Fear And Hope Together: Inside the Latest Kansas Coaching Search

As a Kansas fan and alum, football season is a bit less exciting than basketball season to say the least. The one “positive” to being a Kansas fan is I have gotten really good at going through coaching searches. This is the third search for a head coach Kansas has undertaken since Mark Mangino left the school in 2009.

So what is it like to go through a coaching search? Equal parts exhilarating and terrifying. Although Kansas has some recent success, most notably an Orange Bowl appearance in 2008, their football history is pretty disappointing to say the least. It has been even worse lately, as Turner Gill and Charlie Weis have turned Kansas into possibly the worst power conference team in America.

I was in favor of the Turner Gill hire at the time (the hire; not the contract). He was a young, up-and-coming coach who seemed like he was going to recruit well and get his players to play hard for him. Obviously it did not turn out that way, but it was a reasonable gamble in my opinion. The hire of Charlie Weis was the exact opposite. We knew what Weis was. We knew what he could do. We knew what he couldn’t do. The program improved in some areas, but it mostly stayed stagnant or regressed. The fact that athletic director Sheahon Zenger hired Weis gives a lot of people, including me, pause regarding this next hire.

That’s where the anxiety comes in. In many ways, the browsing of message boards, emailing people from other schools, obsessively checking Twitter, and even tracking flight numbers are the most fun parts of being a Kansas football fan. But there’s also the very real fear that a good candidate will be out there but get passed over for someone much less qualified.

I won’t comment on the accuracy of the rumors, but it’s worth noting: before Turner Gill was hired there was plenty of talk that then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh had agreed to become the next head coach of the Jayhawks, but rescinded acceptance of the job when KU’s athletic director at the time, Lew Perkins, wouldn’t allow him to coach in Stanford’s bowl game. There were more rumors (before Charlie Weis was hired) that Gus Malzahn was in talks to become Kansas’s coach before he went to Auburn. Regardless of the accuracy of these rumors, it paints a picture of an athletic department that doesn’t know a good thing when it’s staring them straight in the face.

All of which brings me to this search.

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There is a lot of talk lately about how using a search firm to hire a head coach is a bad idea, but with the previous hire being made by Sheahon Zenger — reportedly without much outside influence — and that hire being Charlie Weis, I think a search firm is just fine.

That firm has churned up mostly the same group of candidates one can find on any message board or website around, but given the last two hires it will be worth it if Kansas settles on the right guy.

Will Ed Warinner return to Lawrence, where he helped lead the Jayhawks to an Orange Bowl?

Who is the right guy? I won’t pretend to be an expert, but it seems as though two guys who reportedly (I know, I know…) want the job have far and away better resumes than the other candidates: Willie Fritz, the head coach at Georgia Southern, and Ohio State co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner.

There are some off-the-beaten-path candidates such as Colorado School of Mines head coach Bob Stitt that I’d love to see get a look, if only for curiosity’s sake. The other rumored candidates, such as Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck and interim head coach Clint Bowen, all have significant warts.

The problem with being a Kansas football fan is this is both the best and in some ways the worst part of being a fan. The anxiety that Kansas will make the wrong hire leads me to yell to no one in particular to just hire someone, which of course leads to me fearing they’ll rush the hire. It’s quite the cycle.

So I’ll hang out on Twitter and on message boards, hoping for news of an offer, or an interview, or a private jet bound for Columbus, Ohio, or Statesboro, Georgia, or some other far-flung location, and I’ll continue to cling to the hope that this time things will be different.

There’s always “next hire.”

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