The Kansas Jayhawks’ Football Conundrum

Kansas Jayhawks
Kansas Jayhawks vs Central Michigan” by Brent flanders is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Serious question: Who in the heck does the Kansas Jayhawk football program think it is?

Does the program believe it’s an up-and-coming school bound to contend for conference titles?

Does it believe it’s destined for the College Football Playoff discussion?

Or does it secretly recognize it is what it is: a bottom-feeding Power Five team only in a major conference because of its ultra-successful basketball program?


After falling to No. 24 Iowa State on Saturday, 27-3, Kansas athletic director Jeff Long made a decision a lot of people thought of as a long time coming since his hiring around July 4: he fired head coach David Beaty.*

*Beaty will get to finish out the year, because that’s a grand idea.

Beaty entered the year 3-33 (1-26). This year, despite Saturday’s loss, the Kansas Jayhawks are 3-6 (1-5) with wins over Central Michigan, Rutgers and TCU. In his fourth year, Beaty matched his previous win total from the previous three years. There’s a word for that: progress.

Yet, Long saw otherwise, and now the Kansas Jayhawks will head back into the wilderness, once again trying to the find the right man to lead this wayward program.


Where Did It Go Wrong?

Historically, the Kansas Jayhawks have never been very good on the Grid Iron, even in the early 1960s when Gale Sayers was on the roster. However, there were some solid years, like when they finished ranked* No. 18 in 1973, No. 22 in 1992 or No. 9 in 1995.

*According to the Associated Press.

Things, though, took a turn with the hiring Mark Mangino prior to the 2002 season. While his first year was rough, Mangino took the Kansas Jayhawks bowling the following year and then again in 2005. But things skyrocketed in 2006 when he led them to 12-1 record that included winning the Orange Bowl over Virginia Tech.

However, two years later, after a 5-7 record that included only one conference win, mixed with an internal investigation against him, Mangino resigned.

Overall, in eight years under Mangino, the Kansas Jayhawks went 50-48 (23-41) with a 3-1 bowl record.

Overall, in the following nine years, the Kansas Jayhawks have gone 18-87 (5-72).


An Impatient Hiring

Perhaps worse than the record since Mangino’s resignation is this: then-athletic director Lew Perkins allegedly had a deal in place to hire Stanford’s head coach, but passed because that coach wanted to lead his team in their bowl game that year.

That coach was Jim Harbaugh.

Harbaugh would return to Stanford the following season, lead them to an Orange Bowl victory and a No. 4 finish, before heading to the NFL. In the pros, he led the San Francisco 49ers to a 44-19-1 record in four seasons. He took them to the playoffs three times and the Super Bowl once.

Since, he’s coached the Michigan Wolverines to a 36-12 (24-8) record and has them in the thick of the playoff hunt this season.

Kansas, meanwhile, hired Turner Gill, then the head coach at Buffalo, who’d gone 20-30 in four seasons under Gill. He’d lead the Kansas Jayhawks to a 5-19 (1-16) record in two seasons in Lawrence.


The Golden Hire

New Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger acted swiftly in moving on from Gill, replacing him with former Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis. (Of course, Weis also has multiple Super Bowl rings from coordinating offenses in New York and New England.)

Surprisingly (or not), Weis’ moderate success in South Bend did not transfer to Lawrence. While he went 35-27 with the Fighting Irish in five years, he lasted only two seasons and some change with Kansas, going 6-22 (1-18).

His biggest problem in the transition from a national powerhouse to lowly Kansas seems simple enough: while he easily recruited 4- and 5-star players to Notre Dame, he couldn’t do so at Kansas, and then he couldn’t win with the recruits he managed to get.

That was a problem Mangino figured out. He realized the crop of players he could land, and when he landed them, he could take the 2- and 3-star recruits and coach them up.

Weis couldn’t do that.


What’s Next?

Evidently, Les Miles.

At the very least, he’s being strongly rumored to the job, and one Kansas City radio station is softly reporting a deal may already be in place.

If this is true, this is a home run hire for Long and the University.

However, Miles–who won a BCS Championship with LSU in 2007–will have to adjust to his new surroundings in a way that Weis didn’t. He won’t be able to land those highly-ranked recruits he could get when he was the head coach at LSU from 2005-2016. And so he needs to target different guys, and then be ready to unlock their potential.

Can he do it? No idea. He suffered under LSU’s increasingly high and unrealistic expectations in his final years there despite getting the recruits. The Big XII isn’t nearly as tough as the SEC, but Miles’ in-game prowess seems to have regressed over the years.

Regardless, there is an ocean between Kansas and the Texas Longhorns, Oklahoma Sooner and West Virginia Mountaineers. Miles has his work cut out for him. And while he can’t publicly state this, I’m sure his sights aren’t set on bringing to Lawrence a national championship, like he did in Baton Rouge.

It will be on getting this program back on track to what it was under Mangino: competitive, year in and year out.

In other words: not a bottom-feeder.

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