Kansas is the worst football program in major college football and we are humans in 2017, so you are free to snark away but here comes some truth:
The Jayhawks must make tangible progress on the field or else.
Dana Anderson, the program’s most prominent booster, made this clear last fall when he said “there has to be significant progress” this season and here is coach David Beaty accepting the ultimatum.
“That’s one of the goals we probably wouldn’t talk publicly about a lot, but it’s real,” Beaty said in a quiet moment at Big 12 football media day on Monday. “We know that in year three and year four we have to be more than competitive. We have to start getting over that hump and winning games.”
Turner Gill gave the program a severe flesh wound before Charlie Weis delivered the fatal blow, so Beaty’s progress so far has been measured more in recruiting rankings, optimism and locker room improvements.
Nobody is demanding Beaty win the league, or even make a bowl game in 2017. But anything less than three or four wins and there will be some internal pressures to make another change. You can laugh at that standard if you want, but Kansas hasn’t won more than three games in a season since 2009.
The consequences of 2017, then, are as big as any KU football season in some time. Because if Beaty doesn’t win enough, it’s hard to imagine athletic director Sheahon Zenger being allowed to hire a third coach, and this is all happening as the university is trying to close fundraising on a $300 million renovation to Memorial Stadium.
“I love this university with everything that I have,” Beaty said. “I’m going to kill myself every day to make sure we bring that production to the people who deserve it. If I don’t, that’s not their fault. I just didn’t get the job done.”
Beaty’s place in college football remains one of the strangest in the industry. At times last year, in addition to head coach duties, he was the offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach and special teams returners coach. He’s since pulled back on the titles, but those were only the official jobs, and it’s possible that none of them are his most important.
He is also the program’s chief promoter, using social media and every open microphone to push KU football closer to regional relevance. He does this with a relentless public spunk, among other things, and videos riding hover boards and taking his daughter to school.
It is a delicate balance at times, trying to push hope while keeping expectations reasonable, all while undoing the harm of an eight year stretch that covers two athletic directors, five head coaches (including an interim) and five conference wins.
“My vision for this job absolutely included marketing the program personally,” Beaty said. “Getting out and meeting your stakeholders. We said we’re going to meet each fan, one at a time. We’re going to them. We’re going to make it easy on them.
“I just thought that might be something that makes us different. I’ve watched it other places, including here, where that wasn’t a priority. But for me, it is.”
The news KU makes occasionally dips into the bizarre, like commitments from three four-star recruits that momentarily had its 2018 class ranked No. 2 in the country and at least indirectly led to Tony Hull receiving a promotion and more than doubling his salary to $400,000.
Two of the four-star recruits have since decommitted, and KU’s class has dropped to 28th overall as of Monday afternoon.
The most cynical read of this is some sort of publicity stunt, where KU coaches push early commitments from recruits they know are unlikely to actually sign in an any-publicity-is-good-publicity sort of way.
Beaty dismisses this — “reality is it doesn’t help our program if the recruit doesn’t play for us” — but it’s also true that shortly after a four-star receiver from Louisiana decommitted a three-star from Missouri pledged to KU.
“I think what it does, is it gives us,” and here Beaty paused. “Look, you can’t get ’em if you don’t ever get ’em. So you have to get ’em. Now, going forward, you have to do better at finishing the job.”
This is Beaty’s bizarre place in the industry. He took over what was essentially a Power Five startup, and is now expected to win or risk another program reset with implications that would stretch up to his boss and perhaps a major stadium renovation.
The non-conference schedule includes what should be a lay-up against Southeast Missouri State, but then Central Michigan, which has made three straight bowl games, and at Ohio — eight wins in each of the last two years. Kansas hasn’t won a road game in eight years.
After that comes the real work, in conference play.
Beaty has a real chance to push Kansas forward, but he has to get through this season first. His program’s most important booster is among those telling him he’ll be judged on actual results for the first time.
He won’t talk publicly about this much, but he knows it’s real.