On the day Kansas football coach Charlie Weis unveiled his quarterbacks of the future, he leaned back in his chair inside the Anderson Family Football Complex, a content perma-smile on his face.
He looked like a proud father, doting on his own kids, and he sounded like one, too. A few feet away sat Dayne Crist, a former five-star recruit who had spent four seasons at Notre Dame, and Jake Heaps, another lauded recruit who began his career at Notre Dame.
These were his guys, and this was his plan. Crist would start right away as a graduate transfer, and Heaps would sit for a year before being eligible for two seasons at Kansas. These were the guys that would lead a Kansas turnaround.
“I wanted to address quarterback,” Weis said, “and how’d I do?”
Two years later, the quarterback question is still following Weis, haunting a program that is still feeling for solid footing after going 9-39 over the last four years. Kansas has won just four games in two years under Weis, and his quarterbacks have been unmitigated calamities.
Crist was benched during his one season at Kansas, and Heaps is set to transfer after losing the starting job to sophomore Montell Cozart, a former standout at Bishop Miege.
To this point, Weis has refused to publicly comment on the specter of Heaps’ departure. But in an interview with The Star, Weis appeared ready to move on at the quarterback position.
“When somebody leaves, if I was a fan, I wouldn’t worry too much about them leaving,” Weis told The Star. “Because it’s probably better for them, and it’s probably better for the team, too.
“If they’re any good, they wouldn’t be leaving. That’s the way it is in football. If a guy wants to transfer, do you think he’s transferring because he’s playing? They don’t transfer because they’re playing.”
For now, Heaps’ next destination is unknown. If he leaves — as expected — he could move to another Division I school and play right away as a graduate transfer. He could also transfer down a division, to an FCS or Division II school, and play right away.
But don’t expect Weis to spend too much time talking about Heaps’ decision.
“When training camp starts, it’ll be: “Here’s who’s on the team, and here’s who’s not on the team,” Weis said, speaking generally about personnel matters.
But in announcing Cozart as the starter after spring ball, and in other general comments about transfers, Weis is pretty clear that Cozart will be the man going forward.
“In every school in the country, there’s always a certain amount of movement,” Weis said. “But when people think about a good player leaving, a good player never leaves. A good player never leaves because of football. Because if they’re good, they’re playing.”
So now Weis turns to Cozart, and the search for an adequate quarterback enters its third year. For the KU program, it’s been even longer. Since Weis arrived in early 2012, he has brought in five scholarship quarterbacks to the program through either recruiting or transfers. After adding Heaps and and Crist in early 2012, he signed Cozart and Shawnee Mission East quarterback Jordan Darling in the 2013 recruiting class. He then added T.J. Millweard, another transfer from UCLA, to the program last fall.
But while Weis horded quarterbacks like collectible coins and installed a pro-style system, the Kansas passing attack sunk deeper into the abyss. Crist and Heaps couldn’t complete 50 percent of their passes, and the receiving corps kept dropping balls, and last season the Jayhawks ranked 117th out of 123 Division I teams in passing offense.
Kansas passed for just 140 yards per game in 2013, which looks even crazier when compared to the video-game offensive numbers being piled up across the Big 12. If Weis burnished his credentials as a quarterback whisperer in the NFL, his magic hasn’t seemed to take root in Lawrence.
So this past winter, Weis went back to the drawing board.
The problems of the last two years, Weis says, are why he hired offensive coordinator John Reagan, a former Rice assistant, to guide the Kansas offense in 2014. Reagan, a former KU assistant under Mangino, is more comfortable with the finer points of the spread offense and Weis is hopeful this new scheme will be more quarterback friendly.
Two years ago, Weis believed he had answered the quarterback question. But now he is calling an audible. When the season begins this fall, Cozart will become the sixth different Kansas quarterback to start a season in the last six years.
A year ago, Cozart completed just 36 percent of his passes while playing in seven games. Weis chalks some of that number to youth. Cozart learned plenty as a true freshman, Weis says, and the coach expects his starting quarterback to flourish.
“We didn’t pick him just because, ‘Oh, let’s pick him,’” Weis said.
In the modern landscape of college football, programs can rise and fall on the backs of the quarterback position. For now, Weis is betting that he’s found his new guy.
“Just because you saw him throw inaccurate, doesn’t mean he is inaccurate,” Weis said. “I think a lot of that comes with freshmen jitters. He’s got a live arm and he’s a fairly accurate thrower. It’s just, that’s not the guy that you’ve seen to this point.”