It didn’t matter that spring practice was just a month away or that the business of rebuilding a team coming off a 2–10 season never closed. Charlie Weis wanted to get home for the game.
The basketball game.
Just days earlier, Kansas’ hoop squad had claimed a highly charged 87–86 win over third-ranked Missouri. Now, two days later, the Jayhawks had traveled to Stillwater for a matchup with Oklahoma State. It’s not like the Pokes were a big threat on paper; in fact, they had a losing record. But after such a draining triumph, a letdown was almost inevitable. Weis wanted to see how KU would respond.
“I love the hoops team,” Weis says. “I got home to see the basketball game, because I wanted to see how (Kansas coach Bill) Self would handle the emotional letdown after a huge win Saturday.”
The Jayhawks were just fine. They earned a 70–58 win over OSU, clinching the Big 12 regular-season championship. From his perch at home, Weis — the new Kansas football coach — had a chance to watch Self at work and see just how far his own program had to go to match its more celebrated hardwood counterpart.
That Weis has taken over in Lawrence is both interesting and surprising. His arrival at Kansas has to stun many who believed that the coach’s inability to make good on his early assurances that he would turn Notre Dame into a national champion contender disqualified him from another BCS job, especially so soon after leaving South Bend (after the 2009 season). It fascinates those who wonder whether this NFL offensive wizard can author a strong second act away from the intense scrutiny he faced while directing the Irish.
Weis certainly didn’t choose a situation that will provide an easy rehabilitation for his reputation. The Jayhawks didn’t simply post a horrible record last year; they were disorganized and undisciplined. Even the players know that.
“For the most part, it was a lot of little things, small discipline things, that can over time grow into larger things,” says senior offensive tackle Tanner Hawkinson. “The small things turned into big losses,” adds senior defensive end Toben Opurum.
So, not only must Weis upgrade the team’s talent, find a way to shore up a defense that surrendered 43.8 points per game and improve the team’s passing attack, but he must also tighten up the focus and commitment of his players.
The last task was the first he tackled, and he went about it from two angles. First, he hired Scott Holsopple from Florida to be his strength and conditioning coach. (Weis was the Gators’ offensive coordinator last year.) Secondly, he put more pressure on the players to perform in the classroom by installing himself as the academic liaison for the program.
“I interviewed every kid on the team (one March) Saturday morning, and 90 percent of them said the biggest two differences for them were how much improvement they gained in strength and conditioning and how much more accountability they have academically,” Weis says.
Weis considers himself a “loving father” to his players, and that image seems to be at odds with the personality he displayed at Notre Dame, when he was often caustic and arrogant to those outside the program. To his credit, Weis seems to have toned down the offensive genius shtick somewhat and is focused more on producing a winning team than on polishing his national image.
To that end, he was extremely active in the personnel department during his first few months on the job. He began with the quarterback position, which last year featured Jordan Webb, who completed 63.7 percent of his passes for 1,824 yards, 13 touchdowns and 12 picks. Webb wasn’t awful, but he certainly wasn’t a good fit for Weis’ pro-style offense and has since transferred to Colorado. In his place, Weis will likely insert former Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist, who left South Bend after an injury-marred career to play for the man who recruited him to ND. If Crist, who suffered two serious knee injuries while with the Irish, can’t go, Weis will turn to Turner Baty, who led City College of San Francisco to the junior college national title. Former BYU quarterback Jake Heaps, once the nation’s No. 1 high school quarterback, has transferred to Lawrence and will be eligible in 2013.
“If you look at our recruiting class of Dayne Crist, Jake Heaps and Turner Baty, how can anybody in the country have a better recruiting class than that at quarterback?” Weis says, making a pretty good point.
Under center isn’t the only place on the field you’ll find some experienced newcomers in 2012. Weis brought in a total of nine junior college players, and even signed one — offensive lineman Aslam Sterling — on March 12. Unlike at Notre Dame, which did not allow junior college transfers, Kansas is quite amenable to their arrival, and Weis is delighted to be bringing in a class that has some older hands.
“You can turn around a program like this faster when you can blend a mixture of high school kids and junior college kids and other factors, like fifth-year kids who have already graduated (like Crist),” Weis says. “A lot of these kids are ready to play now.”
Weis makes no secret that he is using rival Kansas State as a template for his program. When Bill Snyder began his second stint in Manhattan in 2009, he faced a similar situation: The team was undisciplined and lacked talent. By the next season, Snyder had the Wildcats in a bowl game, and last season, KSU was 10–2 during the regular season. Snyder’s formula included plenty of transfers.
But junior college imports can backfire on coaches, and Weis has to be careful that his desire for quick success doesn’t create trouble down the road. Kansas football fans may not be as demanding as those who grew tired of Weis in South Bend, but if the Jayhawks don’t show progress, it will be hard to justify keeping him.
“When you come to do a rebuild at a school like Kansas, it’s somewhat helpful that he didn’t have all 10- and 11-win seasons,” says KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger, who describes Weis as having a “great work ethic” and a “great football mind.”
“That sounds like a justification, but he knows how to coach a 6–6 team and a 9–3 team. As you rebound, you’re going to have 6–6 seasons before 9–3 seasons.”
At this point, 6–6 sounds pretty good in Lawrence. Not for the basketball team, but for Weis.
This story appeared in Athlon's 2012 Big 12 Preview Annual.
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