By Rustin Dodd
While Charlie Weis has managed just one Big 12 victory during his two seasons at Kansas, the veteran coach is undefeated at Big 12 Media Days.
It is, quite simply, one of Weis’ greater gifts — the ability to step in front of a microphone, sell his program, and usually say something that generates some buzz.
Last year, Weis called his team a “pile of crap” while explaining his recruiting strategy from the previous year. The year before, during his Big 12 media day debut, Weis offered this line on the team he had inherited from Turner Gill:
“The bottom line,” Weis said then, “is there’s too many games they’re getting the crap kicked out of them. And they’re the ones that I’m concerned with first.”
So now Weis heads back to Dallas for round three at Big 12 media days, which begin on Monday at the Omni Hotel. The Jayhawks, who will report for fall camp on Aug. 7, begin their season against Southeast Missouri State on Sept. 6 at new-look Memorial Stadium. Before Weis tries to defend his title at media day, let’s look at some of the emerging themes for another Kansas football season.
1. The stakes are real now: During Charlie Weis’ first two seasons, the Jayhawks have been stranded in the Big 12 cellar, winning just four games and going 1-17 in conference play. On the field, Kansas has rarely inspired much hope, either. But some of the growing process could be described as foundational to Weis’ long-term plans. KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger has continually praised how Weis brought a measure of discipline, accountability and organization to a program that needed all three.
Last year, Weis loaded up on junior college players, and the roster is now teeming with seniors. Stated or not, Weis has been building toward his third season. After two years of building, Kansas is waiting to see if the on-field results will follow.
2. Ben Heeney is real: Last season, linebackers coach Clint Bowen stepped in as the de facto defensive coordinator (he now holds the actual title) and the Kansas defense took a step forward. Safety Isaiah Johnson was selected the Big 12’s defensive newcomer of the year. And the secondary was one of the team’s strengths. But the defense will start with Heeney, a kamikaze senior linebacker from Hutchinson. He’s been on all the preseason watch lists and was voted preseason All-Big 12 by the media. This will be Heeney’s last opportunity to play in a bowl game, and Weis believes his defense can slide into the top half of the Big 12.
3. The spread is back: After struggling on offense for two seasons, Charlie Weis fired himself as offensive coordinator. In his place: John Reagan, the former Rice offensive coordinator who once served as the offensive line coach at Kansas under Mark Mangino. Reagan used spring practice to install his own version of the no-huddle spread, and while we don’t know too many specifics, we do know that sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart will be the man leading the way. Reagan says the offense will still rely heavily on the run-game, and Cozart says the offense will have the opportunity to go at multiple tempos. The Jayhawks lost leading rusher James Sims to graduation, but they do return seniors Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox and junior-college transfer DeAndre Mann. Weis also expects to get a spark from transfer receiver Nick Harwell, who will play out his senior year at Kansas after spending three years at Miami (Ohio).
Three other storylines
Once again, Kansas will face a brutal schedule. In addition to nine games in the Big 12, the Jayhawks will take an early-season road trip to Duke, which played in the ACC championship game last year and has a majority of starters returning. Making the Big 12 schedule even tougher: Kansas doesn’t get to play itself.
What will the offensive line look like? While Reagan takes over at offensive coordinator, he also replaces the departed Tim Grunhard as offensive line coach. The Jayhawks could be going to battle with an inexperienced and patchwork group.
Who’s the backup quarterback? Former starter Jake Heaps transferred to Miami (Florida) earlier this summer. That means the backup job could fall to either transfer T.J. Millweard or junior Michael Cummings.