Friday, November 21, 2014


Column: Zenger has help in search for coach


Any time a coaching-search adviser is employed by a university, suspicion percolates that the adviser will push buddies of his upon the athletic director.

That undoubtedly takes place to varying extents, but it’s not a serious concern at the moment for the Kansas University search for a new football coach.

Chuck Neinas, being paid $50,000, for a role that typically draws $75,000 to $100,000, will be used mainly as a middle man. Agents, not coaches, will contact Neinas, not KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger. At least at this stage of the search, this enables Zenger to deny he ever has talked to Candidate A and it allows Candidate A to deny he has talked to Kansas.

That’s important for coaches because they don’t need the distraction and neither do their teams and employers.

Neinas might bring up a name that Zenger had not thought of and if it piques Zenger’s interest, he’ll ask more questions. If he keeps liking what he hears, he will pass it onto his committee members and tell them to start digging. For what? Information about the coach specific to their areas of expertise.

Kansas has not made public the names of those on the search committee, but it’s not tough to guess what types of people are on it. Maybe a long-standing loyal donor who has a reputation for, when in the loop on sensitive matters, keeping his mouth shut, opening only to blow cigar smoke, which carries with it no secrets. Plus, former football players who care deeply about the state of the program.

The information diggers, aka committee members, also will come from areas of the university with which a coach deals on a peripheral basis. For example, somebody from the Williams Fund, the Alumni Association, maybe the academic-support staff, perhaps a faculty adviser.

If Zenger’s interest in a candidate is serious enough to begin vetting him, those on the committee know what to do when told to hit the phones.

Each one calls the person with a similar title at the university where the candidate works and asks questions pertinent to his or her department. All the conversations are off-the-record, not to be repeated to anyone and, for safety’s sake, the officials on both ends of the phone should wear Groucho Marx masks.

For example, a question that might be asked from one academic-support staffer to another: “Does he respect boundaries? Does he ever try to get you to make promises that can’t be kept from professors? When professors or class-checkers put one of his player’s names on a list for blowing off a class or assignment, does he effectively address it? Can you give me a recent example?”

A conversation from one fundraiser to another might include questions, asked from underneath a desk after looking both ways, that go something like, “How much time does he give the big donors? Does he make it seem to them as if he values their opinions or is it obvious he’s just meeting with them because he has been told it’s part of his job? If it ever comes to that, would he able to ask for the order, spell out how large the donation must be to truly help toward stadium renovations?”

As Zenger works his college football contacts to ask questions about how organized the coach is in writing up practice plans, how effective a communicator he is in instructing players, how much energy he brings, how fast a tempo he demands at practice, others work their contacts. Ex-football players weigh in with knowledgeable insights. Zenger’s list of candidates constantly expands and contracts, expands and contracts until he arrives on group of finalists. By mid-December at the latest, probably sooner, Zenger sells his choice to the public in a news conference.

In the end, the decision is Zenger’s. Every serious candidate will be vetted more thoroughly than Charlie Weis was nearly three years ago.

Zenger is determined not to get fooled again. Plus, this time, he has the luxury of turning to a coach, Clint Bowen, who in seven weeks already has directed the ship away from the iceburg and will be given a chance to express at length what plans he has to return the program to respectability and beyond. Former and current KU players have made it clear Bowen is their choice. They are big men who carry a lot of weight.


Randy Bombardier 7 years, 10 months ago

Iceberg is a mountain of ice. Iceburg is a city of ice. That would be Ann Arbor. Thanks for the article. Let's hope he's not fooled again.

Chayse Patrick 7 years, 10 months ago

Former and current players have made it clear that Bowen is their choice!!!! There you have if Zenger don't screw it up!!! Enough said

Randy Bombardier 7 years, 10 months ago

Thanks Brett. Your second to last paragraph pretty much says it all. Funny how vain human beings can be. It'll never happen to me, It's my turn this. Same results over and over. The sad thing is thise ad's don't really know and probably never will. We need to be patient and be happy when we get to a bowl game. We need to accept 5-7 seasons because they come with 8-4 seasons and once in a great while they come with 10-2seasons. If we don't we'll look up 20years from now and find a .250 win percent and be in the bottom 10 every year. We'll continue tinue to hire a new coach every 3 or four years with a new AD after he's hired two failed coaches. It's madness.

Dirk Medema 7 years, 10 months ago

Who are the recruits that continue to commit to other programs? (Hint, there aren't any.)

The first 3 or so paragraphs were really good, and illustrate the challenges of turning around a program. Should have stopped there. Your agenda is old and even more stale the first dozen times you stated it.

