From the very beginning I have had three general thoughts about David Beaty as the Kansas football coach:
First, none of us had anything more than a guess about whether he’d be good enough to make it work.
Second, he is exactly the kind of hire KU should make. He’s energetic, stubbornly positive, carries a good recruiting reputation, and is steeped in an offensive system that’s worked before at previously losing programs in part because it doesn’t require top linemen, which is the hardest position for bad programs to recruit.
Third, it is entirely possible that he’s a very good coach but still won’t be able to make it work because of the specifics of what he took over, the infrastructure in and around the program, and the timing in the larger world of major college football.
Kansas suffered its worst loss in years on Saturday, and I don’t say that lightly. The program has been blown out before, of course, but until now Beaty has always operated with a certain benefit of the doubt. We know he took over a clunker. We know it will take time.
But three years and one FBS win in, everyone seemed in agreement that he was approaching the deadline for showing real progress on the field. Nobody expects a bowl game, or even anything other than a last-place finish in the Big 12. But Central Michigan was picked fifth in its division in the Mid-American Conference, and beat Rhode Island — an awful FCS program — by only three points in the opener.
Kansas wasn’t just beat. It was crushed, dominated, a few bright moments in the third quarter doing nothing to overcome a bigger failure in execution, game planning, and at times fundamentals.
This is the part where we take a bit of an unexpected turn, however, because barring an overwhelming failure — something off the field, players visibly quitting on the program, a 1-11 season with 11 blowouts — it’s hard to see how firing Beaty would be helpful.
He’s working on a new contract extension, and even if there were some political motivations behind it — athletic director Sheahon Zenger has to know he probably won’t be able to fire and hire more football coaches — it’s an investment the department has made for the future.
Beaty, and this is just being honest and perhaps generous, was barely qualified for the job. He was a position coach at Texas A&M, and had only been a coordinator one year, for Rice, when the school finished 4-8. Asking him to turn the worst program in Power Five football into a winner is a bit like a cruel episode of Pros vs. Joes.
But if a third consecutive KU football coach is fired before his fourth season, the replacement will almost certainly have to come even further down the candidate food chain.
Recruiting has improved. There are more real athletes on the depth chart. Now, some are turning down offers from bigger and better programs to give Beaty and Kansas a chance.
I understand the need for tangible progress. I understand that college football is a business, and that at some point a program can kill interest and revenue to the point that eating a coach’s remaining contract is a sound investment.
But Kansas has been through that cycle too many times. Beaty is growing into the job, and appears completely committed to making it work. If nothing else, that’s more than could be said for the last two coaches.
Look, I still don’t know if Beaty can make it work at Kansas. You don’t either. Same with Zenger, and everyone else.