Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Coachpocalypse: What happened at Kansas?

Previously in coachpocalypse: No more Zooker, no more hilarious punts and Neuheisel a goner

It was almost exactly three years ago that Turner Gill was sooooo dreamy that Charles Barkley was calling Auburn racist for not hiring him. Buffalo had just finished 8-4, which isn't that impressive except for the "Buffalo" part. He then had interviews at Syracuse and Auburn but ended up getting passed up for those; he went back to Buffalo for the '09 season, went 5-7 and and took the Kansas job the next offseason.

Kansas has been utterly abysmal ever since. A program that had gone 25-13 in the previous three years and went to an Orange Bowl (!) under Mark Mangino went 5-19 in two years and won one freakin' game in Big 12 play under Turner Gill. That is so awful. Tangible improvement would typically get a guy at least three years, but ... I mean ... no. I feel pretty confident saying that Kansas was the worst BCS-conference team in the country this year. To the numbers:

• 95th in scoring offense (aided greatly by putting up 97 points in a cupcake-y two-game start against McNeese State and Northern Illinois)
• 106th in total offense
• 120th in scoring defense at 43.2 points per game (and this was over 50 in November!)
• 120th in total defense at 516 yards per game (lol)

There were brief blips of competitiveness against Baylor and Iowa State, but Kansas also got outscored by 42 (Georgia Tech), 42 (Oklahoma State), 30 (Oklahoma), 38 (Kansas State), 43 (Texas) and 54 (Texas A&M). There's a difference between being bad and being totally and completely awful to the point that the games are over after a quarter. Kansas was the latter for most of this year.

The debate has been whether it's fair to give a coach just two years. At no point did Gill have an upperclass version of any of his recruits. Spectacularly named Kansas AD Sheahon Zenger said this:
“If I were an outsider and someone said, ‘Is two years enough,’ you tend to think two is a short time,” Zenger said. “But in that time period there needs to be signs of life that are greater than what we had.”
There's a fine line there between giving a guy time to improve and acknowledging that the improvement just isn't happening. The coaching-world reaction has basically been "ARGH TWO YEARS?!?" That's understandable and probably won't help in terms of finding somebody who desperately wants to come coach a now-crappy program at a basketball-first school. Still, the whole "one conference win in two years and total uncompetitiveness" thing. Turner Gill might be the greatest guy in the history of the world but did nothing positive at Kansas. That's the part that's hard to reconcile with winning at Buffalo.

A review of his Buffalo track record shows the following: 2-10, 5-7, 8-4, 5-7. The 8-4 team in '08 was 54th in total offense and 94th in total defense and won three games in overtime. In other words, that team wasn't particularly good and could have just as easily gone 5-7 and given him zero winning records in four years. On the flip side, "not particularly good" was still a significant improvement for Buffalo, which might have been the single worst program in the country over the previous decade (10-69 after moving up from I-AA in 1999). So I dunno. Gill definitely did a good job at Buffalo but might have been a little overrated as a major-conference candidate. There are obviously some significant differences between dragging a crappy MAC program up to mediocrity and maintaining/developing an overachieving Big 12 program.

I'm also not sure Kansas really had much of a choice. I found this tidbit interesting:
One booster, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Star that he pledged $750,000 to help Zenger orchestrate the best move for the future of the program.
Money talks. Also, I think it's safe to assume that "best move for the future" = "firing of Turner Gill" in this guy's vernacular. And a firing-related fan poll on the Kansas City Star site showed "right move" holding a pretty comfortable lead over "two years isn't long enough." Coaching moves aren't done in a vacuum; fan/booster support is relevant.

The problem is that Kansas is now in a far worse position competitively than when Gill was hired and will be picking from the Penn State/UCLA/ASU/North Carolina leftovers (or the second-tier guys those schools wouldn't be considering anyway). FYI, Zenger actually made his way up in the world as a football staffer at Kansas State and an assistant under Jim Leavitt at South Florida. Candidate? Sure.

Other names mentioned so far: Mike Leach, Mike Stoops (woo), Larry Fedora and Brent Venables. Stoops seems unlikely given his flameout and general lack of meaningful success at Arizona; Venables seems more plausible given his current locale. Fedora might be able to do better but also might get passed up for the more enticing openings and be intrigued enough by any BCS-conference job to bail on Southern Miss. Is Mark Mangino available?


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