Clint Bowen has been Kansas’ interim football coach for more than three weeks now, the latest leader for a program in a prolonged fog.
As the Jayhawks entered their first bye week since late August, the Jayhawks sit 2-5 overall and 2-44 in their last 46 conference games. And at some point in the next three months, KU will hire its fourth full-time coach since 2009.
To put it bluntly, not many people are investing in the futures market around Kansas football.
Well, there are two. On Thursday morning, Olathe North tight end Josh Moore, a three-star recruit who had committed to Ohio State, called Bowen and committed to Kansas, according to Rivals.com.
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That came about two weeks after the Jayhawks landed a commitment from coveted Texas high school running back Aubrey White, a three-star recruit in the class of 2016. White, a native of Wylie, Texas, was drawing preliminary interest from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska.
So in the span of a couple of weeks, two three-star recruits chose a school that is currently without a full-time head coach. If that sounds unconventional, White can explain it.
“I feel confident in what KU is doing,” White said this week. “I like how coach Bowen is coaching them.”
OK, the stories are a little more complicated than that. By mere coincidence, White was a huge KU basketball fan growing up. Basketball was always his first love, he said, and he always figured KU would be one of his dream schools. But then he developed into a Division I football recruit. And when a KU staffer reached out via Facebook earlier this year, he was interested.
The Jayhawks offered White a scholarship while Charlie Weis was still the head coach, but White made a connection with KU running backs coach Reggie Mitchell. So after Weis was terminated, Mitchell passed along a message to White: Bowen would honor the scholarship offer. And sure enough, White wanted to take it.
“He told me not to worry about everything (with the coaching situation),” White says. “Just focus on high school ball right now. The coaching stuff, let them deal with that.”
White is just a junior, and that means he still has more than a year to renege. In the world of college recruiting, there’s one truth: You never know. But for Kansas, the unlikely commitments of Moore and White shine a light on an area that was thought to pose a problem as Bowen finishes his nine-week run as interim coach.
Landing commitments from three-star recruits is not the norm for a middling program in limbo. And until Kansas hires a full-time coach, the Jayhawks will exist in a recruiting no-man’s land.
The pessimistic view: The current staff is in a tough spot. The optimistic view: Waiting to fire Weis at a later date could have hurt recruiting efforts, anyway. And for the moment, Bowen’s staff is finding a way to land some intriguing talents.
Moore, a senior at Olathe North, is rated as Kansas’ fifth-best recruit, according to Rivals.com.
For now, though, here’s the reality: Bowen and the KU staff must try to hold on to the 13 other committed players in the Jayhawks’ 2015 recruiting class, a blend of junior college and high school players that committed to Weis. Second, the staff must continue its recruiting efforts, evaluating players and piecing together a class. Such tasks can become a priority during a bye week.
When asked about KU’s recruiting efforts following last Saturday’s 34-21 loss at Texas Tech, Bowen said his staff had been open and honest with its recruits.
“Our kids, we've talked to them about it,” Bowen said. “They understand it. We have a plan. We have a blueprint on that foundation, what our team is going to be. Our kids are on board with it, and we'll continue to improve.”
During his time at Kansas, athletic director Sheahon Zenger has made it clear that he understands the importance of football recruiting. When he hired Weis, for instance, he thought Weis’ NFL pedigree could provide a boost in recruiting, which has traditionally lagged near the bottom of the Big 12.
The gambit worked — to a degree — but many of the bigger-name recruits did not pan out.
The Jayhawks, though, still have some recruiting hope for the 2015 class. Mitchell, the program’s recruiting coordinator, has proved himself to be a master at finding capable running back and landing top players. Bowen, meanwhile, can sell a renewed enthusiasm and a fresh start. The questions remain, though: Bowen and his staff will continue recruiting. But who knows which head coach will eventually coach these players.
“Dr. Zenger and myself had a plan of what we wanted the rest of the season to look like,” Bowen said. “And that plan dealt with building a foundation of the way we're going to play at Kansas.”