Toughness, teamwork common themes on David Beaty's coaching staff
Today marked the third time since 2010 that I've found myself in the position of having to walk into a room full of football coaches whom I did not know and explain to them that I planned to spend the next however many years covering and caring about just about everything they think, say and do when it comes to Kansas football.
Because I've done this so often, I kind of have it down. First impressions are important, so you want to be professional and respectful. But you also want to be confident. Above everything else, though, you want to make sure you don't assume familiarity. Few things outrage me as much as that and I try very hard to make sure I'm never the one doing the assuming.
So there I was, with my hand extended, my business card ready to pass out, and my questions ready for the new members of David Beaty's KU football staff ready to go.
There were eight of them who met with the local media for the first time on Wednesday and although I didn't quite make my way around the room to say to all of them, I saw enough of them to know that what I thought was an impressive staff on paper is even more impressive in person.
It's not their resumes or track records or accomplishments that make Beaty's boys impressive. It's the type of people they are. Like their head coach, they're energetic, engaging, friendly dudes who are here to coach football and have a little fun doing it. When I say fun, I'm not talking about the kind of get-togethers you see at the country club. These guys are serious about the business and even more serious about the challenge they've agreed to take on by joining the football program at KU. But they're not so stuffy that they're going to be relentless jerks in their pursuit of that, nor are they so naïve to think that it's going to be easy.
Each one of these guys — Rob Likens (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks), Zach Yenser (offensive line), Calvin Thibodeaux (defensive line), Klint Kubiak (wide receivers), Gary Hyman (special teams/tight ends), Kevin Kane (linebackers), Je'Ney Jackson (director of strength and conditioning) and Gene Wier (director of high school relations) — seems well aware of the monumental rebuilding task that's ahead, and rather than being intimidated or turned off by that, these guys seem to be gearing up for a fight.
The two common themes that bounced around throughout the room were toughness and teamwork. Nearly every coach I spoke with mentioned something about playing tough and coaching tough kids. The most notable such soundbite came from Kubiak, the 27-year-old wide receivers coach who told me that he wanted KU's wide receivers to be the toughest unit on the team and added, “And if they're not, they won't play.”
Then there was offensive line coach Zach Yenser, whose position group is tougher than most by nature, who said he was not at all intimidated about jumping into the wild and wide-open Big 12 Conference after dealing with all kinds of styles of offenses in the Pac-12. Again, though, Yenser was not cocky when talking about why he thought what he, Beaty, offensive coordinator Rob Likens and the rest of the offensive staff would bring to the KU offense, more confident in his belief that, with hard work and, of course, toughness, it would work.
Speaking of Likens, he listed the three things that he wants to see from the offensive players he puts on the field and toughness was included in the trio of traits: We want them to be fast, we want them to be tough and we want them to have great character, he said. And he added that the staff was not really willing to compromise or sacrifice in any of those areas.
All the words and talk in the world won't mean a thing for the results on the field. And, by now, it's quite clear that KU fans are not interested in hearing about how things will be better or different or new. They just want to see better football.
I get the sense that this staff, like Beaty and like Clint Bowen before him, gets that and is made up of a bunch of regular guys who are much more interested in working and finding ways to fix problems and create advantages than talking about how they'll do it or what needs to happen.
Time will tell if my read on these guys is right or wrong or if it'll make a difference. But given what I learned today about the personalities and make-up of the coaches in charge of bringing change to KU football, it seems like the program is starting over in a pretty good spot — for the long haul — and is backed a bunch of coaches who understand the challenges, are willing to embrace them and should be pretty easy to like.