KU football coaching search still a long and winding road


Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger and former KU quarterback John Hadl watch during the first day of spring football practices on Tuesday, March 27, 2012.

Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger and former KU quarterback John Hadl watch during the first day of spring football practices on Tuesday, March 27, 2012. by Richard Gwin

Talk to a dozen people and you'll get a dozen different opinions on which direction the Kansas University football program should go with its coaching hire.

Check that, you'll probably get about two or three times that many because not only could you get a different name from each person, but you also could get a different list of what factors and elements should be most important.

Welcome to Sheahon Zenger's world.

For some folks it's the idea of recruiting Texas that means the most. These people like, maybe even love, Texas A&M recruiting coordinator and receivers coach David Beaty. And why not? The guy can walk into just about any high school in Texas and bust out a secret handshake or hug with one of the football coaches and, from there, he's got a automatic chance with the players he's going after.

Don't think that's important? Think again. That kind of relationship, which current KU receivers coach Eric Kiesau developed with Nigel King's high school coach, was the deciding factor in why King chose Kansas. King trusted his coach. His coach trusted Kiesau. And the Maryland receiver picked the Jayhawks and never looked back. That's worked out pretty well for both parties, don't you think?

For other people, recruiting Kansas and/or Oklahoma is just as important as Texas. And I don't disagree with that. You'll always want to get as many players out of the Lone Star State as you can, but, at Kansas, you're never going to get the best Texas has to offer. Ever. In Kansas and Oklahoma, your chances go up to get the cream of the crop from those states and you don't have to look that far back to see proof of that. James Holt, Chris Harris and Jake Laptad all came from Oklahoma. Jake Sharp, Kerry Meier, Mike Rivera, Darrell Stuckey and Ben Heeney all came from Kansas. Both states are important. So there's no need for this to be an all-Texas-all-the-time endeavor.

Whether you favor Beaty, Clint Bowen, Tim Beck or Willie Fritz or think that recruiting, player development or sincere connections with big-money donors are the most important jobs of a head coach, this thing is probably going to come down to four or five names that have a real shot at becoming KU's next coach.

I could sit here and draw up a list of 20 guys who have been talked about, considered, contacted or crossed off the list, but that would be a waste of time because many of those guys, although intriguing for one reason or another, were never really in the running.

See, searches like this often travel down two paths. The first and most obvious path is the road to finding the right guy. It's the most important thing on the plates of Zenger and the search committee and you can bet that 12-15 hours a day — phone calls, research, investigations, etc. — from any number of people involved are being spent on trying to pinpoint Mr. Right.

The other path is completely different and, although it does not end up in the home or office of the right guy, it often leads to that person. That's where a lot of those 20 or so names come into play and many of them came into play during the last search, as well. Remember when it was rumored that Zenger had met with former Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez during the search of 2011? It wasn't to see if he was interested in the job. It was instead to see what he thought about the KU program, what others had told him about Kansas and the Big 12 and an inquiry into what factors should be important. And before you go thinking that Alvarez's answers shaped Zenger's opinion, remember that this was just one example of a meeting like that and, therefore, it only had some impact into how Zenger proceeded.

Such conversations are crucial when you're trying to find a coach because Zenger has a much greater responsibility in this whole deal than just to pick the guy he likes. That's especially true this time around after Charlie Weis was shown the door. Zenger has to like the guy in order for him to have a chance, but, believe it or not, this time around it's just as important for others to like him to — committee members, current and former players, athletic department officials and donors alike.

The only way that Kansas is going to successfully rebuild its football program is by finding a leader that can take all of these elements and personalities into account and make all of them work and come together. The project is too daunting for one man — coach or AD — to do it alone. And the road is too rocky and fraught with pitfalls for anyone to expect that.

Shortly after 6:30 a.m., Kansas interim head football coach Clint Bowen walks toward his office down a hallway lined with rows of images documenting the high points from the program's recent history, Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014.

Shortly after 6:30 a.m., Kansas interim head football coach Clint Bowen walks toward his office down a hallway lined with rows of images documenting the high points from the program's recent history, Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014. by Nick Krug

I think that's why Bowen seems to be the odds-on favorite right now. He's working with the advantage of being able to show concrete evidence of how successful he can be in some of these key areas. The players love him. The alumni is all-in. The product on the field has improved, Oklahoma and Baylor notwithstanding, and Zenger likes him. He would not have given him this chance if that weren't the case.

