Football season has snuck up on me. With the Olympics getting me through the insufferable part of the summer typically dominate by regular-season baseball, I almost didn’t notice the beginning of the NFL preseason and college practices. But I’m ready.
The beginning of football season is a joyous occasion for any sports fan — even Jayhawks. It’s the middle that hasn’t been much fun for us. At least the end of football season includes the beginning of basketball season. But we have a new coach, a new quarterback, and the names have returned to the back of the jerseys.
But Kansas fans are a little gun shy when it comes to America’s most popular sport. Remember when I blogged about Kansas winning the national championship in men’s basketball my first year at KU? Well, Kansas also won the Orange Bowl in 2008, and every year since has been a disappointment.
We’ve been through a lot, most recently a 10-game skid to end last season. Eventually, it hurt too much to care. To protect ourselves from the emotional toll of a season that bad, Kansas football fans checked out.
What will it take to make Kansas football relevant? That’s easy: wins. The national media, fans, and opposing teams will take notice when KU’s record warrants it. But what will it take to make football relevant to Kansas?
Charlie Weis is working on it.
I heard the objections when Kansas hired Weis in December: He was no good at Notre Dame. He’s not cut out to be a head coach. He’s not right for KU.
“Can’t we have Mangino back?” the fans whined. Weis went 35-27 in five seasons and Notre Dame fired him for that record. Mark Mangino went 50-48 in eight seasons at KU. He never beat Oklahoma, Texas or Texas Tech. He was 23-41 in the Big 12. But Mangino wasn’t fired for losing, which he did often. He was forced out because, by most accounts, Mark Mangino isn’t a very nice guy. (“His way was to demotivate you and make you feel as low as you can go,” one player said.)
This was life with Mangino:
Maybe Weis wasn’t a hit at Notre Dame, but he’s good enough for Kansas. He has three Super Bowl rings. In one season as offensive coordinator, he took the Kansas City Chiefs from a 4–12 record to 10–6 and they returned to the playoffs after winning the AFC Western Division. Remember that, Kansas City?
You know what else I heard when KU hired Charlie Weis? I heard people talking about Kansas football. It didn’t matter if they liked the new hire. They had something new to say about that team for the first time in weeks.
It’s not easy to be a football coach or player at a basketball school. Remember when football and basketball players came to blows on campus? The football inferiority complex at KU is very real. Weis knows the culture and he’s using it to his advantage. Here’s what he told the folks at Big 12 Media Days in July:
“Recruiting is the lifeline of every program, right? All right. So it’s a Saturday afternoon in January. And you’re going out on the Fieldhouse with about 20 recruits you’re bringing in. The place is rocking and rolling. The decibel level is well over 100. You’ve got one of the best basketball teams in the country with arguably the best coach on an annual basis playing, and the fans are going bananas. And what you’re saying to these players coming in, saying: That’s what we want — that’s what we want Memorial Stadium to become like.”
He’s right. Jayhawkers want to love this team. We love this school and we need something to do on Saturdays. There’s room in our hearts and in our schedules. Maybe a little toughness on the fans’ part is all it takes to make football relevant to Kansas.
So here’s what I ask of you, Jayhawk Nation: Be there for this team. Give it more support than you think it deserves. I know you’ll want to tune out when things get rough, and they will — Kansas is picked to finish last in the Big 12 again. But humor me and imagine what the program could be if we stick it out. Show the current players you care about Kansas football and recruits will take notice. There isn’t much the fans can do to improve a program, but they can do this.
I mean it. I want you in the stands every Saturday, staying for the whole game. If you can’t make it to a game, put on your jersey and sit yourself in front of the TV. This is important. You carved out time for 33 regular-season basketball games and a lengthy postseason last year. You can find the time for 12 football games this year.
Make Kansas football relevant. We’ve got a long season ahead of us.