Jayhawks’ Weis: We expect ‘significantly’ more Ws
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas coach Charlie Weis knows his players will be disappointed if they don’t win “significantly more games” than a year ago, when they stumbled to a 3-9 finish.
Exactly how many more could determine whether Weis lasts past this season.
Now in the third year of a massive rebuilding job, Weis has no doubt made progress with the long-downtrodden Jayhawks. But just four wins still hasn’t stoked much passion from a fan base weary of losing, and it just might take a bowl bid to finally fill Memorial Stadium again.
“We’ve got a lot of older guys now and they’re tired of losing,” Weis said Tuesday before Saturday’s season opener against Southeast Missouri State. “There’s only one way to do it, that’s work your way out of it. That’s it.”
To be clear, there were far more problems than too few wins when Weis rolled into town.
After an ugly divorce from former coach Mark Mangino, who took discipline to an extreme, the program had slid too far the other way during the Turner Gill era. Attendance at class too often became optional. Discipline was lacking throughout the entire program.
Weis saw those problems and essentially cleared house in the days and weeks after his hiring, but that purge also sent a lot of talented players down the road. It was a crucial step in making things right at Kansas, but it came at the cost of victories — just one his first year.
There were marginal gains last season, including his first win over a Big 12 foe, but Weis is the first to acknowledge that progress has been halting. It seems as though every time the Jayhawks are ready to take a big step forward, a modest step backward is never far off.
Take this past offseason. Midway through fall camp, their top two running backs sustained season-ending injuries one day apart, making the team perilously thin at the position.
Yet the Jayhawks still head into their opener Saturday with a more talented roster than at any other point during Weis’s first two seasons. Sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart has proven to be an intriguing run-pass threat, a flotilla of transfers have provided an infusion of veteran leaders, and a hungry group of freshmen is barking up the two-deep roster.
“Every day you show up, you want your guys to put in the best effort they possibly can,” said defensive coordinator Clint Bowen, who might have as much invested in the program as anyone.
Bowen attended high school within walking distance of the Kansas campus. He played for the Jayhawks during the 1990s. He got his coaching start with them as a graduate assistant, and has spent most of his career with a Jayhawk logo on his shirts.
On the opposite side of the ball, Clint Reagan knows what it takes to be successful.
Reagan was an offensive assistant under Mangino when the Jayhawks were making bowl games. Now, he’s back at Kansas as the offensive coordinator, hired by Weis to revamp its attack.
Asked whether the current Jayhawks are close to those more successful teams, Reagan replied: “It’s hard to answer that. If you asked me before the 2007 season if we were going to go 12-1 and go to the Orange Bowl, that would have been a hard guess to make.
“I think our players are willing to work hard. They’re willing to put in the time. They’re believing in the direction we’re headed. When you have that, you at least have what you need to get started. Hopefully we’ll be a better football team because of that, and on top of that.”
This season isn’t about starting, though, it’s about finishing.
The Jayhawks’ goal is to return to a bowl game for the first time since 2008, when they beat Minnesota in the Insight Bowl. It might take reaching that goal to ensure Weis and his staff has a chance to see their rebuilding effort all the way through.
“Our fan base, you talk to them, you hear them. They’re all hungry for us to be successful,” Bowen said. “What this town, this university and community needs, it’s on the coaches, the players, everyone in the organization to do what we need to do.”