Charlie Weis had a cold.
It was Monday morning inside the Dallas Omni Hotel, the first day of Big 12 football media days, and Weis had surely seen better days. He sniffled a few times, let out a slight wheeze of a cough, and thumbed the knot on his Jayhawk tie.
Just last week, he had been enjoying a horse show in the Chicago suburbs with his wife, Maura, a devoted lover of all things equine. No, it wasn’t Weis’ ideal vacation activity, but it was certainly better than this: A morning discussing his ever-rebuilding Kansas football program while his nose kept running.
“We haven’t done a thing in the two years I’ve been here,” Weis would say, moments later.
This was the first scene from year three of the Weis era, a season that the head coach hopes is more about substance than style or bold proclamations. After two years of losing — a 4-20 record, to be exact — Weis says his program is ready to take “some major steps.” But that’s about as specific as he’ll go in the realm of expectations.
“We won one game two years ago,” Weis said. “We won three games last year, we’ve only won one game in the conference. And we haven’t won a game on the road. And what do you want me to do — give a prediction of how many games we’re going to win this year?”
The numbers, of course, suggest that Weis is in need of a significant breakthrough in year three. When Weis arrived at Kansas in late 2011, he signed a five-year contract and vowed to pull the program back to respectability. So far, the plan has been slow to take.
Provided the gift of hindsight, Weis conceded one early miscue during his coaching tenure. When he took the reins before the 2012 season, Weis quickly ran 29 players out the program, citing the need to clean the place up and instill some discipline. From the outside, Weis did manage to tidy up some discipline matters, but the mass exodus sucked some of the talent out of a program that already lacked depth.
“I miscalculated the impact of when I threw 29 guys off the team the first year I was there,” Weis said. “I walked in there; there were a lot of issues I felt had to be resolved and one of the ways to resolve them was to get rid of them.”
Weis, of course, can recite what happened next. He knows all the ugly numbers by heart. Four victories. One Big 12 win in two years. A road losing streak that dates back to the early years of President Obama. And now, he enters his third campaign with a senior-laden defense — stocked with former junior college transfers — and a hopefully rejuvenated offense.
“We just want to make a bowl game, we want to win a bowl game,” said senior linebacker Ben Heeney, a preseason All-Big 12 selection. “And you know, as ignorant as it might sound, we want to win the Big 12. But if you don’t want those things, why are you playing?”
While the losses have piled up, Weis has kept searching for answers.
In the offseason, he “fired” himself as offensive coordinator — those are his chosen words — and hired former Rice offensive coordinator John Reagan to install a new spread attack. Sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart won the starting job in the spring, and Weis is hopeful that Cozart’s athleticism and mobility will diversify a unit that has languished among the nation’s worst during the last two seasons.
Twice, Weis hitched his offensive hopes to a transfer quarterback, and twice the plan produced little fruit. Notre Dame transfer Dayne Crist struggled in 2012, and Jake Heaps faced similar problems last season — before losing the job to Cozart. Now Weis plans to open it up, joining the legion of spread attacks in the Big 12.
“With the nature of the offense we’ve been running the last couple years, I think the true drop-back quarterbacks have gotten exposed,” Weis said. “And that’s one of the reasons why I changed what we’re doing. I think that the only position that has been at Big 12 caliber for the last two years has been the running back position.”
On that front, the Jayhawks lost leading rusher James Sims, a two-time 1,000-yard running back, to graduation, but they still feature a backfield that includes seniors Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox and junior college transfer DeAndre Mann. Former Gardner Edgerton standout Traevohn Wrench will be a true freshman.
“I think our running back position will be a position of strength once again, even though James is gone,” Weis said. “But when you have a true drop-back quarterback, and you’re playing with marginal offensive line and marginal receivers, marginal at every position except for running back, you get exposed.”
Two years ago, Weis often spoke of his dream scenario. He had signed a five-year contract, and his plan entailed a fairly specific five-year plan. He wanted to get the program up and running and then hand it off, riding off into the sunset after resuscitating a moribund football program in the heartland.
Nowadays, he says, his plans have changed. He would to stay a few more years, he says, maybe five more total. The hope, Weis says, is that the plan is just starting to fall into place.
“When I came in and made a statement initially,” Weis said. “I’m looking at a five-year deal here. What I mean was, it’s going to take five years to take a bottom program to get it to be a winning program. That doesn’t mean I don’t expect to win this year. It’s going to take a full cycle. I think it takes five years — a full cycle to actually get it right when you’re starting at the bottom.”