Campus Corner

KU Mailbag: Coaching candidates, KU’s rotation and Cliff Alexander


The Kansas City Star

Cliff Alexander, a 6-foot-8 power forward from Chicago, got a lot of attention last November when he announced his intention to play for Kansas. Now he is enjoying his first days in the Jayhawks program.
Cliff Alexander, a 6-foot-8 power forward from Chicago, got a lot of attention last November when he announced his intention to play for Kansas. Now he is enjoying his first days in the Jayhawks program. Chicago Tribune

The Kansas football program travels to Texas Tech on Saturday, the third game for interim coach Clint Bowen. The Jayhawks are 0-3 in the Big 12 and 2-4 overall, and they have six conference games left.

So if you need a reminder why it was so brutal for Kansas to have to travel to Duke during the nonconference season (and play just two nonconference home games), here it is: Four of Kansas’ final six games are on the road, including No. 4 Baylor on Nov. 1. The Jayhawks will also travel to No. 11 Oklahoma (Nov. 22) and No. 14 Kansas State. The home games are against Iowa State (Nov. 8) and No. 12 TCU (No. 15).

That’s four top-15 teams in the final five games for Kansas. As we noted this week, it makes Saturday’s matchup at Texas Tech all the more important.

Another reminder: Allen Fieldhouse will be hosting a basketball game in 17 days. (The Jayhawks’ exhibition opener comes against Washburn). And here are two music recommendations: One, a band from Lawrence that’s calling it quits. Two, a song that’s been playing a lot during the Royals’ run, for no reason in particular. OK, let’s get to the mailbag.

OK, the coaching candidate question. These questions are difficult to answer for many reasons. It’s still October, for one, and interim coach Clint Bowen still has six games left to make an impression. Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger is on the record saying the heavy lifting of the search will take place during the second half the season, which could be soon, but could also be weeks away. And barring some unforeseen development, the KU brass will wait until after the season to name a full-time head coach.

Also: Coaching searches have a lot of moving parts. By definition, you have to start with candidates, of course. But there must be mutual interest; the money must be right; there are things like timing and issues about who will be on the next staff. So yes, this is complicated stuff.

For now, I think it’s less important to focus on individual candidates and more on the archetypes you might be interested in. For example, you can start with these four categories:

The “Keep it in the family” candidates: Zenger has said he wants a coach that can understand the culture of Kansas football. The most obvious names, then, would be former assistants from the Mangino era — guys who were here during the unprecedented run of success.

There’s former offensive coordinator Ed Warinner (now at Ohio State); former receivers coach and Texas recruiter extraordinaire David Beaty (now at Texas A&M); and former offensive assistant Tim Beck (now the Nebraska offensive coordinator).

But to hire one of those coaches is to say that they are a better candidate than Clint Bowen, who might be the ultimate “KU family” candidate. Earlier this week, KU assistant head coach Dave Campo*, who once coached the Dallas Cowboys, openly lobbied for Bowen to be the next KU head coach. Campo, 67, made a sincere and strong case. And while Bowen could use some victories to bolster his case, does an oh-fer the rest of the season really change much about who he is as a coach or what he wants to do with Kansas football?

*Quick aside: Here’s when it was clear to me that Royals mania is everywhere. Campo, while speaking to a couple of beat reporters this week, referenced something Royals manager Ned Yost had said at a press conference during the ALCS. Campo has no local ties — other than the fact he’s been in Lawrence for three years — and here he was quoting the manager of the Royals.

2. The “Offensive Guru” candidates: In the last decade, college football has become a laboratory for offensive innovation. Who knows if any of these coaches would be interested, but this category could include candidates like Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost and Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery. A popular wild card: Colorado School of Mines coach Bob Stitt, an offensive mastermind and internet curiosity.

3. The “Program-builder” candidates: This category should include Wyoming coach Craig Bohl, who built a FCS powerhouse at North Dakota State, and Willie Fritz, a Kansas City native who is now the head coach at Georgia Southern after winning pretty much everywhere he has been.

4. The “Harbaugh” candidates: OK, it’s just one. And it seems about as far-fetched as any story in football. But if Jim Harbaugh has any interest in coaching at Kansas — as he reportedly has, at least in the past — then he should be on the list. And very high.

This is tough. But let’s work backwards. Bill Self’s rotations have always been pretty simple. He usually plays nine guys. Five smalls. Four bigs. The fifth small usually only plays minor minutes; the fourth big might play a little more but usually not a ton.

This year could be slightly different, of course, because Self is talking about playing four guards with more regularity. But let’s just look at the backcourt.

Sophomore Wayne Selden appears to be a lock to start. Sophomore Frank Mason appears pretty safely in the rotation. Self has repeatedly praised freshman Devonte’ Graham, saying he could eventually grow into Kansas’ lead guard. Then there’s freshman swingman Kelly Oubre Jr., a top-10 recruit and McDonald’s All-American.

So that’s four players, and we haven’t even gotten to sophomores Conner Frankamp and Brannen Greene.

One thing to consider: The Jayhawks are probably going to need some more outside shooting from their perimeter players. So Mykhailiuk could slide into that role. To be honest, though, it’s early. The rotation will likely change a few times during the season. And Mykhailiuk is just 17, meaning he could have room to grow throughout the year. For now, here’s what Self said about his freshmen during Big 12 media day on Wednesday.

“In order for us to have a great season, those four guys have to play well,” Self said. “Cliff (Alexander) needs to be our inside presence. Devonte’ needs to be our lead guard, or if he’s not, at least play starter’s minutes. Kelly Oubre needs to be our best wing defender. And of course, Sviatoslav could be our best shooter.”

Just off instinct, we’ll say 12.2 points and 8.3 rebounds could be a reasonable starting point. Maybe 13.1 points and 8.9 if you’re really being optimistic.

I don’t advise making preseason predictions in early October, but if I were forced to, I would guess Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden and Alexander would be Kansas’ three leading scorers, probably in that order. Ellis, who averaged 13.5 points and 6.7 rebounds as a sophomore, could be around 16.1 and 7.6 for the season, while Selden could be around 13 points per game.

So let’s start here: In college basketball, the word “talent” is often code for a player’s NBA potential and eventual ceiling. Not sure why. That’s just kind of the way it is. So from that regard, it seems unlikely you can argue Kansas will be more “talented” than last year, when they had two of the top three picks in the NBA Draft.

But if you’re talking about talent, as in “players that are suited to be solid and productive in college basketball this season” — yes, it’s probably a reasonable argument to make. In fact, Bill Self made that very case earlier this month during KU’s media day.

“We don’t have anyone like Wiggs and Jo,” Self said then, “but we have guys that may end up being as good of college players as those guys.”