A few key questions surrounding the KU football coaching search
As yet another Kansas football coaching search moves through a new week, the most obvious question on the minds of KU fans is simple: Who are the Jayhawks going to hire?
It may take a little bit of time to sort that out. And we probably will never know the full extent to which new KU Athletic Director Travis Goff went during his first football hire.
Some information will leak out. And the identity of a handful of candidates will no doubt surface. But Goff, like many of his predecessors and other ADs across the country, is doing his best to keep things quiet so he can do a thorough search and find the best options for Kansas.
No matter what names Goff writes down or crosses off of his list in the coming days, a few key questions likely will determine who Goff hires.
Here’s a look:
• How important are past ties to the KU program?
This, it turned out, was a big deal in the AD search that landed Goff. But I don’t get the sense that it’s in play much for the football hire. Goff has done his due diligence and talked to all kinds of people associated with Kansas football, past and present, to help him formulate a plan. And it seems likely that he’ll interview at least one or two coaches with ties to KU. But that does not appear to be a prerequisite for getting the job nor does it automatically vault any candidate to the top of the list.
• How much can (or will) KU pay?
This is a loaded question and has a lot of factors. For one, KU, like all athletic departments across the country, is dealing with a smaller budget and declining revenue in the wake of the pandemic. But that fact does not automatically preclude Goff from paying KU’s next football coach a competitive salary. The safe bet here is this: He’ll pay whatever is required to get the guy he wants. Based on the names that have surfaced in the early portion of the search, my best guess is that the value will be above $1 million but below $2 million. That obviously could change as new names get involved. But that seems like a good range and would put KU at or below the average starting salary of its last four head coaches. Turner Gill ($2 million), Charlie Weis ($2.5 million), David Beaty ($800,000) and Les Miles ($2.775 million) averaged $2,018,750 per year in their initial contracts with KU. The good news here is that I do not believe Goff will be boxed into paying a low wage the way Sheahon Zenger was with Beaty.
• How much will Goff lean on others to help make the hire?
From the sound of things, the answer is a lot. And good for him. Thus far, he’s talked to a lot of people and gathered a lot of insight into the state of the program, and his previous knowledge of the situation, as a KU grad and KU fan, also has helped him better understand the situation. But he is still a first-time AD who is making his first major coaching hire, and asking for help is another smart move. In addition to talking to people connected to the program, Goff is expected to use the assistance of a search firm and an internal search committee, both of which will help him vet candidates and serve as a sounding board as he tries to cobble together a list of finalists. The business of hiring a Division I college football coach is a major undertaking, and going at it alone only increases the odds of a bad hire.
• What kind of timeline are we looking at?
The only thing we know for sure is that Goff has said he plans to take whatever time is necessary to find the right guy. However, there is a little bit of urgency associated with the process, simply because whoever is hired will walk in already behind on Day 1 and will have limited time to make up for it prior to the start of the 2021 season. Some programs don’t even start spring practices until mid-to-late April, so waiting might have been the better play for Kansas in 2021. Instead, KU’s spring game is slated for May 1 and there has been talk of having a hire made by then or shortly thereafter. Goff himself, however, has given no specific dates or goals for a timeline.
• What kind of impact might COVID-19 have?
At least initially, it could actually make things go a little faster. After all, people from all walks of life have become well versed in Zoom calls these days, so some of the early steps in the search might be able to be taken from Goff’s office over the computer. There is no substitute for in-person interaction, though, so once they get to the point where things are starting to get serious, you can still expect in-person interviews, either on or off campus. But Goff’s ability to instantly be connected via computer with agents, committees, search firm representatives and even candidates themselves might make things a little smoother. COVID-19 should not create any kind of significant delays in the search short of one of KU’s top candidates actually having COVID.
• Isn't it too late for sitting head coaches to leave their teams to take the Kansas job?
In many cases, the answer here would be yes, but not in all cases and not in this case. While it’s unlikely that a Power 5 head coach would leave for another Power 5 job in April or May, it has happened. It’s also not unheard of for Group of 5 coaches to make the jump. After all, there are only so many Power 5 jobs out there and you never know when your chance to get one will come up again. Regardless of the time of year, that makes it much easier to pounce on the opportunity to break through and collect bigger paychecks. Take Buffalo coach Lance Leipold as an example. Leipold’s a popular name this time around and he is a candidate for the job. He also just wrapped up spring practices at Buffalo and has a ton of starters returning from a team that went 6-1 last season with a bowl win over Marshall. While it might make sense for Leipold to want to return to Buffalo for one more year, hoping to go 10-2 and be in the mix for even bigger/better Power 5 jobs in December, doing so would come with some risk. What if Buffalo’s QB gets hurt or half of the team’s secondary goes down? That could turn a potential 10-2 season into 6-6 or 5-7 in a hurry and that could take Leipold out of the running during the next hiring cycle. Some coaches might be willing to take that risk, but those who aren’t won’t have any problem making the move now if KU offers them the job.