If you go to KU athletics’ official website, it’s not too hard to locate a staff directory and find a listed email address for Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger.
It’s not Zenger’s real email address, of course — his contact info is generic: firstname.lastname@example.org. But in the hyper-connected world of 2014, it can theoretically allow any fan to reach out to KU’s high-ranking athletic official on a moment’s notice.
This, of course, can lead to some interesting email exchanges; like, for instance, when KU alum Scott Paradise hastily tapped out a disgruntled email on his iPhone on Saturday evening.
It was just past 5 p.m., and Kansas was in the final quarter of a unsettling 41-3 loss at Duke. Paradise, a 2009 KU graduate who lives in Atlanta, had seen enough.
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In a heightened emotional state — frustrated by the blowout, bummed after years of bad football — Paradise began his email with the following title: “FIRE WEIS.”
Three days later, as KU coach Charlie Weis met reporters at his weekly news conference Tuesday afternoon, the following response popped into Paradise’s inbox. It was sent by Zenger’s executive assistant, but signed with the athletic director’s name and title.
“We appreciate your input and hope you will continue to support the Kansas Jayhawks,” the email said. “Please know that we are fully aware of your frustration and we are watching this situation closely. Our team values your support; we hope you will stick with us through this challenging time. Thank you and Rock Chalk.
“Director of Kansas Athletics”
From the fan base to administrators, from the coaching staff to players, the opening weeks of the KU season have amplified the angst around the program. Fan unrest has risen to a low boil.
This is the backdrop for Kansas’ nonconference finale against Central Michigan at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Memorial Stadium, the Jayhawks’ last opportunity to build goodwill before the Big 12 schedule. And for the moment, Weis has appeared on an even keel amidst the early-season unease.
“I think this kind of sets the table,” Weis said of the Central Michigan game. “Either sets the table well or it sets the table where you’re really, really fighting an uphill battle.”
After the Duke loss, the themes of Kansas football have not changed. The Jayhawks’ rank last in the Big 12 with 18.5 points per game. They rank last with 145.5 passing yards per game. They rank last in passing efficiency at 102.5.
The sample size is small, but the offensive output fits a familiar narrative.
“Hey, we’ve been there before now, and we all know,” Weis said. “I’m not going to give you illusions of grandeur; we can run the football. If you can’t throw it, if you can’t score points, you’re not going to win.”
For now, Weis and offensive coordinator John Reagan are most focused on unlocking the potential of sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart, who has completed 45 percent of his passes. The process continued on Tuesday. In the span of 45 minutes, Weis both heaped praise on Cozart’s ability and was unapologetically blunt about his poor performance against Duke.
One example: When a reporter asked how Duke managed to slow KU’s leading receiver, Nick Harwell, Weis jumped in.
“Montell shut down Harwell,” Weis said. “Duke’s defense didn’t shut down Harwell.”
The comment might seem unnecessarily harsh, but Weis’ point was valid. Cozart is a young quarterback, still learning how to maneuver around a pocket, still learning how to decipher defenses and make decisions amid the chaos of a football game. And for the moment, Weis still believes that Cozart is the best option at quarterback, ahead of junior backup Michael Cummings.
“I expect Montell to play very well this week, OK,” Weis said. “If you’re asking me, ‘Will I have Cummings ready to go if things don’t go well?’ I’ll have Cummings ready to go if things don’t go well.”
Weis hopes that his Plan A works, but is supplementing the process with a contingency option. In the third week of September, this is a pretty apt symbol for the Kansas football program. For now, the future is unknown.
On Saturday, Kansas will play Central Michigan in a game that feels like another measuring stick for a struggling coach and program.
On Tuesday, Zenger felt the need to put his name on an email to an upset fan.
“I didn’t expect a response,” Paradise said. “He apparently had a form letter waiting.”