Thursday, April 15, 2021

Notebook: Veterans making coaching transition as smooth as possible for KU football

Kansas football interim head coach Emmett Jones speaks to the Jayhawks as they take a knee during the team's first spring practice, on March 30, 2021.

Kansas football interim head coach Emmett Jones speaks to the Jayhawks as they take a knee during the team's first spring practice, on March 30, 2021.


When the University of Kansas parted ways with Les Miles in early March, the football team’s players didn’t know what the future would hold. And while the coaching transition remains unfinished more than a month later, Sam Burt said he and other veterans did their best to make the process go as smoothly as possible.

Initially, Burt told reporters this week, there was some concern about how players would react to an unexpected change in leadership. But the super-senior defensive lineman said some of the experienced leaders, as well as strength coach Ben Iannacchione and his assistants, successfully led the team through that initial stage of uncertainty, before Emmett Jones was named the interim head coach.

“I thought it would be harder than it was,” Burt admitted, “but it really wasn’t, because everyone was of the same mindset. That made it really easy. Honestly, I felt pretty good through that, and I thought our team worked through it really well.”

A former walk-on from Abilene, Burt, entering his fifth year in the program, has taken on a leadership role within the past year. The veteran nose tackle didn’t take any credit for how the Jayhawks have dealt with an extended transition period, but said the team’s elder statesmen have helped their younger teammates navigate the situation.

“At the end of the day, we’re here to make KU better and to get a degree, so that’s our focus, that’s our mission,” Burt said. “Despite all the coaching changes and things like that, we still had a mission, and Coach Jones carries on that mission, too.”

TEs expect ‘more opportunities’

In 2020, KU’s tight ends only accounted for seven of the offense’s 155 receptions during an abbreviated 0-9 season.

But Mason Fairchild, the only Jayhawks tight end a year ago with more than one catch (five receptions, 57 yards) said his position group should be move involved in 2021.

“Last season we were run-blocking the majority of the time,” Fairchild said.

But since the arrival this offseason of new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord, Fairchild sees the tight ends becoming more dynamic within KU’s system.

“With Coach DeBord’s offense, we’re asked to do a little bit more than we were before,” he said. “We can be a little more involved with the passing game, but we’re still pretty big inside the running game.”

Tough slate ahead for Jayhawks

If anyone needed a reminder that the 2021 season won’t be easy for KU, ESPN’s Football Power Index provided an eye-opening nudge.

As highlighted this week by ESPN analyst Cole Cubelic, who tweeted out the FPI’s projected strength of schedule rankings, the Jayhawks’ slate is considered the third most difficult in the country.

Arkansas has the No. 1 strength of schedule, while another SEC program, Auburn, came in at No. 2.

The top 15 includes nine Big 12 teams, with Oklahoma (No. 2 overall in the FPI) being the only team in the conference without a top-15 schedule.

KU’s nonconference slate beings in Week 1 with its easiest game of the season, as FCS foe South Dakota travels to Lawrence. But the Jayhawks also will travel to Coastal Carolina and Duke this year, along with their typical round-robin Big 12 schedule.

None by Cole Cubelic

PFF likes pair of former KU RBs in draft

Pro Football Focus recently examined some of the running backs in the 2021 NFL Draft and identified two former KU backs as the best in the class when it comes to a specific trait.

While the list features likely first-round picks Travis Etienne and Najee Harris, it also includes Pooka Williams and Khalil Herbert.

PFF identified Williams as the best scatback available in the draft.

“If there was a ‘most difficult to touch’ superlative in this running back class, Williams would likely by your winner,” Michael Renner wrote for PFF. “He is a lightning rod with the ball in his hands and needs only an inch to make a play.”

Williams opted out of the 2020 season after just four games and entered the draft early, following his junior season, when he ran for 196 yards and two touchdowns on 51 carries for KU.

A former teammate of Williams, Herbert earned the distinction of being the best zone runner in the draft, according to PFF.

“Herbert’s 93.9 rushing grade on zone concepts the past two seasons is tops in the class,” Renner wrote, “and so is his 8.2 yards per attempt on 157 such carries.”

A year before Williams’ junior season ended early, Herbert left the KU football program four games into the 2019 season as a senior, allowing him to use the year as a redshirt season and transfer to Virginia Tech to finish his career.

In 2020 with the Hokies, Herbert rushed for a career-high 1,183 yards, scoring eight rushing touchdowns. His 1,362 total yards from scrimmage ranked ninth among all FBS players.


Dale Rogers 1 year, 9 months ago

Another thing not said out loud is the players likely really, really want Emmett Jones as their Head Coach. By making the "transition" as smooth as possible and by working as hard as they can, they help make Jones look good in the eyes of those making the HC decision. And I also hope Jones gets the opportunity to show his chops.

Jeff Coffman 1 year, 9 months ago

Jones has had a chance to show his chops. If you don't remember he has been the passing coordinator and WR coach for the past two years, where KU has had the worst WR core in the Big XII and did not have a WR ranked in the top 125. His top prospect regressed in both years and transferred from the program. Only one WR improved during that timeframe.

When the OC position was available, he was not offered the position. When Kliff Kingsbury went to USC as an OC or AZ as the Head Coach he did not take Jones.

Jones might be a good guy and can aid in the recruiting process, but he does not appear to be the correct choice to dig us out.

New Coach in our mess, with no OC/DC or HC experience is a long shot at best.

Brett McCabe 1 year, 9 months ago

Until we are competitive again, KU should tell the idiots in Dallas that our non-con schedule is our business. The Big 12 has added a championship game, and that’s enough to get the champ into the playoffs when warranted.

We need wins, and should start scheduling in a way that benefits our program. Travis Goff needs to address this as soon as the coaching situation is settled.

Edward Daub 1 year, 9 months ago

A Great Head Coach delegates "the nuts and bolts" of coaching to his assistants, and focuses more on the overall picture.

Dale, I sure hope you are "right on" that Jones has those characteristics And will be allowed to lead KU in 2021! Time will tell.

As for Sam Burt, if he can tackle as well as Burt Lancaster could act, we have found KU an experienced run stopper. Rock Chalk!

Dirk Medema 1 year, 9 months ago

The SOS is just what order do we arrange the Big12 and SECwest.

It’s good to see the leaders stepping up and all the players buying in, as well as new recruits continuing to be added to a solid class. More and better will come as we are competitive and win games. Someone predicted multiple games this year.

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