The notion that Clint Bowen needed a victory to eventually lose the interim from the Kansas head football coach title was misguided before Saturday.
It continues to be after the Jayhawks’ 34-14 victory over Iowa State, impressive as it was.
Kansas played a nearly flawless opening 1 1/2 quarters with no turnovers, penalties and superb play calling by Eric Kiesau. The opposing offensive coordinator, Mark Mangino, had to be impressed.
After opening a big lead, the Jayhawks took a shot from Iowa State and responded to put the game away.
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Understand this Iowa State team leaves Kansas winless in the Big 12 and the outcome ranks among low points of coach Paul Rhoads’ tenure in Ames.
But Kansas has faced similar opposition in its five years wandering through college football wilderness without triumph. Every cheer from the locker room was deserved and heart-felt.
Still, one victory alone shouldn’t tip the decision to retain Bowen, just as last week’s 46-point loss to Baylor and the three previous losses shouldn’t have eliminated him.
It simply adds to the equation of the most important hire in the three busy years for Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger.
He’s already fired, hired and fired a football coach. The fires were the right calls. The Charlie Weis hiring was a disaster.
Miss on the next Kansas football coach, and, well, if an athletic director is in a position to hire three coaches after firing their predecessors, the program is in deep malaise with problems beyond the losses.
A return to competitiveness isn’t an unreasonable demand from the fan base. It can happen with the right hire, and Zenger clearly has the background for this.
With his football roots in the earliest Bill Snyder years, Zenger witnessed the creation of football life at Kansas State. He remained in football and that’s what made him an appealing candidate to replace Lew Perkins in 2011. At Kansas, basketball is (Bill) Self-sustained. Football needed regeneration.
It still does, a couple of years after the process should have been well under way.
Bowen would be a popular choice. No candidate will be more Kansas-centric, from growing up in Lawrence, to playing for the Jayhawks and serving two stints as an assistant coach. He’s the first Kansas native head coach since Jack Mitchell, from Arkansas City, who finished his career in 1966.
Nobody understands the Kansas culture better, knows the program and hurts more when the Jayhawks fall to Kansas State.
All of that counts toward the evaluation, which gives Bowen a huge advantage. The reason to fire Weis in September was to see what Bowen’s got and how he can grow. The Jayhawks have done that, from changing play-calling duties and the starting quarterback. Progress has been made.
That doesn’t mean other high-quality candidates don’t exist. The most popular names floated, most of whom originate from the Mangino staffs, own their own resume strengths.
Texas A&M wide receivers coach Dave Beaty is a recruiting wizard in Texas. Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck was the passing-game coordinator for the Orange Bowl team, and Ohio State co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner was the offensive coordinator.
Those are just some of the names that could come across the desk of Chuck Neinas, hired by Kansas as a search consultant. Hiring his service was a solid move by Zenger. Every possibility must be considered.
Saturday, as the final moments ticked away, Kansas players on the sideline started chanting “Bowen, Bowen,” just after he took the Gatorade bath.
As students were toting off the goal posts they brought down, linebacker Ben Heeney was handed the game ball from Zenger and asked to present it to Bowen.
“We got a win for a guy who bleeds Jayhawks,” Heeney said. “It was awesome.”
It was a good moment for a program that hasn’t felt enough of them over the past few years, and three games remain for Kansas to keep moving in the right direction, which would only help Bowen’s chances. Then the next big moment has to come from Zenger.