From 2009-14, Kansas’ football program compiled a 17-55 record (.236 winning percentage), failing to reach bowl eligibility once with five last-place finishes in the Big 12 Conference.
Athletic director Sheahon Zenger knew that he’d have to be patient with the program’s fifth head coach in seven years, so he needed to make sure he got this hire right. And despite an 0-7 (0-4) start with a winless season looking more and more inevitable, Zenger is still confident that David Beaty is the man for the job.
It’ll just take time. A lot of it.
“When the search process was going on, the search committee was being drawn to him for certain reasons,” said Zenger on Tuesday. “Some liked his ability to recruit. Some, his gregarious personality. Some, the type of offense he would run.
“My favorite piece, and I think we’ve lost this in college coaching, is that he spent 10 years as a high school coach in the early part of his career,” he continued. “Not unlike Art Briles at Baylor. When you see him out on the field, when you come to a practice, it’s usually easy to find the head coach, because they stand out. It’s hard to find him.”
Beaty, who turned 45 on October 26, spent 1994-2000 as an assistant for two different high schools teams before accepting his first head coaching gig with North Dallas High School. He coached there for one season, only to take the same title at Irving MacArthur High School from 2002-05.
“He’s in the middle of some pack somewhere coaching somebody with his ballcap on,” said Zenger. “Teaching and instructing, he really has a heart for the kids.”
In 2014, Kansas went 3-9 (1-7) with a win over Iowa State to avoid finishing at the bottom of the Big 12 for the sixth consecutive season. The Jayhawks also beat Southeastern Missouri State and Central Michigan, but lost their nine games by an average of 25.0 points, including four losses of 30 points or more.
An immediate turnaround was not expected in Year 1. In fact, we should be calling Beaty’s first season as the head coach of Kansas as “Year Zero,” due to the circumstances in which he inherited. Thanks to three recruiting classes that ranked at the bottom of the Big 12 — courtesy of Charlie Weis, who left things in Lawrence in pretty bad shape — it was no secret that the roster had major holes leading into the 2015 season.
You could have made the argument that Beaty was inheriting the most difficult job in the country. So far, that’s proven to be true, as the Jayhawks’ current starting lineup features five true freshmen (four on offense) and 16 underclassmen in total on the two-deep. An even crazier number of first-year players see the field on game days.
“You’re going to take a JUCO transfer here and there, but you’ve got to build it from scratch and give it time,” Zenger said. “Watching 11 true freshmen play every Saturday, I think we had as man as 48 newcomers play on this team, an NCAA record this year. Those guys will be sophomores, juniors and eventually seniors.”
Kansas’ current record of 0-7 and overall lack of competitiveness in games is more or a less a by product of not only its youth, but the culture that was left by Weis. The Jayhawks are being outscored by 27.1 points in 2015, and that includes a 41-38 loss to FCS South Dakota State in the regular season opener. But drop in on a mid-week practice, and you’d think that KU was competing for a conference championship.
“You come over to this complex, and it feels like a winning program, day-in and day-out,” Zenger said.
In reality, it may take several years before Kansas can even think about finishing a season with more wins than losses. This is a complete rebuild — a blow-it-up-and-start-from-the-beginning approach to fix the program and to set it up for success in the long-term.
Even if Kansas goes 0-12 for the first time in school history, Beaty won’t have to worry about job security. He was well aware of the challenges ahead; he knew just how deep in the mud the Jayhawks’ program had sunk before signing on.
He also knows that Zenger was the one to hand him gloves and a shovel before joining him in the hole with one goal in mind: get out, no matter how long it takes.