Campus Corner

KU mailbag: Looking back at the Weis hire... and could Frank Mason help the football team?

Kansas head coach Charlie Weis.
Kansas head coach Charlie Weis. The Associated Press

Is it rock bottom yet?

Where else can this go? At some point, sports are about regression to the mean. Good teams have bad years. Bad teams have good years. Luck evens out. A quarterback actually completes more than 50 percent of his passes and racks up 250 yards passing.

Kansas football is not about regression. There have been embarrassing losses, and disastrous performances, and unbelievable numbers. When the Kansas Jayhawks left Duke with a 41-3 loss last Saturday, it was the football program’s 47th loss in 57 games, dating back to midway through the 2009 season. That’s a lot of bottoms.

For coach Charlie Weis, this season was supposed to be about progress and momentum. Regression. He built toward this, worked toward this, recruited toward this. He kicked 29 players off the team in 2012. He found his quarterback(s) of the future. He loaded up on junior-college players. He talked about emulating Bill Snyder.

Perhaps that’s why the Duke loss felt so devastating. Three years into a new regime, the KU football program doesn’t feel much different than it did on the day Weis arrived.

The Jayhawks are 1-1. They play Central Michigan on Saturday afternoon. Then comes the nine-game Big 12 Conference schedule. The future of the Kansas football program — the coach, the plan, the trajectory — could be decided over the next few months. Someday, the regression might come. But first, it’s time for the #KUMailbag.

As always, send your questions to @rustindodd or rdodd@kcstar.com. Let’s do this.

We know you’re probably using Kliff Kingsbury as a place-holder — an example of an up-and-coming head coach. And it’s a legitimate question. But coaching hires are often about timing and circumstances. So consider a few things: First, you’re working under the assumption that a hot young coaching candidate would want to coach at Kansas. When KU athletic Sheahon Zenger fired Turner Gill in late 2011, the Jayhawks were coming off two hellish seasons and the cupboard was bare. KU has proven that it will pay competitively — Charlie Weis is making $2.5 million per year. But if you were a young coach, hoping for a long, successful career, would you want to stake your career on turning around the KU program?

More specifically, Zenger has spoken at length — on multiple occasions — about his philosophy in hiring Weis. In August, Zenger spoke to me for the following story. We talked about his thought process in hiring Weis. Not all of his comments made it into the story — space limitations and all — so here are his expanded, unedited thoughts on the Weis hire:

Zenger: “The criteria we were looking for at that time, we felt like we needed someone who had been through some battles. And we defined that, and I defined that, as a current or former head coach who had been through this type of thing before and taken some arrows, so to speak.

“I, personally, thought it was important to bring in someone who had spent a lot of years as a coordinator, just to be involved in the X’s and O’s of what was going on. We felt like we needed a disciplinarian to shore things up, but a disciplinarian the players would like. (They) didn’t have to love him, but like…

“Just as a hunch, about half the candidates we looked at had NFL experience. Why NFL experience? That’s never been important to me before in my life, but at that time, we were 10 out of 10 in the league from a recruiting standpoint. We didn’t have a lot to offer at that point, as far as the tread in our program, and really believed, maybe if we had someone with strong NFL ties, the players would look at Kansas as a place where they could access the NFL by going through Kansas.

“By bringing in Charlie, and Charlie bringing in (Dave) Campo, we felt like we had some of that.”

OK. So before we get to the answer, let’s acknowledge one thing. If we base this answer strictly on numbers, we can’t account for dropped balls or poor offensive line play or a crummy supporting cast. In other words, we don’t know how many balls SHOULD have been caught, or how many passes were on the money, etc.

But let’s go forward anyway, because the answers will likely be pretty wild. So let’s start by looking at the best individual performance from the four quarterbacks that have started under Weis: Dayne Crist, Michael Cummings, Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart. To be consistent, let’s use ESPN’s Adjusted QBR rating, which takes into account the competition. The average is around 50.

Dayne Crist

Best Adjusted QBR: 52.6 vs. Iowa State on Nov. 17, 2012.

Crist was nine of 20 for 145 yards, one touchdown and one interception in a 51-23 loss.

Michael Cummings

Best Adjusted QBR: 58.2 in a 59-10 loss to West Virginia on Dec. 1, 2012.

Cummings finished the day six-of-11 passing for 76 yards. He had zero TDs, zero interceptions, and he also rushed 11 times for 42 yards.

Jake Heaps

Best Adjusted QBR: 51.8 in a 35-13 loss at Texas on Nov. 2, 2013.

Heaps finished 11 of 21 for 160 yards with zero touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Montell Cozart

Best Adjusted QBR: 57.2 in a 34-28 victory over Southeast Missouri State on Sept. 6.

Cozart started hot, then cooled off while completing 12 of 24 passes for 196 yards and three touchdowns.

So this is what we’re dealing with. Four of the best QB performances of the Weis era were barely above average. And the best adjusted QBR of the Weis era belongs to a part-time dual threat QB (Cummings) who spent the entire 2013 season on the bench. Some of this is fluky, of course. Cummings did not play the entire game against West Virginia. And there have been other performances that actually produced victories.

Last season, Heaps was 28 of 46 for 279 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in a 13-10 victory over Louisiana Tech. That was, by far, the most yards by a Weis quarterback. Heaps’ adjusted QBR was 40.9.

Cozart also engineered last season’s victory over West Virginia by completing five of 12 passes for 61 yards and rushing for 60 yards on 13 carries.

Back to the original question: What was the best game by a QB in the Weis era? Good question.

Montell Cozart actually answered this question during the preseason. He chose Frank Mason, who actually played some football while growing up in Virginia. Mason seems like he could be a beastly running back or a physical defensive back in the mold of a Chris Harris. The Mailbag would also like to see Jamari Traylor line up at tight end, Conner Frankamp at slot receiver (a Wes Welker type!), Wayne Selden at outside linebacker and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk at quarterback because that seems like it would be fun.

To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to rdodd@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @rustindodd.

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