Since Kansas head football coach Charlie Weis was fired after the Jayhawks’ 23-0 loss versus Texas on September 27, University of Kansas football has gone through two coaching changes, a near upset of the Big 12 Conference co-champion, and a signing day. It has been an offseason of transitions and newfound enthusiasm for the KU football program. What does the future hold for the Jayhawks?
Defensive coordinator and former KU linebacker Clint Bowen took the reigns of the program after Weis’s firing, leading the Jayhawks to a 1-7 record, but garnering widespread praise for a 34-14 victory over Iowa State and a near-upset of No. 4 TCU. Among many KU fans, Bowen was the favored choice to replace Charlie Weis. KU showed improvement in all phases of the game after Bowen took over the coaching duties, and junior Michael Cummings claimed the starting quarterback job from sophomore Montell Cozart.
On December 5, after an extensive search led by KU athletic director Dr. Sheahon Zenger and former Big Eight and interim Big 12 conference commissioner Chuck Neinas, KU hired David Beaty as head football coach. A native of Texas, Beaty is widely regarded as an innovative offensive mind and a vaunted recruiter of Texas football talent. Beaty’s collegiate coaching career started at Rice University in 2006 as passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach. For the 2008 season, Beaty moved to Lawrence, serving as wide receivers coach under Mark Mangino. After moving back to Rice as offensive coordinator in the 2010 season, Beaty returned to KU in 2011 to serve as co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach under Turner Gill. From 2012 to 2014, Beaty coached wide receivers and was the recruiting coordinator at Texas A&M University.
At his introductory press conference, Beaty laid out a multifaceted plan to resurrect the struggling KU football program. The first element was to bring in a young, aggressive, and talented staff to recruit and coach the players that KU needs to be competitive in the Big 12. Clint Bowen remains on staff as assistant head coach/defensive coordinator, and Rob Likens is KU’s new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach. Bowen and Reggie Mitchell, running backs coach and recruiting coordinator, are holdovers from the previous staff. Most coaches on the new staff have reputations as great recruiters, especially in the state of Texas.
The staff appears to be focused on keeping the best in-state high school and junior college talent at KU. In recent years, much of the top-tier Kansas talent has gone elsewhere. Beaty addressed this problem at his introductory press conference.
“We also want to do a good job of keeping the best players in the state of Kansas right here at home at their university,” Beaty said. “That is top priority for us, and we do that by building relationships not only with them but with their coaches and their parents and the families and the fans. We want to develop a walk-on program because we only get so many scholarships a year, and there’s a lot of guys out there in the state of Kansas that want to be a part of our great program, and that walk-on program can be powerful. We want it to be the most powerful walk-on program in the country, and that’s a goal of ours. We want to open the doors to more than just 25 a year of the great athletes that there are here in the great state of Kansas. We truly want this to become a Kansas identity football team.”
Beaty and his staff are looking to change the offensive and defensive schemes at KU for the upcoming season. Beaty and offensive coordinator Rob Likens are practitioners of the Air Raid system, an up-tempo, aggressive passing offense ran to perfection by schools such as Texas A&M, California-Berkeley, Texas Tech, and Baylor. The Air Raid promises to be an exciting brand of offensive football and should be fun for fans to watch at Memorial Stadium this season. Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen will run an aggressive defense as well, one that seeks to create turnovers and extra possessions for the offense.
Beaty walks into a tough situation, as KU has gone 12-48 through the last five seasons. Compounding the problem, KU returns only eight total starters, the fewest of any Power-5 conference team. KU loses its five of its six leading receivers to graduation or the NFL, including All-Big 12 tight end Jimmay Mundine and wide receiver Nigel King. Defensively, the Jayhawks lose All-Big 12 linebacker Ben Heeney and All-Big 12 cornerback JaCorey Shepherd. Among the returning starters are senior quarterback Michael Cummings and senior linebacker Jake Love. There will be an intense competition to determine playing time at wide receiver and in the defensive backfield for the Jayhawks.
To fill out the roster with talented newcomers, Beaty and his staff traveled the country recruiting a new class of Jayhawks. In the 2015 recruiting class, the Jayhawks signed 26 players, including eight from the junior college ranks who will compete for immediate playing time. The class has two quarterbacks, two running backs, four wide receivers, one tight end, and six linemen on the offensive side of the football. Defensively, KU signed two defensive linemen, one linebacker, two safeties, and six cornerbacks. Among the highlights are defensive end Dorance Armstrong, a long, athletic player who can develop into a force on the defensive line. On offense, explosive junior college All-American Ke’aun Kinner could compete for a large role on offense and special teams as a return man. Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Rob Likens has two more quarterbacks to work with, including Bishop Miege high school product Ryan Willis. Willis has a strong, accurate arm and could be KU’s quarterback of the future. The Jayhawks are counting on this class developing quickly to be competitive in the Big 12 this season.
2014 was a season of transitions for the Jayhawks, and 2015 brings a renewed sense of optimism and excitement around the KU football program. A new coaching staff, a new style of play, and an infusion of talent brings uncertainty to Lawrence, but new blood and fresh ideas may mean a return of success to Memorial Stadium.