Doug Roberts 7 years, 10 months ago

Dirk, criticism is easy. What's your solution?

Calvin Miller 7 years, 10 months ago

Beckman wasn't really a successful HC at Toledo on his own merit. He's a defensive coach with lousy stats at Toledo; their success was and continues to be due to their current HC, Matt Campbell, who was OC under Beckman at Toledo. Toledo's recruiting and win percentage has improved under Campbell.

Dirk Medema 7 years, 10 months ago

Now that you mention it, wasn't he a head scratcher for the Illini when he was hired? Isn't that most of UofI athletics?

Robert Brock 7 years, 10 months ago

Clint Bowen or Ed Warinner? That may be the two that Dr. Z has to sort out.

Clara Westphal 7 years, 10 months ago

If Clint Bowen is not chosen, KU is going to lose valuable recruiting time. Recruits want to know who the coach will be before they commit. Zenger is dragging his feet on this one. If he chooses another dud, with or without help, he should be fired.

Brandon Mahon 7 years, 10 months ago

Clint would need to be hired the day after the season ended or quickly after. IF we as fans want a thorough search to come up with the best candidate we will have to take that risk. We have some solid commitments and the way things have gone CB will probably be on staff next year. Who is not to say if we get Warinner or some other big time Coordinator we do not get some recruits to flip to KU because they want to play for them. It is a wait and see game and that is what we get for having to fire our coach.

Rick McGowwan 7 years, 10 months ago

I agree, the search is worth the wait. I'm willing to risk a few prospects this year if it means we get the right coach for year's to come. If it's CB, great, he can continue his work. If it's Warinner (or someone else)--I'm okay with that too, even if it means we lose a recruit or two.

Look, dropping from the #9 ranked recruiting class to the #10 class isn't going to hurt us as badly as another poor decision on our HC.

Brandon Mahon 7 years, 10 months ago

I agree with completely... plus if we bring in a good coach with a good name and he likes oUr commits who says we lose any? A good coach getting 7-9 of his own is also a good thing.... I just want the next coach to outlast his first class

Dirk Medema 7 years, 10 months ago

Serious recruiting time is not until December to Signing day in February. Relax. We aren't losing anything these days accept more football games.

Calvin Miller 7 years, 10 months ago

No recruiting time will be lost. The new HC will probably be announced the week after the KSU game.

Joel Vinson 7 years, 10 months ago

I think it would be more of a detriment to name Bowen as the official head coach with 2 games left to play. It would cause a potential media circus and would take away from his current coaching duties. His focus right now is OU followed by KSU, which it should be. I agree that he is the right candidate for the job, but now is not the right time to make that decision.

Joe Ross 7 years, 10 months ago

You know, it's interesting to me that many who claimed Mark Mangino was only successful because of Todd Reesing are the same ones who are declaring Bowen the Savior of the program when, were it not for Cummings, we would not have experienced the success we have since Weis was fired. Im not down on Bowen, Im strictly noting the double-standard. It goes to show that bias is often substituted for reason when people defend their positions.

Jonathan Briles 7 years, 10 months ago

I don't think it has just that one thing. I like that Bowen went against the old ways and benched a starter for someone else. It is a tough decision and he made it. He also was smart enough to put Kiesau in control of the offense. Considering he is a defensive minded guy I think it is impressive that after Bowen took over it is the offense that has taken the biggest leap forward. One of the biggest things for a coach is making the right decisions and being able to pull the trigger on the tough ones. Mangino was successful because he put the right people in the right places. He surrounded himself with a rockstar staff and put the right players on the field. Kerry was the starter and Mangino put Reesing in and instead of leaving Kerry off the field he plugged him in at WR. Knowing who to put where on and off the field is what made Mangino successful and I think that Bowen absorbed some of that from Mangino because he has been making all the right personnel decisions so far. I also find it encouraging that with all the brilliant minds that Mangino surrounded himself with and he thought Bowen was one of those brilliant minds. A ringing endorsement from one of our greatest coaches.

Joe Ross 7 years, 10 months ago

Jonathan, you are right. Great comment! It is NEVER just about a switch at quarterback. My conclusion above follows the logic as if I were a person who subscribed to the belief that only the quarterback makes the difference. We probably both agree that the right guy under center has a HUGE impact on the game. But there is so much more a coach must do to be successful. Establish a team attitude, teach fundamentals and technique, bring in the right coaching staff, prepare the right game plan, etc., etc., etc. I think it's finally dawning on Mangino's detractors that a coach's success involves a lot more than how they attempted to simplify it with Mangino (i.e., Reesing).

