Kansas football had seven more punts (six) than combined first downs (one) and total yards (minus-two) at halftime of their Week 8 loss to TCU. Fox Sports studio analyst Dave Wannstedt briefly discussed the offensive incompetence before tossing it to Matt Leinart.
Leinart couldn’t talk. He was laughing — hysterically. Finally, he put his head down, pointed to Robert Smith and said, “I can’t do this. Go to him.”
For non-Kansas fans, it was a hilarious moment. For Kansas fans, it felt like an, “I’m not mad; I’m just disappointed,” talk from your mom.
Though most of the college football world has been laughing at the Jayhawks for nearly a decade, this was different. It was their first primetime Saturday game on a major network since 2009, and instead of showing the country that their 15-82 record in the last 97 games doesn’t define the program’s future, they showed the country that the future of the program might be even more depressing than their 15-82 record suggests.
It was no longer frustrating. It was just sad.
Kansas set the all-time Power Five mark for the fewest total yards in a game (21) and tied the all-time FBS mark for consecutive road-losses (44).
They haven’t won a road game since Sept. 12, 2009, and haven’t won a Big 12 road game since Oct. 4, 2008 — periods of 2,964 and 3,307 days, respectively. The Jayhawks are 4-55 in the Big 12 since a loss to Colorado on Oct. 17, 2009 — and have finished dead last in the conference five of the last six years (their lone non-last finish was a second-to-last finish in 2014).
After the 2017 season concludes, Kansas could have as many winless Big 12 campaigns as total Big 12 wins the last seven years (four).
The prolonged futility itself is staggering. However, the speed at which Kansas plunged from Orange Bowl champions to the worst program in the country is incomprehensible.
|Year||Big 12 Record (Finish)||Overall Record|
|2007||7-1 (1st-Tie, North)||12-1|
|2008||4-4 (3rd, North)||8-5|
|2009||1-7 (6th, North)||5-7|
|2010||1-7 (6th, North)||3-9|
*Last in the FBS
One of the nation’s most powerful offenses in 2007 took steps backward in 2008 and 2009 before falling off a cliff in 2010, the first of eight-straight seasons in which they haven’t rank among the top 90 teams in either scoring or yards. And a defense that allowed 16 points and 308 yards per contest in 2007 transformed into a miserable unit overnight that has twice ranked dead last in the FBS in both categories.
At least the win total was kind enough to slowly decline for five-straight years. When things are this bad, the silver lining is hardly visible and hardly complimentary.
What the hell happened?
It started with the “resignation” of head coach Mark Mangino in December 2009, says former Kansas running back Brandon McAnderson. Less than two years after Mangino’s major rebuilding effort culminated with the magical 2007 season, he was ousted amidst player mistreatment allegations.
“The initial thing was parting ways with Coach Mangino and doing it in a way that seemed to be about moving on and not having to pay him,” McAnderson, who rushed for 1,125 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior in 2007, told HERO Sports. “I don’t know the validity of the things said. I doubt it was all true and a lot of it seemed like a witch hunt. It seemed like the purpose of it was not to pay him.”
Mangino was replaced by an anti-Mangino, Turner Gill. The 48-year-old former Buffalo head coach didn’t allow players to be in the presence women past 10 p.m. (seriously) and collected players’ cell phones 24 hours before games. Shockingly, restricting access to women and mobile devices didn’t work. Grades tanked, player dismissals — forced and voluntary — skyrocketed and they won five games in two seasons (2010-11).
Gill did recruit like a champion, compiling the nation’s 55th-ranked group in 2010 after just three months on the job, and the 34th-ranked class in 2011, the program’s highest-ranked class in the recruiting era. The Big 12-caliber talent, however, did not translate to wins and he was replaced with Charlie Weis in December 2011.
The former Notre Dame coach’s 34-month tenure started with a bizarre press conference in which a disinterested Weis mostly rambled about Kansas State and included the infamous “pile of crap” comment. Poor player development, head-scratching in-game decisions and non-stop excuses, including in recruiting, where he whiffed on dozens of high-risk prospects, defined his Kansas career.
