Kansas coach Weis counting on JUCO-led rebound
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas coach Charlie Weis caused quite a stir at the Big 12′s media day in Dallas last month when he was asked about last year’s team, which stumbled to a 1-11 finish in his first season.
He referred to it quite bluntly as a “pile of crap.”
His opinion hadn’t changed on Wednesday, even as the Jayhawks prepared for a fresh start armed with a new quarterback in Jake Heaps and an influx of junior college players ready to contribute.
“For anyone who knows me personally, I put me as the leader of that group,” Weis said, when asked about the national stir caused by his comment. “They want to say, ‘You’re throwing your team under the bus.’ But I always sit there and say, ‘What could I have done?’
“Whose record does that 1-11 go on?” Weis continued to ask. “Last time I checked it goes under my name, right? Kansas football and me. I’m the leader of that. How else are you going to describe it? You want me to give it a cleaner way? It wasn’t very good. OK, I could have said that.”
Well, then. On to this season.
The Jayhawks lost a slew of starters from a team that failed to win a league game for the second straight year, though that may not be such a bad thing. After all, the Jayhawks were beaten 56-16 by rival Kansas State, routed 51-23 by Iowa State and lost 59-10 to West Virginia.
In their place comes a whole bunch of transfer already filling the depth chart.
The most notable name is Heaps, the once highly touted high school quarterback who spurned offers from several big-time schools — including Notre Dame, back when Weis was the coach — to go to BYU. But after setting several records as a freshman, Heaps was shuffled out of the quarterback competition there, ultimately electing to transfer to Kansas and finally joining Weis.
He sat out last season as another transfer, former Fighting Irish quarterback Dayne Crist, struggled mightily in his only season with the Jayhawks. But now, Heaps was the clear-cut No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart that Weis passed out prior to the start of fall practice.
“We’ve all been very, very pleased with how things have gone with Jake,” Weis said.
His supporting cast ought to be vastly improved, too.
The Big 12′s top returning rusher, James Sims, will be eligible to play Week 1 against South Dakota after being suspended for the first part of last year. Taylor Cox and former Jayhawk-turned-junior college transfer Darrian Miller provide some explosiveness behind him.
In fact, the Jayhawks were so deep at running back that Weis moved Tony Pierson and Brandon Bourbon to wide receiver, though both could still be used as running backs in some situation.
Another transfer who made headlines during the spring game is wide receiver Justin McCay, one of the highest-rated wide receivers coming out of high school. He transferred from Oklahoma and sat out last season, catching plenty of passes from Heaps while awaiting his chance to play.
The Jayhawks won’t have the services of Nick Harwell, though.
The former Miami, Ohio, standout who was dismissed from the RedHawks last spring for off-the-field reasons was unable to finish his final six hours of classes. That means that rather than play immediately as a graduate transfer, Harwell will be forced to redshirt after leading the Mid-American Conference team with 68 catches for 870 yards and eight touchdowns last year.
Despite all the changes on offense, there are even more on defense.
Weis spent most of December and January dissecting tape of every game from last season, painful as the experience may have been. What he learned was that it’s no longer possible to run defenses in a conventional way — offenses in college football these days simply operate too quickly.
So rather than listing a base defense on the depth chart, Weis listed a nickel package as the No. 1 unit, and said it’s possible to see seven or eight defensive backs on the field at once.
“In the olden days, you know, you’d sit there, you’d watch the offensive personnel substitution, you’d send your personnel on the field and your defense was called based on down, distance and hash mark,” Weis said. “You can’t do that now. A lot of it is coaching on the fly.”
To help do that, defensive coordinator Dave Campo will now coach from the sideline.
The guys he’ll be using have changed dramatically, too. The initial depth chart listed four junior college transfers as starters with four more serving as backups.
The depth chart is fluid until Aug. 17, Weis said, when things will firm up.
As for last season, well, Weis said he’s relived it several times. He can’t do anything about the outcome now, but he spent the offseason trying to avoid going through it again.
“You’d like to think we’re better in a lot of different areas,” Weis said.