(Editor’s note: This story is part of The Star’s annual football preview, which will appear in three special sections in the Sunday, Aug. 28 print edition and also on KansasCity.com and The Star’s Red Zone Extra app.)
David Beaty is done talking about the decision.
During his team’s media day in early August, the second-year Kansas football coach became frustrated after hearing another question about him taking over play-calling duties, letting out a groan before shaking his head to the side.
“Guys, this is being done all over the country,” Beaty said. “There is no new responsibility. It’s the same thing I’ve been doing for years. I mean, there’s nothing to that.”
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Whether Beaty wants to admit it or not, his takeover of the offense is likely to be one of KU’s biggest storylines in 2016.
After taking the role away from offensive coordinator Rob Likens in March, Beaty has opened himself to additional criticism. Is he taking on too much too quickly? And should a coach without a major-college head-coaching victory to his name — and also only one year of offensive coordinating experience — be asking for more to do?
“If you don’t know the guy, then that’s what the general population’s going to think,” KU cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry said. “But if you know why he does stuff, it’s just what he’s about.”
Perry is here to help explain. And perhaps it’s best to start with onside kicks.
Long before they worked together, Perry and Beaty met in 2000 as Texas high school football coaches with big dreams. Back then, Perry would try to watch as much football as possible, and he couldn’t help but laugh when he saw his buddy onside kick when leading by 35.
“You’re a typical offensive coach,” Perry would tell Beaty.
Deep down, Perry understood, though. Beaty just wanted to get his offense back on the field as quickly as possible.
The coach was on the forefront of Air Raid offenses in Texas football, implementing them at schools like Irving MacArthur long before they gained the widespread popularity in college. It was a big reason Beaty was later able to elevate himself to an assistant coach at Rice, KU and Texas A&M before landing the head-coaching gig with the Jayhawks.
“I know there’s going to be some that look out there and they go, ‘Why is he doing it?’” Perry said. “Well, he’s doing it because he wants all the pressure on him.”
KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen — he’s also Beaty’s close friend — sees it the same way.
Bowen often hears the same lament from head coaches who start to miss coaching. Those guys often are hired because of an area of expertise before drifting away from what got them to that position.
“I think deep down,” Bowen said, “Dave wants to coach.”
Bowen can see why. He’s watched Beaty deep-dive into Xs and Os and schemes, oftentimes calling up friends to discuss the latest ideas in offensive football.
Beaty is unique, though, in that he’s not just a guy that plagiarizes from clinics or steals ideas, according to Bowen. The coach also has the confidence to venture out and create his own identity offensively, taking what he’s learned while adapting it to his philosophy and personnel.
“He wasn’t going to let himself fall in the trap of being the head coach that got out of touch with the true coaching of the deal,” Bowen said. “It was important to him.”
And this much is clear: Beaty is enjoying his new role that’s allowed him to be closer to his players.
The mid-morning meetings are usually filled with groggy quarterbacks, guys trying to push through two-a-days while wishing they’d gotten more sleep.
The energy changes, though, when Beaty enters the room.
“I love you boys!” he’ll scream out while raising his voice intentionally.
“I’ve never seen him tired,” KU sophomore Keaton Perry said. “That’s a good thing to have as your head coach.”
Ryan Willis says it’s easy to see why Beaty enjoys the QB meetings so much. The coach knows what good offense looks like, breaking down plays on video before screaming out questions.
“Quick, quick! Where’s the nickel? Where’s the boundary safety?”
“You can’t really doze off,” Willis said with a smile.
After spending more time with Beaty, Keaton — he’s also Kenny’s son — describes him as one of the best offensive minds he’s been around. He’s impressed by the coach’s ability to quickly diagnose the whole picture on tape, consistently preaching to his quarterbacks that there’s someone open on every play.
“I just knew he wanted to be closer to us, because we’re the whole key to an Air Raid offense,” Willis said. “If we know what we’re doing, it’ll spread out to everyone else.”
Beaty made the switch clear to his team in the spring. He called together his players in his football complex’s biggest meeting room, explaining how he was going to take a greater role in the offense while calling the plays and leading the quarterbacks.
Junior Montell Cozart saw it simply as this: Beaty wanted to get out of a head-coaching mentality and transition to become an offensive-minded coach.
And as far as potential criticism goes?
“It’s what comes with the territory,” Cozart said. “When you win, they love you. When you lose, it’s all on you.
“It’s what comes with it. You’ve just got to embrace it all.”
There are legitimate reasons to wonder if this will work.
If KU hired Mike Leach as its coach, it would expect him to run the offense. Beaty, though, doesn’t come with the same offensive reputation or track record.
He’s only been a college offensive coordinator once, and even that wasn’t a resounding success. While leading Rice’s offense in 2010, the Owls averaged 29 points while ranking 84th and 101st in separate efficiency measures available at Footballoutsiders.com.
Those around him still believe Beaty has the coaching ability to be successful.
In recent years, Kenny Perry says Beaty was instrumental in installing spread offenses at Texas A&M and KU even if he didn’t get credit as the team’s receivers coach.
“He knows what he’s doing,” Perry said.
Until the results come, KU fans are left to hope that’s the case — both with the offense and Beaty taking on a greater role.
This much is clear, though: Beaty isn’t taking the easy way out. He isn’t pointing fingers or shifting blame or looking for a scapegoat if things go wrong.
Beaty, instead, is taking full responsibility for what happens with the 2016 KU offense — a choice Perry sees as admirable.
“If it doesn’t work out in three or four years, he’s going to say, ‘Listen, I did everything I could for the coaches and the kids and their families,’” Perry said. “It takes a lot of courage to do that.”