KU Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger left Lawrence 11 days ago, and said he wouldn’t be back until he found a football coach. That in itself is an attention-grabbing action. But when Mike Leach eschewed the Jayhawks for Washington State and several other hot names went to other institutions, it seemed Zenger was going to have to settle for a second-rate candidate.
Of course, everyone in the country thought that’s what he’d have to do anyway. This is Kansas after all. KU is a basketball school. It plays in the tough Big XII Conference, which means it has to compete against traditional football powers Oklahoma and Texas every season, along with more recent powerhouses Oklahoma State and Kansas State. Then there’s the small matter of TCU joining for next season. This isn’t exactly the place one wants to come to revive a moribund program.
But Zenger found someone who could give him that splash, that big piece of attention the university was apparently looking for. He hired former Notre Dame head coach and Super Bowl-winning offensive coordinator, Charlie Weis.
And, despite the fact that KU classlessly made their big announcement while Virginia Tech was holding a live press conference being broadcast nationally to address the terrible shootings that occurred on its campus, Zenger’s plan worked. People are buzzing. This is generating excitement both locally and nationally. CBSSports.com’s Dennis Dodd called it one of the “sports stories of the year” in his column.
The problem with this kind of attention is it is short-lived. It’s great that KU football finally made the news for something positive this season, but this has all the ring of style over substance. Let’s not forget that the reason Weis was available is because he was unable to put together a consistent winner at Notre Dame — the biggest stage there is in college football.
Weis’s bio proudly proclaims he posted a 35-27 record at Notre Dame and that he won 19 games in his first two years leading the Fighting Irish, the best two-year span in program history since 1992-93. That’s great. The problem is, after going 19-6 for two years, he went 16-21 over the next three. He may have gone to BCS bowl games the first two season, but he didn’t sniff the BCS afterward.
That means he won with someone else’s players. The two recruiting classes he inherited from his predecessor did pretty well. But he couldn’t bring in anyone substantive of his own. Anyone think he can win in the Big XII with Turner Gill’s players? If he can, I’ll happily eat crow with hot sauce and thank Zenger for hiring him.
But I think this hire was less about winning football games and being competitive in the Big XII than about making Zenger and KU look impressive in the short term. It makes KU look serious about winning football games, and, I suspect, if Weis wins seven games a year and gets the Jayhawks into a bowl every season, KU Athletics will consider itself victorious.
Maybe that’s good enough at a campus where the rallying cry after most football games is, “You just wait ’til basketball season!” But for what KU is going to have to pay Weis for his services and for what his name is supposed to imply, it seems like the expectations should be a program that is regularly ranked in the Top 10-15 and makes a legitimate run at a conference championship every few years. Weis’s record, despite all the gloss from Super Bowls and BCS bowls, doesn’t suggest that’s what Jayhawks fans are going to get.
So KU got what it wanted. For a day at least, KU football got good, positive attention. But there’s a better way to have everyone talking about your program and having nice things to say. It’s called winning.
Weis hasn’t proven that’s something he can bring to Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon.