Circle the wagons, play the disrespect card, cue up an “us against the world” mentality, pick your favorite cliché for the underdog state of mind. Any of these approaches could work for Kansas football.
It’s difficult to come up with another major program headed into a season as lightly regarded as the Jayhawks are in 2018.
Take the Big 12 preseason poll. Fifty-two members of the media projected an order of finish, with one point assigned to each position: 10 for a first-place vote, nine for second, and so on, down to one point for 10th place. The Jayhawks, with 52 points, received everyone’s last-place vote.
Kansas is a consensus No. 1 on another list — coaching hot seats. On the lists that have popped up on social media, David Beaty is judged to be in the most perilous position.
Makes sense. Not many coaches are employed long enough to amass the 3-33 record that belongs to Beaty. He did because the Jayhawks showed progress in his second year, highlighted by a victory over Texas. Last year fell apart, however, with 11 straight losses, all in double digits.
Beaty kept his job after the 2017 debacle, but athletic director Sheahon Zegner did not. Replacement Jeff Long was introduced last week.
On Monday at Big 12 Media Days, Beaty said all the right things about the boss he has yet to meet in person. Beaty was on vacation with his family when Long was on campus last week. They’ve only spoken by phone so far.
“He’s been very professional, very accommodating, and easy to talk to,” Beaty said. “We’ll spend a whole lot more time together and I’m sure both of us will be able to make our place better.”
Media days exist for coaches and players to be upbeat. But Beaty and the Jayhawks know where they stand in the minds of others. A program riding an NCAA-record 46-game road losing streak, one that has finished 0-9 in Big 12 play four of the past seven seasons, is an easy target.
“We want to make some media eat their words,” said Kansas linebacker Joe Dineen Jr. “But it doesn’t hurt my feelings or anything. I know it’s a production business. And as a team there’s a consensus to put our foot down and say, ‘This is enough,’ and earn our respect.”
KU defensive tackle Daniel Wise said he tries to tune out most of the negative talk. “But you hear it whether you want to or not,” he said.
There are reasons for KU’s ongoing lack of success. Beaty inherited a depleted roster. He plays in a Big 12 conference with round-robin scheduling and one that includes three non-conference games, not four as in other leagues.
But that doesn’t sufficiently explain the current three-year stretch, the worst in KU history. Kansas shouldn’t be this bad, and Beaty has this season to prove he’s the right fit.
Long is the right person to make the call, according to the first football coach he hired to a major program — Dave Wannstedt at Pittsburgh in 2005.
“What makes Jeff unique is he coached and he’s been an assistant athletic director and athletic director,” said Wannstedt, now a college football studio analyst for Fox. “He understands the football part of it, what has to be done to win. I think it’s a great hire for Kansas.”
Wannstedt said he’s convinced Long didn’t hit the ground looking for Beaty’s replacement.
“He’s not one of those athletic directors talking to other guys and at the same time not supporting his coach,” Wannstedt said. “He’s going to do it right.”
How many victories will Beaty need to keep his job? Maybe the career total of three won’t do it. Perhaps four or five or nothing less than a bowl-qualifying six will be the answer.
Whatever the case, Beaty will play his underdog chip.
“Lots of times, when people tell us we can’t do something, it motivates us,” Beaty said. “We don’t know how long we’re going to be able to live in that underdog role. We hope there’s a day we’re not in that role.”