week.
• Miles Kendrick is not the solution at quarterback. The junior who coaches and teammates laud as a great leader, made his first start of the season and got a full game to show what he could do. The KU offense responded with one of its worst showings of the past two seasons. The blame for that does not fall entirely on Miles. Not by a long shot. But this team needs a quarterback that can spark something when there’s absolutely nothing there. When freshman Jalon Daniels is back from injury, the job should be his. Until then, if needed, Thomas MacVittie can have one more chance.
• KU’s coaching staff and players had two weeks to figure out some kind of fix or fancy new approach for the offensive line and came up with nothing. Guys are trying. Coaches are working. They just do not have the horses. Nothing but time will change that. Moving the pieces around won’t help, and shoddy O-line play means no shot on Saturdays.
• Because of those first two realities, there really is very little hope for Pooka Williams Jr., this season. Give him the ball on every play or don’t. Put him in space or don’t. Let him return kicks or don’t. It doesn’t look like it’s going to matter. Even Williams’ lone highlight on Saturday — a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the final two minutes — came long after the damage had been done. Outside of that, Williams touched the ball 14 times and gained 28 yards.
In his postgame meeting with the media, acting head coach Joshua Eargle — a bundle of positive energy if ever there was one — talked a lot about how close Kansas was in a lot of areas.
That’s all well and good, but at some point the Jayhawks either have to stop doing the little things that are hurting them or admit that the things plaguing this program are bigger.
Even with that positive spin to another rough Saturday, Eargle correctly noted that until the Jayhawks get things down in practice and carry that over to game days, it’s going to take time to get over the hump.
“You can play as hard as you want to, and you can want it really, really bad,” he said. “But it’s going to come down to execution.”
And it’s not going to get any easier to execute in the next month. Next week, the Jayhawks are slated to play at No. 22 Kansas State and they follow that up with a home matchup with No. 20 Iowa State, a road trip to unranked Oklahoma and a home game against unranked Texas in three of the four weeks that follow.
It's been four days since Kansas football coach Les Miles announced he had tested positive for COVID-19, but the second-year KU coach's spirits appear to be in good shape.
Miles shared as much on Sunday in a short video posted to Twitter that updated his condition.
"I am quarantined in my house, my health's pretty good, so I'm very thankful for that," Miles said in the 35-second video.
The plan at the time of KU's announcement about Miles' positive test was for him to be back with the team this coming Saturday when the Jayhawks travel to West Virginia for an 11 a.m. kickoff on Saturday in Morgantown.
There has been no update about whether that's still the plan or if it's even possible, but Miles, who said he has been conducting his business through Zoom meetings since isolating in his Lawrence home, said he was eager to get back to his team and his coaching staff.
Although Miles has been able to meet with his staff via Zoom, he will not do so with the media on Monday in his normal weekly press conference time slot.
Instead, four KU assistant coaches will be made available to the media for brief interviews Monday morning. They include offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon, recruiting coordinator Joshua Eargle, defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot and special teams coordinator Jonathan Wallace.
Dating back to his days at LSU, it has been a long-standing practice of Miles' teams that coordinators do not speak with the media during the season. But the chance to talk with a few of them on Monday should shed some light on KU's struggles to open the season.
Fresh off of their second bye week of the 10-game season, the Jayhawks sit at 0-3 overall and 0-2 in Big 12 play, with a 50-game conference road losing streak still in tact.
Be sure to check back with KUsports.com throughout the day on Monday for the latest from KU's coordinators and a handful of players who are slated to meet with the media early Monday afternoon.
Despite the fact that Kansas football coach Les Miles announced Thursday that he has tested positive for COVID-19, the plan, at least as of today, is for him to coach the 0-3 Jayhawks in their next game at West Virginia on Sept. 17.
However, considering that we know about as much about COVID-19 as we do the current KU quarterback situation, you have to at least consider that Miles might not be able to make that trip after the Jayhawks’ bye week this weekend.
His condition could worsen. He could still be positive when the Jayhawks take their tests on the Friday before the WVU game (Oct. 16), therein making him unable to get on the plane to leave Kansas. Other roadblocks to a return could surface, as well.
So who would take the reins as KU’s interim head coach if Miles were to miss it?
There are really only two answers — offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon and wide receivers coach/passing game coordinator Emmett Jones.
Those two, along with first-year tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Joshua Eargle, are the only members of Miles’ staff with head coaching experience.
