Kansas athletic director Jeff Long says he wasn’t sure about firing David Beaty, even as of Saturday night.
When he woke up Sunday morning, though, he said he felt confident a change was right for the program.
So Long went to the Anderson Family Football Complex to set KU’s football future in motion. He alerted Beaty that he will be fired at the end of the season, with the two coming to an agreement Beaty would remain head coach for the final three games this year.
Long talked to the football team about the new circumstances, then emailed donors about the change before sending out a news release Sunday afternoon.
“As we come to the end of the season, with that signing day looming, I felt it was time to let our fans know, our recruits know and everybody know we’re headed in a different direction,” Long said during a press conference Sunday night.
Long said the search for a new coach will begin immediately. He said he’d already heard from multiple individuals and agents since the job had opened up Sunday.
“The biggest challenge — the most difficult part of it — is trying to figure out who’s really interested in your job,” Long said, “and who’s just playing the game.”
Beaty, in four seasons at KU, is 6-39, including a 2-31 record in Big 12 games, 1-19 in road games and 2-2 against FCS opponents.
As part of a contract extension signed in December 2016, Beaty will receive a $3 million buyout after he is fired, made in six payments.
Long said he hoped to make a new coaching hire “sooner rather than later” while not committing to a timeline. He said it would be important though, given the timing of Beaty’s firing, that the athletic department act reasonably quickly while looking to make a final decision “shortly after the season, if not before.”
There will be no search committee, though Long said he will rely on some search advisers.
“I think this decision rests with me,” Long said. “I think the chancellor has trusted me with this decision, and I think that’s one of the reasons he hired me, and he has expressed that belief in me to be able to do the job.”
Long highlighted other parts of the program that need improvement as well. He said, for now, he’s talked with donors about putting previously proposed Memorial Stadium renovations on “simmer” with the hope of redirecting those funds to coaches, assistants and support staff.
“Our estimates, as we looked and surveyed our competitors, is that we’re down anywhere from eight to 13 to 15 (staff members) from the average program in the country,” Long said. “And I’m not talking about the teams who have perennially made the top four playoff teams. I’m talking about the Big 12 average.”
Long said KU Athletics will need fans supporters step up financially in the near term to help the program while it’s building toward success. He spoke of having a plan in place to pay for KU’s outbound coaches, while also getting the money needed to bring on a new head coach and staff.
“It’s backed up by donors who have made direct contributions. It’s backed up by areas of our athletic program where I’m locating resources that we can maybe spend differently and spend in our football program,” Long said. “It’s a combination of ways we’re going to cover these expenses.”
Beaty released a statement through the athletic department Sunday night, saying he respected Long’s decision while still saddened that he wouldn’t be a part of the program in 2019.
“My family and I would like to thank all of our KU football family and their families who have worked so hard and made so many sacrifices during our time here,” Beaty said. “Only they know the challenges we have faced and how far we have truly come in working to move this program forward. We will always cheris being a part of the great Jayhawk Nation.”
Though Beaty undoubtedly took over a roster four years ago with a low number of scholarship players, the biggest failing in his tenure was a lack of improvement when it came to player growth and also gameday decisions.
Originally brought to KU partly because of his strong Texas recruiting roots, Beaty found a different path to talent at KU than anticipated. After hiring New Orleans native Tony Hull as his running backs coach, Beaty oversaw a program whose greatest recruiting success came from scouring Louisiana, where the team first picked up talented safety Mike Lee before later securing commitments from top high school recruits Corione Harris and Pooka Williams.
And though the team hit on some good players, Beaty and staff never grew and advanced talent inside the program at an acceptable rate. That was most evident on the offensive line, as after three years to build, KU’s coaches were forced to take three transfers earlier this summer to fill in gaps before starting each of them in the team’s opener against Nicholls State.
Beaty, who had never been a head coach above the high school level before taking the KU job, also had other issues early on. His assistant coaches left at an alarming rate, with KU losing five of its nine full-time staff members during Beaty’s first offseason; some left for better jobs, while others took equivalent roles elsewhere.
Beaty also created more issues his second year when he began to micromanage. He decided to become the team’s offensive coordinator, replacing Rob Likens in the role after only one season. Then, when the special teams struggled, Beaty also took on the responsibility of coaching the kickoff and punt returners, saying he wanted to see the technique taught a certain way.
By year three, Beaty said he began to understand he’d taken on too much, hiring TCU co-offensive coordinator Doug Meacham to call plays while promising to go back to more of an advisory role as head coach.
Around that time, Beaty hurt himself by promising results that the Jayhawks couldn’t produce. Before the season started, he said the staff had always pointed to Year 3 as a turning point, believing it “should be a year where we start seeing dividends” and that dividends, in this instance, were “reflected in wins.”
That set up an immediate letdown. After a season-opening victory, KU lost its final 11 games, which included embarrassing moments too. The Jayhawks mustered just 21 yards against TCU — the least by an FBS team in at least 20 seasons — and also fell 38-9 at home to previously winless Baylor.
As the losses piled up, Beaty also continued to earn the reputation of being a poor game manager. One season, KU received a delay of game penalty before its first play of the season, and another time, Beaty took two timeouts to decide what to do on a fourth-and-1 playcall before the team was flagged for 12 men in the huddle when it returned to the field.
Even this year, it continued to be a problem. Beaty wasted much-needed timeouts in his team’s season-opening overtime loss to FCS opponent Nicholls State, then had some of the same issues reappear against Baylor three weeks later.
It led to another change. Beaty fired Meacham after a 2-4 start this season, saying the offense wasn’t making the strides he envisioned. In doing that, Beaty once again made himself play-caller, with the offensive production not improving much after he took over.
Big picture, though, KU simply wasn’t competitive enough on the field. While some fans continued to support Beaty while believing him to be much more personable than predecessor Charlie Weis, there was simply too much losing. The Jayhawks showed only slight improvement this season even after adding a large number of transfer players, jucos and blue shirts while trying to plug immediate holes.
The apathy surrounding the program was apparent in the final two home games. KU drew 15,069 fans for a 27-26 victory over TCU, before bringing in 15,543 in Saturday’s loss to Iowa State — with a majority of those people dressed in Iowa State colors.
Where KU goes now should be interesting. Beaty’s $1.7 million in annual salary was less than half of the next-lowest Big 12 coach, and if the school is serious about winning, it’ll likely need big dollars and a long guaranteed contract to woo a decent coach into a risky situation.
KU appears to be prepared to take that step, though. Remember, Long was hired at $1.5 million per year this summer, making him a top-10-paid athletic director in the country. The dollars there might have been symbolic as much as anything else; when KU hired its next football coach, chancellor Douglas Girod likely wanted to make a statement that the university was going to be willing to make a financial commitment to get football right this time.
Long has a strong track record with football coaches. The former College Football Playoff selection chairman has extensive ties to the sport, and the two men he hired at Arkansas (Bobby Petrino and Bret Bielema) were almost universally seen as strong choices before different circumstances led to their future dismissals.
The next few months will likely shape most of the narrative regarding Long’s tenure at KU. Girod has stated Long’s biggest objective was to help resurrect the football program, and he’ll have no better opportunity to do that than with the next coaching hire he makes.