What does a coach do after a soul-crushing loss? Where does a team go after a demoralizing 41-3 loss at Duke in the second game of the season?
Kansas football coach Charlie Weis started moving forward Saturday evening during the charter flight home from Durham, N.C.
“When you lose a game you had high hopes for,” Weis said, “We didn’t wait until the plane landed.”
Weis’ latest comments came on Monday morning during his weekly 10-minute segment on the Big 12 coaches’ teleconference. It was a routine interview during a week that could be anything but standard for Weis and the Kansas program.
After a narrow victory against Southeast Missouri State and an ugly performance at Duke, the Jayhawks’ season now stands at an early crossroads. Central Michigan is set to arrive in Lawrence for a Saturday matchup, a final nonconference game that now feels deeply urgent for Weis.
The grueling round-robin Big 12 schedule will begin against Texas on Sept. 27, and the Jayhawks’ performance at Duke did not inspire much hope for the forthcoming campaign. More to the point, Weis’ current job performance and record — 5-21 overall and 2-21 against FBS opponents — has not sparked much optimism for the future or trajectory of the KU program.
In the 24 hours after the Duke loss, Weis tried to push on. On Sunday morning, he called in sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart for a one-on-one meeting. Cozart was blatantly ineffective in the loss at Duke, and Weis wanted to work on the psyche of his young signal caller.
“He needed that one-on-one TLC,” Weis said. “It’s not one of those you could wait on.”
Weis and Cozart discussed the pressures of the quarterback job, and the importance of staying upbeat and steady after a loss.
“When you win, the quarterback gets all the credit,” Weis says he told Cozart. “When you lose, the quarterback gets all the blame. You and I are tied at the hip on this one.”
True enough, the quarterback position has been Weis’ most fatal flaw for the duration of his Kansas tenure. After failed experiments with transfers Dayne Crist and Jake Heaps, Weis and new offensive coordinator John Reagan moved forward with Cozart, a more mobile and homegrown product from Bishop Miege High School. But after two games, the 19-year-old Cozart has shown his youth and inexperience.
He looked rattled under pressure against Duke. His poise was erratic. He has completed just 23 of 51 passes for 285 yards in two games, and according to the advanced metric “Total QBR,” Cozart ranks last among 11 qualified Big 12 quarterbacks. On Saturday, he was just 11 of 27 for 89 yards and two interceptions.
“It was not a good day at the office,” Weis said.
In the offseason, Weis hired Reagan — a former KU offensive assistant under Mark Mangino — to remake the KU offense and instill some more efficiency in the passing game. After a hot start against Southeast Missouri, the last seven quarters have yielded just 13 points.
“The inefficiency in the passing game is our No. 1 concern,” Weis said.
From a the micro level, this is certainly the case. But in a big picture sense, Weis now faces the prospect of a 1-2 record heading into Big 12 play for the second time in three years.
In the weeks before the season, KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger told The Star that judgments on Weis’ third year at Kansas needed to be made with the clarity of a large sample size. Zenger was hopeful for program-wide dose of momentum and more victories, but he was also careful not to set specific goals. In Zenger’s view, it’s imprudent to set a benchmark for victories when you do not know the true talent of your opponents.
But the disastrous nature of Saturday’s loss could likely expedite the evaluation process — or at the very least, provide a crucial data point. In the early minutes of the second half on Saturday, Zenger stepped into the middle of the Duke press box, watching the game behind a pack of writers, focused on the game with his arms folded.
More than two years ago, Zenger made Weis his first major hire as Kansas athletic director. He gave Weis a five-year, $12.5 million contract, hoping he could return the KU program to solid footing. Now in its third year, the experiment has mostly been marked by losses.
On the field below on Saturday, the Jayhawks continued to looked like an overmatched squad, putting the ball on the ground with regularity and giving up 245 yards rushing to a true freshman running back. A few minutes later, Zenger turned around and left the press box.
Two days later, Weis was sorting through the loss — the big plays, the poor passing game, the two turnovers — and looking to press on.
“Take the big plays as a teaching tool,” Weis said, “knowing that your turnover ratio was minus-two, you’re going to lose just about every game.”