The end came on a chilled and rain-soaked Saturday, as a grey Kansas sky turned to darkness, as a crowd of 23,842 watched a KU football team take its final breaths of a winless season.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, as Kansas coach David Beaty pushed toward midfield to meet K-State’s Bill Snyder, the scoreboard offered the final and forever verdict: K-State 45, Kansas 14. For the first time in 61 years — for the second time since the program began in 1891 — a Kansas football season had come into being and expired without a single victory.
“Our university deserves better than an 0-12 record,” Beaty said, standing inside the Anderson Family Football Complex on Saturday night.
The end, in some ways, was years in the making, the result of failed hires and failed regimes, years of mismanagement and losing, and a depleted roster that became chum for a fearsome Big 12 schedule. The end — the part for the history books — was a Kansas team losing 12 straight games by a combined score of 553 to 183. The end was becoming the first team from a power-five conference to go winless since Washington in 2008. The end was Beaty standing inside the KU locker room, granting his seniors one final chance to say goodbye, then telling his young players that the program now belonged to them.
“It’s embarrassing to go 0-12,” said sophomore linebacker Joe Dineen, one of those young players.
“That’s unacceptable. And it’s unacceptable for the fans and it’s unacceptable for the University of Kansas. But that will drive us.”
Nearly 12 months ago, on a Friday morning in December, Beaty had stepped off a private plane on the tarmac at Lawrence Memorial Airport, taking his first steps as Kansas’ new head coach, the latest coach to tackle KU’s longtime football problem. That night, in front of 16,300 fans inside Allen Fieldhouse, Beaty clutched a microphone and promised a blue-collar work ethic and blue-collar program.
“I won’t sleep,” Beaty said then, “until we give you something to be proud of.”
From that standpoint, year one was a restless one, a long slog through waist-deep waters. The Jayhawks began the season with just more than 60 scholarship players. Kansas would lose three quarterbacks to season-ending injuries. The year began with a 41-38 loss to South Dakota State on Sept. 5, a result that put a winless season in play.
On Saturday, the Jayhawks had one final chance for a cathartic moment. They opened the game by flubbing two punts inside their own 20-yard line, gifting the Wildcats 14 points, watching as K-State sprinted to a 35-7 lead at halftime. For Beaty, the punting woes stung. All season long, he preached three core tenets of football. If the Jayhawks wanted to get better faster — to play above their true talent level — they had to play penalty-free, win the turnover battle and dominate on special teams. On Saturday, the punting game fell apart.
“That might be one of the most disappointing things that I’ve experienced as a coach this year,” Beaty said.
So here it was, the end, another performance that featured a dormant offense and a porous run defense. The Jayhawks allowed 226 yards rushing and managed just 315 total yards. Freshman quarterback Ryan Willis, who battled injuries the second half of the season, finished 19 of 35 for 215 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
“I know there’s certainly a lot that we’re going to learn from this season,” Beaty said. “Our fans deserve better results than what we gave them this year. Our seniors deserve better results. Our team deserves better results.”
For Kansas’ seniors — for players like defensive end Ben Goodman and running back Taylor Cox — this was the end, a final season without a victory. In some ways, their careers ran parallel to the program’s struggles.
Goodman arrived on campus in the summer of 2011, recruited to Kansas by head coach Turner Gill, a Texas kid looking forward to a career of football in the Big 12. He would redshirt in 2011, watching as his teammates finished 2-10 and KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger shook up the program. Gill was fired at season’s end, and in came Charlie Weis, a swaggering Jersey guy with a long history in the NFL. Goodman played in 11 games that next season. The Jayhawks finished 1-11, and one year later, they had improved to 3-9. But progress stalled last season, and Weis’ disastrous time was over. Once again, Goodman and his teammates endured through another coaching change — the program’s third in five years.
Then there was Cox, a former juco transfer who overcame two medical redshirt seasons and a torn Achilles’ to finish his career on the field.
“It’s tough,” Cox said. “So many connections. So many bonds you make. It might sound cliche, but these guys are my brothers. You bleed. You sweat. You work hard day in and day out, and obviously we didn’t get the results we wanted this year.”
Now Kansas will move forward. What happens now? On late Saturday evening, Beaty spoke of hitting the recruiting trail, of increasing the talent level, of developing the young players in the program. Dineen talked about getting bigger and stronger — a necessity in the Big 12.
Beaty called the winless record “embarrassing,” and his players echoed those sentiments. But as Beaty prepared to return to his office, he did a quick pivot. The season was exhausting. The rebuilding project is immense. But in the moments after a winless season — in the moments after the end — Beaty repeated once more: He was not discouraged.
“I am more sure than ever that we’ll get this thing done,” Beaty said. “More sure than ever. I know that’s hard to believe and hard to swallow after a result like this, against an opponent that it means so much to the people of this state.
“But we’re going to continue working.”
KANSAS STATE 45, KANSAS 14
TableStyle: SP-byperiodsCCI Template: SP-byperiods
KSU: Dimel 12 run (Cantele kick), 13:09.
KU: Parmalee 27 pass from Willis (Wyman kick), 11:15.
KSU: Dimel 1 run (McCrane kick), 7:48.
KSU: Burns 0 blocked punt return (McCrane kick), 6:30.
KSU: Gronkowski 8 run (McCrane kick), 1:30.
KSU: Hubener 2 run (McCrane kick), 9:17.
KSU: FG McCrane 33, 8:18.
KSU: Hubener 22 run (McCrane kick), 13:20.
KU: Hartzog 26 pass from Willis (Wyman kick), 3:28.
TableStyle: SP-footballstatsCCI Template: SP-footballstats
Time of Possession
RUSHING: Kansas St., Hubener 17-88, Jones 13-70, Dimel 5-25, Silmon 6-18, Warmack 4-16, Gronkowski 2-10, Team 1-0, Cook 1-(minus 1). Kansas, Cox 11-47, Mann 6-41, Willis 9-18, Kinner 5-17, Parmalee 1-2, Schadler 1-0, Perry 1-(minus 12), Wyman 1-(minus 13).
PASSING: Kansas St., Hubener 10-17-0-133, Cook 1-2-1-4, Davidson 0-1-0-0. Kansas, Willis 19-35-1-215.
RECEIVING: Kansas St., Cook 3-33, Burton 3-16, Dimel 1-44, Gronkowski 1-31, A.Davis 1-8, Weber 1-4, Reuter 1-1. Kansas, Parmalee 4-50, Patrick 4-30, Sims 2-58, Johnson 2-20, Taylor 2-13, Hartzog 1-26, Mann 1-10, Kinner 1-5, Booker 1-4, Cox 1-(minus 1).