Every head coaching change is an opportunity -- for a reset, rebirth, renewal. That's quadruply true when you're 7-98. That's Kansas's record against the Big 12 since 2009. The next head coach will be the program's sixth in that span.
As Jeff Long and his associates embark on yet another search for the savior of Jayhawk football, here is a breakdown of the strengths (yes, there are some) and weaknesses of the most challenging Power 5 job in 2021. Let's start with the weaknesses and work our way up.
There's one thing Long can immediately do to make this job more attractive. An AD must walk a fine line in handing out coaching contracts. In a competitive marketplace, one wants to offer the best deal they can in order, while also owing a fiduciary duty to extract the best possible value for their employer. Long has erred way too far on the second side of that equation in regard to KU's assistant coaches.
Long signed Miles's assistants to 6-year deals, with no raises, where the coaches committed themselves to the university for the duration of the deal but the university only committed itself to the coach for two. That's not even the worst part, as the Lawrence Journal-Worldpoints out here:
According to each contract, KU can terminate a deal at any time, but would owe an assistant his remaining salary if that were the case — not the entire six years, but whatever was guaranteed at the time of dismissal.
If an assistant opted to leave KU at any point during the first two years of his contract, which are guaranteed, the exit would cost him (or the team luring him away) two years worth of his salary.
It goes without saying KU's salary offerings were at the shallow end of the Big 12 pool. Whatever short-term savings Kansas reaps in these one-sided deals will cost the school in the long run, because good assistants -- the guys with options, the guys KU needs -- simply won't come. Long has to stop this practice immediately, and a good head coaching candidate should demand it as a condition for taking the job.
There's another major drawback, and it's not something that Long can fix. Charlie Weis took out payday loans in the form of JuCo transfers and, seven years after his departure, Kansas is still paying them off. Thanks to the 25-man initial counter rule, KU hasn't played with a full 85-man deck of cards in years. David Beaty inherited a roster of 39 scholarship players in taking over for Weis and left Les Miles with a roster of close to 70. Even a gap of 15 scholarships could take half a decade to close.
To his credit, Long proposed a rule change in 2019, but that's all he can do.
Still, this job will be attractive... to the right candidate. The drawbacks you and I see -- the losing, the culture, the roster, oh, and the losing -- are opportunities to a certain kind of coach.
The new head Jayhawk will arrive in Lawrence with no sacred cows to feed. The program isn't expected to run a particular scheme or play a certain way. All anyone knows or expects from KU football is a loss, probably by 20-plus.
Because of that, the new head coach will be selling a new product to a captive audience. Kansas football is the blankest of slates, an opportunity to set a new vision in every aspect of the program with zero internal or external resistance. The new coach could insist players wear pink tuts and cluck like chickens before every snap, and the players would probably do it if it gave them a chance to win.
This job isn't for everybody, but it's for somebody.
So, who is the right candidate? Most head coaching changes follow the Rule of the Opposite, but I don't think that should be the case here. I think Long was right in seeking an established winner to replace Beaty, he just backed the wrong horse.
My colleague John Brice produced his own candidate list Tuesday, but if I'm running KU's search, I focus on four coaches: Tulane's Willie Fritz, Buffalo's Lance Leipold, Army's Jeff Monken, and Louisiana Tech's Skip Holtz.
All four coaches are essentially the same guy: in their 50s or so (Monken is 53, Fritz is 60, the other two are 56) who have won at multiple schools and often multiple levels but not at the Power 5. Given the nature of the sport, Kansas may be their last, best and/or only chance to prove they belong at college football's highest level.
Each man is the rarest of coaching commodities, proven and hungry at the same time. The four coaches have spent a combined 873 games as head coaches, none* at the Power 5 level.
(* Yes, I'm aware Holtz spent three years at South Florida when USF was in the Big East. It's not the same and we all know it.)
While we're at it, this is the type of offense I'd prefer to run. For two decades now, the Air Raid has been the default offense for upstart programs battling a resources deficit, and for good reason. Do it right, and it's like you start every inning with a runner on second base. There's a reason Mike Leach was drawn to it in the first place.
I don't think it's the right choice for Kansas right now. There's no way KU can ever out-Air Raid the ultimate Air Raid conference.
Instead, I'd try to mimic what Jamey Chadwell runs at Coastal Carolina. I'd get hyper good at something I spend 52 weeks perfecting and my opponent only devotes one week a year defending. KU doesn't need to necessarily marry itself to the full-blown triple, but they should seek something that's different enough from what Big 12 defenses see week in, week out.
Another advantage of adopting a ground-based attack, especially when you're battling a talent and numbers deficit? Keep that clock tick, tick, ticking, my friend. The fewer plays KU defends, the better chance it has at springing an upset.
Never in college football history will expectations be this... realistic. The next head coach takes over a program at, arguably, its lowest point in a decade long run of low points. KU's scoring differential in Big 12 games (minus-32.1 per game) was the second-lowest since 2009, just two years removed from the "high" point (minus-15.1).
Here again, the suffering wrought by other coaches is a blessing for the new guy. A mere 4-win season would represent the program's most since the George W. Bush administration. Six wins would be akin to a national title.
And yet, if Kansas State can be a consistent winner for decades on end; if Iowa State can go from KU's neighbor in the Big 12 basement to challenging Oklahoma for the conference title; if Baylor can win or play for multiple conference titles under two different head coaches; if Kansas basketball can be a national power, there's no reason Kansas football can't be consistently competitive.
Consistently competitive. That's the bar here, and there are coaches out that can take Kansas to those dizzying heights. Can Jeff Long snag one?