So, in Bowen, you've got a known commodity, a guy who plenty of people would support and a guy who, no question about it, would give his heart and soul to the program. Heck, he already has.

What the next two weeks or so are about is stacking candidates up against what you know you have in Bowen.

How does Candidate A compare to Bowen in recruiting philosophy and production? How does Candidate B compare to Bowen in player development? How does Candidate C compare to Bowen in ability to connect to people, donors, players and fans alike?

Such a scenario is rare in college coaching because, more often than not, the interim guy is not actually a candidate for the job, more just a guy who can land the ship before leaving town with the rest of the staff.

And because of that, coaching searches often produce a final pool of guys who have to be compared to one another in a guessing-game situation. If a school narrows its choice down to three guys, it has to pick the best of the bunch based on what it thinks it knows — and likes — about each guy. In KU's case currently, it can stack the strengths and weaknesses of the other finalists against what it absolutely does know about Bowen.

While that figures to be a good thing for Bowen, given the way his time as interim coach went and was received, it's an even better thing for Zenger and Kansas because it increases the odds that they'll get this one right.


Steve Corder 7 years, 8 months ago

For Bowen, KU is a "final destination" program. Do you select a coach who, most likely, be "cherry picked" by more prestigious programs when/if KU is noticed by its elevation to respectability, within a short period of time after the hire? Can the KU program retain a newly successful coach?

If Bowen is not selected and the new hire wallows in mediocrity (at best...4 to 5 wins) does that place added pressure on Mr. Zenger to get this one right, as failure would start the process anew once more?

Regardless of who is selected, IF the hire does not produce as expected (crystal ball required) which hire would be better from the administration's perspective (as in CYA)?

I am glad I don't have to wrestle with this search!

Aside: is it possible that Gundy is on his way out, after 2011 B12 championship?

Len Shaffer 7 years, 8 months ago

I agree, Steve, it does seem like it would be hard to come out on top with someone who doesn't see KU as a destination school (i.e., with virtually anyone other than Bowen). If the next coach is just mediocre, he'll eventually be shown the door, and if he's successful, he'll move on to a better program. Knowing how much Bowen loves KU has to be a gigantic point in his favor.

Calvin Miller 7 years, 8 months ago

Gundy is not on his way out,but his OC, Yurcich, is gone at the end of the season.

John Fitzgerald 7 years, 8 months ago

I like hiring Bowen and just compiling a strong staff to support him. I agree with Steve, this is his final destination and with a strong supporting staff I think he can do great things here at KU. Time will tell, and either way, I just hope KU football can start to become competitive.

Calvin Miller 7 years, 8 months ago

Tongue in cheek, I'm sure. Or maybe the concern is that KU should hire Bowen before another program offers a HC job. Oh, wait. There are no other offers. What Tait has fallen for here is the fact that Weis was so abysmal as a HC that a ham sandwich on the sideline would look good to some writers and many in the Bowen flock.

Kerby Rice 7 years, 8 months ago

Really would like to see the list of 20 out of curiosity Matt!! Also, what is the percentage that one of your 20 listed is the next HC?? I don't think at this point 3 years ago that Charlie Weis would have been on many folks' list of 20.

Matt Tait 7 years, 8 months ago

Totally agree. We probably tossed around 20-30 names last time and Weis was not one of them until the very last day, when sources started hearing his name come up.

This time, I think it's VERY likely that the next coach is one of "the 20" and I'd even go as far as to say that odds are good that the next coach was on our initial list back in September. You never know, though.

That's what makes it fun!

I'll work something up in the next few days with those names and maybe give a quick 10 words or less comment on each name.

Tom Hanson 7 years, 8 months ago

Success and departure sounds like a possibility in today's "what have you done for me lately" coaching world. I am leaning toward John's comments about assembling a strong supporting staff. Again I reference Jerry Kill and the Gophers regardless how his Wisconsin game turns out this weekend. It does take "exceptional players" and he will be without his top running back in a running offense. Give Bowen the keys and let him drive the Jayhawk bus to respectability.

Rick McGowwan 7 years, 8 months ago

Unless I am missing some major indicators Bowen isn't going to make wholesale changes to his staff. QB coach, Special Teams and D-Coordinator and maybe Reagan transition. Kiseau, Campo, Wyatt and the rest stay.The problem is we already know what this staff can do.