Dearmon’s came at his alma mater, Bethel College, and, before that, at B.C. Rain High in Alabama. And Jones was a head coach in the wild world of Texas high school football before joining the college ranks.
Coordinators typically get the first look when programs go searching for an interim coach because they’re already sort of serving as the head coach for one half of the team. But current KU defensive coordinator, D.J. Eliot, despite his 20 years of experience in major college football, has never held the position of head coach at any level, and it’s probably best to let him continue to focus his efforts on getting the KU D up to speed.
In addition to having called the shots at the top before, Dearmon and Jones carry with them the personalities required to lead a team in an emergency situation.
The fact that the two work together to map out KU’s offensive game plans each week would make it even easier to bump one of them up for as long as Miles is sidelined. One could fulfill the head coaching duties, from practices and procedures to meetings and strategies, and the other could remain locked in on his regular role on offense, carrying a little more weight than normal to get through it.
Both would continue to communicate with each other throughout the week, and neither would get much sleep.
If Miles has to miss KU’s next game, one assistant technically would be put in charge. But the reality here is that everyone on the coaching staff would have to step up to handle his absence.
If Dearmon or Jones is running things at the top, both would need additional help from Eargle, offensive line coach Luke Meadows and running backs coach Jonathan Wallace to ensure that things continue to get done in the offensive meeting rooms, during film sessions and on the practice field. Because that’s where the work will really need to get done.
While it might be one heck of an adrenaline rush on Saturday afternoon in Morgantown to have the headset and call the shots, running things in Miles’ absence on game day would probably be the easiest part of filling in.
So which is the better option between the two, Dearmon or Jones? It probably does not matter much, but I would think the answer would be tied to whether or not KU believes one of them could one day be Miles’ successor.
Last season, when the KU offense experienced a major jump in production after Dearmon took over as OC, the talk among the KU fan base was that Dearmon was well on his way to becoming KU’s head coach in waiting.
I haven’t heard anything concrete on that from the KU administration, but if that’s even in the backs of their minds, why not see how Dearmon handles a week as the head honcho?
It might not reveal much. But it could show you a lot.
As for Jones, KU stepped up in the offseason to make sure he stayed in Lawrence, upping his pay and giving him a new title.
In addition to his reputation as KU’s top recruiter, Jones is a master motivator and seems to be universally liked. Those traits can only help you in an interim head coaching position. Just think back to how much the players stepped up while playing for Clint Bowen in 2014.
Because KU Athletic Director Jeff Long said in a statement on Thursday that the plan is for Miles to be back in action by Oct. 17, all of this could wind up being useless information.
There’s one problem, though. Long said in the statement that as long as Miles did not “develop symptoms or have a fever,” they anticipated having him for the WVU game. However, on Wednesday night, during his “Hawk Talk” radio show, Miles said on the air that he had a cold. That might not equate to developing symptoms, but it definitely could.
Either way, given the fact that KU’s next game is just nine days away, it doesn’t hurt anything to start preparing for the very real possibility that Miles might not be there.
In a year when eliminating bowl games would be not only justifiable but also welcomed, the NCAA now sits on the brink of watering them down even further.
The NCAA’s Division I Football Oversight Committee on Thursday recommended waiving the requirements for bowl eligibility during the 2020 college football season.
Nothing will become official until the sport’s Division I Council, which meets in mid-October, approves the plan to eliminate the six-win threshold that typically is used to determine which teams play in a bowl game.
But the move is expected to pass, and if it becomes a reality, it could set up the potential for a bunch of three- and four-win teams to go bowling.
Heck, you could be looking at a winless team in a bowl game in 2020, provided that program can make enough of a case that selecting its squad will help television ratings and ticket sales.
Ugh. Talk about a missed opportunity.
I think we can all agree that there are too many bowl games these days. Following the 2019 season, a whopping 82 teams participated in 41 bowl games. That’s better than 60% of the Division I programs out there and that’s a far cry from the 50 teams that appeared in bowl games in 2000.
And while I understand that the recommendation is for the 2020 season only, it sure seems like the powers that be could have used the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the season to pull back a little instead of paving the way for programs to hoist bowl banners who won’t have earned them.
I have no idea yet what this might mean for the Kansas football program. But given the fact that the Jayhawks have not played in a bowl game in 12 years, I get the feeling that the coaches and administration would look long and hard at the opportunity to get into a bowl game by whatever means necessary if that’s on the table.
