What is it going to take for the University of Kansas to have a winning football program? Alumni, friends and KU fans have been asking this question for years. Aside from a few far-too-short periods, the Jayhawk football team has been an embarrassment to the school and fans.
Fans, at least reasonable fans, are not calling for championship teams but rather, teams that will compile respectable win-loss records with an occasional trip to one of the “bowl” games.
The most recent successful KU football record was put together by Coach Mark Mangino who led the team to a 50 win, 48 loss record with four trips to post season bowl appearances. His eight-year tenure (2002-09) was ended by a dubious athletics director, who for questionable reasons, was determined to get rid of Mangino.
Since then, the KU team has one of the worst win-loss records among all major division football teams.
So what’s the answer? Just keep on doing the same or, make the necessary changes that give the players and coaches a better chance for success?
The University enjoys extremely enthusiastic, supportive and generous alumni and friends.
The KU basketball program is one of the nation’s best and has maintained this lofty position through a number of changes in coaches. There also have been changes in athletics directors and chancellors.
It’s a winning program for the entire university and a program that generates tremendous pride and enthusiasm among fans and alumni throughout the country.
Why can’t KU duplicate this situation with the football program? This is not suggesting a KU football team could build a national record equal to what the basketball program has achieved, but it could field a team that has a respectable win-loss record.
One thing should be made very clear: no one wants to win more than the players themselves. Their desire to win exceeds the wishes of the most loyal and/or vocal fan in the stadium. They want to win far more than the coaches who are making thousands or millions of dollars to coach these players.
One of the best examples of what can be done to resurrect a football program can be seen a few miles up the Kansas River at Kansas State University.
The school’s leadership was changed; Jon Wefald was brought in from Minnesota to become Kansas State University president in 1986. By all accounts, the KSU football team was one of the worst, if not the worst, in major college football.
Two years after taking over the presidency, Wefald hired a new football coach, Bill Snyder. He also hired a new athletics director. He cleaned house and made it clear he wanted a good football team and that he would do everything he could to help bring this about.
At the same time, he made it equally clear he was determined to improve morale on the campus, improve enrollment numbers as well as added private fiscal support. In many ways, he rescued the entire university. It can be done.
Wefald has been quoted saying the recruitment of coaches, athletic directors, and even chancellors or presidents, is a difficult and sometimes painful and costly exercise. He claims only about 30 percent of new hires turn out to be winners so it is imperative those on search committees do a thorough, very deep job to get an accurate profile of those being considered for a top position….in athletics as well as administrative and faculty.
In recent years the search/hire records in various fields at KU leave too many questions.
According to various individuals who have been successful in the collegiate/athletics business, there are some basic essentials necessary to build a successful program:
• A chancellor committed to the importance of a respectable football team.
• A top flight athletics director who enjoys a winning record and is respected by faculty, students and the athletic community.
• A coach who has been thoroughly vetted; knowing why he is looking for a job and if he is suited to fill the position at KU.
• A sound financial base which allows an attractive, competitive salary for the coach and sufficient funds to attract highly prized assistant coaches.
• Generous fiscal alumni and friends.
• Facilities are important but not immediately when trying to turn around an embarrassing program.
• And, a program must have the legitimacy, potential and record to attract top high school football players.
How does KU score in this equation necessary for a respectable football program?
Kansas University certainly offers an attractive and challenging record of success for high schoolers looking for a highly rated educational experience. Likewise, recruits with outstanding basketball skills consider playing in Allen Fieldhouse a dream come true.
Unfortunately, this is not the situation today relative to the KU football program.
Whether KU officials have the desire, more importantly the commitment, to do what is necessary to turn the football program around is questionable. Unfortunately, it’s likely to continue to be the same old message – “just wait ‘til next year.”