“Weis’ biggest problem was the many JUCO transfer shortcuts he took on, especially near the end, wrecked KU from a scholarship standpoint,” says Matt Galloway, Kansas beat writer for Topeka Capital-Journal. “Virtually none of them panned out, and many never even played for KU.”
While Weis was doing things his own stubborn way by investing in quick-fix players (he signed 36 JUCO players in three years) — many of whom were dismissed from other programs — it was similar to a blueprint that Mangino tried early in his tenure.
“We almost took a similar approach to the Charlie Weis approach,” McAnderson said, whose 2003 recruiting class included 12 JUCO players. “It didn’t work. They were filling in gaps on defense the best they could. Other than [linebacker] Gabe Toomey, none of the JUCO guys had success their first year.”
Weis lasted 28 games (6-22) and left the program barely recognizable. Irresponsibly aggressive recruiting and numerous player dismissals left Kansas with barely 50 scholarship players when David Beaty was hired in December 2014. Beaty, a former assistant under both Mangino (2007-09) and Gill (2011) was given a longer leash than any Power Five head coach in history.
“We’re going to earn the support of our students, our fans, the high school coaches of this great state and the recruits of this great state,” Beaty said at his introductory press conference. “That’s going to be the message as we get going here and talking about the platform (we are going to use) which is hard work and earning everything we get.”
It hasn’t worked; Beaty is 3-28 in two-plus seasons. He has one Big 12 win and has lost 19 games by at least 22 points, including back-to-back shutouts the last two weeks. Still, athletics director Sheahon Zenger and many of the school’s stakeholders and former players think he’s the right man.
“He wants to be here,” McAnderson says. “Everyone wants to fire someone but where do you go from here? You’d hit the restart button again and struggle to establish any identity. One thing Beaty has been able to establish is a recruiting identity.
“And he’s willing to change. He’s been willing to adapt for the program. He’s the guy you want because he’s willing to do whatever it takes. He’s established a sense of family that helps in recruiting on how players feel about it. I don’t think you can move on from him.”
McAnderson doesn’t believe there is a blueprint for the never-ending rebuild, saying it’s easy to point to him and other low-rated recruits from the Orange Bowl team as proof they need more similar players who were overlooked by other Power Five programs, but each rebuild is different.
“If those guys I played with never developed, people would have said ‘why didn’t you recruit better players?’ It’s not as simple as taking one method and saying this worked before so it’ll work again. What we did was about player development. There’s no guarantee recruiting those players would result in success.”
Three-star quarterback commit Clayton Tune did decommit from Kansas literally minutes after the TCU loss, although Beaty has managed to hang onto two of the top-100 recruits in the 2018 class, five-star receiver Devonta Jason and four-star cornerback Corione Harris, both from Landry-Walker High School in New Orleans.
“Guys like Devonta Jason and Corione Harris can be program-changers, no doubt, but it’s far from certain that they’ll honor their oral commitment and stick with KU come Signing Day,” says Galloway.
“Identifying diamonds in the rough — guys like Dorance Armstrong, Daniel Wise, Joe Dineen, Mike Lee, Khalil Herbert and Mesa Ribordy — are most pivotal to success at places like KU. And as we’ve seen at K-State, you don’t need a bunch of four- and five-star guys to put a respectable product on the field. Right now, I think every KU fan on the planet would simply take a respectable product.”
It’s been nearly a decade since Kansas fielded a respectable product. Their failure to not get embarrassed on a weekly basis has prompted laughter from Matt Leinart and the rest of the college football world. Embrace the laughter, says McAnderson.
“Take everything personally. Everything should be personal. You should read everything in the press. Uou don’t have to respond to it but every piece of every doubt should be fuel for you.
“You have to insulate your program to your own expectations, and I get that, but as an individual, everything is motivating. Everything I saw and felt made me angry. Be open to the idea that people think you’re [expletive]. Embrace it and fight for it.”
Until they find the right formula for respectability, people will continue laughing.[divider]