Think of the marketing possibilities there and what just saying you’ve been in a bowl game recently could do for recruiting.
Besides, bowl prep almost always means a couple of extra weeks of practice and KU certainly can use all the reps it can get right now as it attempts to climb back to relevance. Especially with the Jayhawks missing out on spring football this year.
But there’s just something a little tacky about a team like Kansas playing in a bowl game after a one- or two-win season. Is that really how anybody wants KU’s latest bowl drought to end?
We’re getting ahead of ourselves a little there. For all we know, KU could still win a few games this season, therein making this whole concept a little easier to stomach. I mean, if the Jayhawks somehow found a way to get to 4-6, they’d probably deserve a bowl berth at that point.
But let’s be real. The Jayhawks haven’t won more than three games in a season or more than one game in Big 12 play in more than a decade. And that’s with two extra cracks at it each year compared to the 10 games they’ll (likely/maybe/hopefully) get this year.
Bowl games aren’t what they used to be, even if they remain one of the biggest markers of success at most schools from year to year.
Attendance is down, ratings are down, players with promising NFL futures are starting to sit them out and there just isn’t enough juice associated with the games anymore.
Pulling back and limiting the number of teams playing in a bowl game this year could have been the start of the climb back to the days where qualifying for a bowl game was something special.
Instead, it appears we’re headed for more of the same from the ho-hum postseason exhibition games, only this time a whole bunch of them will feature asterisks in the history books, too.
Putting a consistently competitive product on the field continues to be the preferred scale of progress for the University of Kansas football program.
And while that means week-to-week improvement in the eyes of head coach Les Miles, his bosses are looking at it from a slightly larger perspective.
“We need to see improvement and see development and see our program moving forward,” KU Athletic Director Jeff Long told the Journal-World when asked this summer, before the season began, how he would evaluate KU’s second season under Miles. “I think most people in football who watch the games intently will say that we improved last year. We competed more and were in many more games than we maybe have been in the past.”
One game into 2020, and with a bye week already behind them, the Jayhawks are off to a slow start.
With nothing but Big 12 games remaining on the schedule and KU almost certain to play as an underdog in its nine remaining games, it’s impossible to envision KU surpassing or even matching last year’s win total. So that will not be the focus.
However, even with his team falling to Coastal Carolina in its season opener two weeks ago, Miles has not abandoned the idea of judging his team’s growth this season by the final scores of KU’s 10 games.
“We want to continue to improve,” Miles said during Monday’s video news conference ahead of Saturday’s Big 12 opener at Baylor. “We want to take the team that we have now and make them better. But I don’t know that I’ve set any markers for improvement. I can tell you that we want to win. And I can tell you that this team will play hard and work to win.”
In order to do that, the Jayhawks have to perform better. Miles knows that. And on Monday he pointed to his team’s need to become more aggressive and more physical. Progress in both areas is tied directly to mindset.
But improvement, by Kansas standards, is not limited to KU committing fewer penalties from one week to the next or delivering better first-half production on offense. It’s also about the big picture. Success in the first area often naturally leads to success in the second. But none of it is automatic in Lawrence.
Few people associated with the program feel that more than Long, who said the Year 2 evaluation would be rooted in improvement but that improvement did not necessarily mean increasing the team’s win total.
Steps forward for the long-suffering program continue to be tied to cultural changes, recruiting victories and momentum on and off the field.
“We’ll be a program that not only recruits its way out of our situation but also develops its way out of our situation,” Long said. “We are a program that is continuing to recruit well. Those recruits are obviously young.”
And they still will be for the next couple of seasons, which is both good and bad news. Twenty of the 42 players listed on KU’s two-deep offensive and defensive depth chart this week are freshmen or sophomores. Thirteen of them are freshmen.
The positive there is those young guys Long spoke of are getting valuable experience. The negative is that they’re already better than a bunch of KU’s upperclassmen.
So grading this team, which is still very much a work in progress, has to be done with that in mind.
That’s where the development part comes into play. And if Miles and his coaching staff can pair strong player development with continued success on the recruiting trail, Kansas may have something.
The word “if” is the most important one in the previous sentence, and it’s still too early to predict how this stretch of Kansas football will play out.
Given all of the chaos created by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a tough year to effectively evaluate anything or anyone.
But Kansas is not alone in dealing with those issues. So expecting Miles and company to find a way to take a couple of steps forward is both fair and necessary for the betterment of the program as a whole.