LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - Only a few people in Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger’s most inner circle had any inkling that Charlie Weis would be hired as the Jayhawks’ coach a few years ago.
Zenger is keeping things similarly under wraps as he begins the process once more.
After wrapping up another disappointing season with a 51-13 loss to ninth-ranked Kansas State on Saturday, the attention in Lawrence has shifted to the Jayhawks’ coaching vacancy. Weis was fired just four games into the season, and longtime assistant coach Clint Bowen did an admirable job of keeping things together, building support for him to get the full-time job.
There are plenty of other worthwhile candidates, though, from former assistants during the Jayhawks’ glory years to up-and-coming head coaches at smaller schools.
Of course, it could be somebody completely off the radar - just as Weis was in 2011.
“From day-one Dr. Zenger and I met, we did have a goal and objective. We wanted to set an identity and to create a foundation to lead Kansas football forward,” Bowen said after finishing his 1-7 term as interim coach. “I believe we had a good start on that.”
There is still plenty of work to be done.
The Jayhawks (3-9) beat Iowa State for a rare Big 12 win, and nearly upset fourth-ranked TCU at Memorial Stadium, a pair of encouraging results that made Bowen a leading contender for the job.
But Kansas was also routed by Baylor, gave up an NCAA-record 427 yards rushing to Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine, and was pounded for the sixth straight time by I-70 rival Kansas State.
While the school built a new football complex a few years ago, it still lags far behind fellow Big 12 members in terms of facilities. Memorial Stadium is an aging concrete edifice that only recently had its unsightly track removed, and the Jayhawks have no proper indoor practice facility for when the weather turns inclement in the spring and late fall.
Whoever steps into the job will also have to understand that basketball is king at Kansas. The night before the Jayhawks’ home finale, the hoops team packed Allen Fieldhouse. The attendance that night may have trumped the number of bodies who showed up the next day for football.
All of that may make Bowen an even more ideal candidate.
He grew up with the program and understands the many hurdles that must be overcome to restore its luster. He also could likely be had for a reasonable contract, no small consideration since the school will need to pay the final two years of Weis’ deal.
“I think the first step is hiring the guy we have right now,” said linebacker Ben Heeney, a senior who played his final game on Saturday. “He got us moving in the right direction. That’s the first and only step right now.”
Junior quarterback Michael Cummings also offered his support.
“I would love to come back and finish my career playing for Clint Bowen,” he said.
If Zenger looks elsewhere, Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck could be in the mix. He’s considered one of the top assistants in the nation and was groomed by Mark Mangino, who led the Jayhawks to the Orange Bowl in 2008. And with the firing Sunday of Huskers coach Bo Pelini, there is bound to be some uncertainty in regards to Beck’s future.
Another former Kansas assistant, David Beaty, will likely be considered. He’s finishing his third season at Texas A&M, where he’s worked with wide receivers and handled the recruiting.
Some of the up-and-coming coaches who could join the conversation include Justin Fuente of Memphis, Willie Fritz of Georgia Southern and Matt Wells of Utah State. All have won at places that have scant tradition, middling facilities and plenty of other challenges.
Former South Florida coach Jim Leavitt could be also surface as a candidate. After a rocky finish to a successful rebuilding job with the Bulls, he has rehabilitated his tarnished image as the linebackers coach with the 49ers. He previously worked at Kansas State, has ties to Zenger and understands the unique nature of building a winner in Lawrence.
Then again, considering the off-the-map hiring that Zenger made the last time around, the next coach at Kansas may not be known until the day he is introduced.
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