Column: Kansas’ next coach must target walk-ons

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The next Kansas head football coach will need to entice more than just scholarship players to sign on the dotted line in order to assemble a roster with any significant depth. He also will need to convince walk-ons to come on board with a chance to earn scholarships after two years.

Here’s why: The scholarship limit for Football Bowl Subdivision rosters is 85. No more than 25 scholarships can be awarded for any one recruiting class.

Let’s look at the numbers for KU’s thinner-than-a-Ford-model roster. Just 50 players who came to Kansas on scholarship will be on the spring roster, plus four who were given scholarships at some point in their careers. That would mean a recruiting class of 25 would bring the roster to 79 scholarship players on the roster, 19 of whom have one more year of eligibility. So that means 60 would be on the roster the following spring, plus a recruiting class of 25 brings the total to 85 for 2016.

That’s if no players have career-ending injuries, or quit football, or become academic casualties or transfer. It’s inevitable that they will lose some players, probably leaving the roster well under 80. The gaps must be filled by walk-ons.

It’s always easier to land in-state walk-ons who have enough talent to build their bodies and their games in a way that they can earn scholarships, simply because it’s less painful for a family and/or the athlete himself to pay in-state tuition.

Walk-ons who committed today would have good reason to believe that they could earn scholarships for their final two seasons, for a couple of reasons. One, Kansas likely still will be under the scholarship limit of 85 because of attrition. Two, athletes who spend two years as walk-ons at a school and then are given scholarships do not count against the limit of 25 scholarships per year, just against the total of 85.

Many Kansas high school football coaches felt that KU’s previous two head coaches did not have a healthy respect for Kansas recruits, so the next coach will have some damage to repair, unless he already is known in the area.

That’s why it’s good to hear that the loudest whispers about candidates interviewing this week center on coaches who have Kansas ties. Interim head coach Clint Bowen, Texas A&M recruiting coordinator David Beaty, and Ohio State co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Ed Warinner (slightly lower volume on the whispers), all have worked as assistants at Kansas. Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill is highly regarded by Kansas high school coaches, but it would be difficult to imagine why he would want to inherit a roster in such bad shape, compared to Minnesota’s. Plus, his price tag would be much steeper.

Regardless of the identity of the next coach, he must find a way to make Kansas/Kansas City, Missouri, the go-to destination for football players from Northeast Kansas, highly ranked ones and walk-ons.

Nebraska alone scored with three area recruits in the Class of 2015, and now that Bo Pelini has been fired, look for schools to resume recruiting them. Cornhuskers offensive line coach John Garrison was involved in recruiting all three of them.

Baldwin High’s Christian Gaylord, a 6-foot-6, 275-pound offensive tackle and twins Carlos and Khalil Davis, both 6-2, 260-pound defensive linemen, from Blue Springs, Missouri, all were recruited by Kansas.

Reaching the conclusion that Kansas would have a better shot at them if it hired a coach before Nebraska did might be an oversimplification, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Make the choice by Monday. Negotiate the deal by Tuesday. Announce it Wednesday and start relentlessly raiding those Nebraska recruits and intensifying relationships in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. It will take time for the new coach to dig out of this mess. The sooner he has the shovel in his hands, the better.