Dirk Medema 7 years, 10 months ago

While we did have some great assistants on staff, the point that you failed to mention was how many of them left. Maybe the reason Coach Bowen got the promotion he did also had to do with the available options. It wasn't just the players that were treated harshly, and that greater picture was what likely led to MM's demise.

Jonathan Briles 7 years, 10 months ago

I'm sure you are talking about Bill Young leaving us. What people always forget is that Bill Young was Co-Defensive Coordinator WITH Bowen. Bowen did not just fall into the job. The other thing people overlook is that Bill Young did not do much of anything after he left KU. Because of that fact it actually gets a little murky as to who was more responsible for that amazing 07 defense. I'm not saying it was all Bowen by any means at all, but Bowen had his hands alllllll over that defense.

Dirk Medema 7 years, 10 months ago

Good Point.

Seasons rise and fall with the play of the QB. Far more significant than any other position, though a quality WR will make a good QB look great and vice versa.

Mike Barnhart 7 years, 10 months ago

The MINIMUM standard of success for Clint Bowen would be:

1) Win the non-cons

2) Avoid embarrassing losses

3) Win half of the Big 12 home games

4) Win a Big 12 road game

Given what I've seen so far, I think he can do that in 2016 (at least 2017.) If so, we'll be in a bowl game and I'll be happy!

Brandon Mahon 7 years, 10 months ago

Personally I want to see KU rise up the ranks... Michigan State, Florida have shown your school can be good at the two major men's sports. I am not looking for our next coach to win the non-conference games, win 1-3 home conference games and only one road game. Idk about you but floating between 5-7 to 7-5 every year is not what we should want. Yeah in the first few years it is to be expected but as a loyal and die hard KU fan I want us to be in the top half of our conference competing every week and pulling off the big upsets now and then. We can get back to the Orange Bowl days and that is what we should be looking for. If Baylor can do it.... We sure as H$LL can, we have great donors we just need that coach, and the people behind him.

Len Shaffer 7 years, 10 months ago

Good point, Brandon. And not just Baylor, but Duke -- Duke, for crying out loud!

And let's not forget that Northwestern made the Rose Bowl a while back. Heck, even KSU and Oregon State, the two worst programs in the country for most of the 20th Century, have done very well in recent years.

If it can be done at all of those places, it can certainly be done at KU.

Bud Stagg 7 years, 10 months ago

My only concern with Clint Bowen is his lack of experience at a winning program. He's been at Kansas most of his career and few other small schools. Is it of any value to have a head coach that may have experience at a top ten type program?

I think Clint is an incredible motivator, recruiter, decision maker. If he can bring in asst. coaches with experience to offset his lack of experience at a winning program, then I'd say hire him.

My biggest fear is that we will hire Bowen and he is not quite ready and we will have to fire him after 3 years. If the experts deem he is ready and his staff is good, I'm ready to hire him now.

Brandon Mahon 7 years, 10 months ago

Or we get a good coach that wants him on staff and let him learn some more from someone who has been at a successful program or two. I am not saying I would not like Bowen to be the HC at some point but I think you let him learn under a very successful coordinator like Warinner and when he moves on he has 4-7 years of more experience heck he is only 42...

Jeremy D. Morris 7 years, 10 months ago

Being at a top program is nice, but it doesn't show you how to build up a program. CB has that experience and has done it with Mangino at this very university. I think that's about as close to a good fit as you can have. Although Warinner would fit with that as well.

Brandon Mahon 7 years, 10 months ago

That's why I like him more... more diverse background and success at all stops

Calvin Miller 7 years, 10 months ago

Problem with that is the defense worsened in '08 and '09 under Bowen. What program or defense has Bowen ever "built up." The current offensive improvement is due to Cummings and Kiesau. If Bowen tutored either of those then he would be a front-runner for HC. He was fortunate that Kiesau was on staff because it appeared that Reagan had no clue about calling plays.

Ray Winger 7 years, 10 months ago

Like the line in the movie, 'Cinderella Man"...Bottom line, KU, Clint, you are the Head Coach now...'Just Win'.

Dirk Medema 7 years, 10 months ago

Nice, informative article giving a glimpse of the behind the scene actions. Seems clear there is inside knowledge without actually stating so. Subtle reference to cigar smoke was cute.

Adam McEwen 7 years, 10 months ago

Bowen has shown more in the last 5 weeks than we have seen in 5 years. The players sell out for him, and that's what it will take to win in a league where we will constantly be out recruited until we have continued success. It's a no brainer, he's the guy. As far as questions about his recruiting abilities, if he can get guys to play this hard for him, I feel pretty confident he can get players to want to come play for him.

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