More than 60 years before Kansas hired a former Texas high school football coach to repair a crumbling program, the school hired an actual high school coach. His name was Chuck Mather, and in January of 1954, then KU athletic director Dutch Lonborg was somewhat smitten. He plucked Mather from Massillion High School, a prep powerhouse in Ohio, and offered a three-year contract worth $9,500 annually — just $2,600 more than he was making in the high school ranks.
Mather was a young and enthusiastic presence. He came from a state that worshiped football, and he promised a new offensive look — he specialized in the Cleveland Browns’ version of the T-formation. Mather, of course, had never coached college football, and by the fall of 1954, his record reflected this: The Jayhawks started 0-9 before entering their final game of the season, a rivalry showdown at Missouri on Nov. 20. Kansas would lose 41-18, and if any of this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s probably because you’re still paying attention to this KU football season.
At 3 p.m. Saturday, Kansas coach David Beaty will lead his winless team into its final game of the season, a rivalry game against K-State, 4-6, inside Memorial Stadium. The Jayhawks are 0-11 for the first time in school history, and if they want to avoid the ignominy of being the second winless team in school history — and the first since Mather came to town in 1954 — they need a victory on Saturday.
“I knew this was going to be a challenge,” said Beaty, who also got his start at the high school level. “(But) we never looked at it as difficult. We knew it was going to on a challenge. We knew that our results were going to be a direct proportion of how much we were going to be able to put in.
“I think we know as a team and as a staff that if we want more, we have to continue to give more. There is something else out there for us that we have to give.”
There is no sugar-coating the results from this season. In 11 losses, the Jayhawks have been outscored by an average score of 46.2 to 18.0. If the Jayhawks fall to Kansas State, they will become the first power-five conference team to go winless since Washington in 2008. A winless season would fall on Beaty’s record, but the problem of Kansas football traces back years, to the regimes of Turner Gill and Charlie Weis. Dating back to last season, KU has lost 14 straight games, and going back to the final season of Mark Mangino the program is just 12-66 in its last 78 games.
For Beaty, the program rot was so deep and so prevalent, that this season was about laying a new foundation. On that front, he believes the results are there. The Jayhawks, Beaty says, established a new culture, installed a new offensive system, and broke in a roster with 39 first-time players, which is tied for the most in the country with Florida State. The group of first-timers includes freshman quarterback Ryan Willis, who has shown flashes of promise while battling injuries. But at some point, of course, something must be built on the groundwork.
“If we take care of business in this game,” Beaty said, “it propels us as we head into an offseason that’s going to be very pivotal for us moving forward.”
What could a victory mean for Kansas? It would be just one win, and a long rebuilding process will continue, triumph or not. But after 11 straight losses — after two decades of losses to K-State and Bill Snyder — Beaty would love the opportunity to swagger into the Kansas locker room, look his seniors in the eye, and start building on victory No. 1.
“We really need this win in a lot ways,” Beaty said. “(It’s) more than just because of our results previous; we need it because we need that Governor’s Cup back home.”