I would love to see Bowen as part of a new staff, but I can't imagine the team of coaches we have assembled will suddenly start to out-recruit, out-coach, and out-develop the other programs. I fear that this staff leaves us short of mediocre. The stability would be nice though.

Having said that, I would love nothing more than to see Bowen succeed. So if he is named the new coach I'll be happy, pull for him, and continue to support the program with my $$.

Matt Tait 7 years, 8 months ago

I don't think as many guys on the current staff as you think would be a part of the new staff… It's a good group and they all get along, but change has to happen and I think you'd see significant change even if Bowen gets the job.

Rick McGowwan 7 years, 8 months ago

If Bowen gets the job I hope we do see a lot of change. I think Bowen will be a much better head coach than position coach, but if he gets the wrong assistants under him we'll never know.

Thanks for keeping us updated Matt! Love your take on things.

Kevin Robert Fest 7 years, 8 months ago

No matter who is chosen some will like the choice and some won't. But make no mistake no program can win with 2-3 star recruits not one. So they have to start gettig better recruits. We have 2-3 star players on the o and d line and they are getting destroyed they have to no need to get better players to come regardless of who the coach is. How? I have no idea, Bowen is a good start maybe playiing time or starting right away is important to some recruits but what can he sell? The. 2015 class so far is all 2-3 stars. Recruit Kansas ok KSt has more to offfer as far as record and being competitive and stability how many Kansas kids chose KSt for the 2015 class? One recruit from Lawrence a lifelong KU fan chose KSt. Some of our recruits chose to go Bowling Green or La Tech or ISt what does that say? I'm really worried we are losing a lot of our best players to graduation and the players taking their place have little to no experience and the recruits are average at best. Its going to take awhile longer than people would like but Rome wasn't built in a day a it will take a lot longer than that to build this program after the mess Gil and Weis left regardless of who the coach is. Pulling for Bowen.

Aaron Paisley 7 years, 8 months ago

The way the search committee should work is that Zeiger has a list of characteristics he wants the next coach to have. He gives that list to Nienas who distributes the list to his contacts across the country and Zeiger interviews those candidates that are turned up from the contacts.

Rick McGowwan 7 years, 8 months ago

Aaron's got it. The search committee isn't to have a 100 opinions in the process, it's to make sure we take emotion out of it. The simplest thing Zenger could do is hire Bowen, but the right thing to do is determine the characteristics you want in a coach and then put your committee to work. Look at the names they come back with and then start asking some questions. CB will still be short listed, this process doesn't hurt his candidacy. If he wins the job, after a thorough process, it can only improve his standing and credibility.

John Myers 7 years, 8 months ago

One of the biggest reasons I want to see Bowen as head coach:

Any other coach that we bring in will want KU to turn around and succeed so that they look like a great coach.

Bowen wants KU to turn around and succeed so that KU looks good.

Jim Stauffer 7 years, 8 months ago

There is a kernel in Matt's article that most people continue to overlook in discussions of the assets the new coach needs to have. Recruiting Kansas, KC Metro and Oklahoma. Bowen possesses this in spades. We will see an immediate ramping up of the relationship KU has with HS coaches in this part of the country.

Add to that his good image in the North Texas High Schools and recruiting will be the best it has been since Jack Mitchell.

Bowen has shown he recognized the failures of his predecessor by changing QB's, OC's and the practice routine that has energized and improved the technique of the players. All this has been done on the go in the last 8 weeks. Ask yourself how much more will these improvements deliver over a Spring and Fall session.

Next year the wins will be hard to come by like this year. But you know what will not be hard to come by? Exciting games like ISU, OSU, TTU and TCU. We will win some of these close battles in the future. Home games will be fun again.

Ashwin Rao 7 years, 8 months ago

It all hinges on this Saturday's performance. Out of the last 5 games of the season, we got clobbered by Baylor & OU (both away games), we played with our hearts against ISU and TCU (both home games). This, 5th game, is a tie-breaker. If a well prepared team comes to play, then Bowen is a forerunner. Otherwise not. To me, the previous (to the last 5) few games gave Bowen a chance to tweak the team, and to get the comradery going in the team.

Bob Bailey 7 years, 8 months ago

What's on the team this year is all the new coach will have next year.

You may be looking too far ahead with recruits. The talent we have gotten is as good as it will be till the record improves. Bowen may have helped s appreciate what we have!

What we need is top notch Coaching, a la DC, especially, OC, and Special teams. Have serious doubts Bowen would know the difference. Clearly, Zenger would not!

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