April 01, 2010
New coaches and the schools that love them (for now). Today: Kansas' Turner Gill.
The Old Guy. Mark Mangino was never known as a terribly pleasant chap even before the campaign against his sordid drill sergeant routine forced him out last winter, prone as he was to NSFW outbursts on the sideline, tirades against campus personnel who inconvenienced him with the routine performance of their jobs, letting fly with conspiratorial postgame comments, arousing the anger of his players' parents as a young high school coach, deploying his lawyer to confront bemused bloggers and lord knows what else in the low-stakes version of "Full Metal Jacket" that apparently was the KU locker room. When things started to go south on Mangino in November, they went fast, and no one on campus came rushing (publicly, anyway) to his defense.
Mangino's antisocial streak seemed to be tolerated, though, as long as the team's head remained above water on the field -- after a decade of losing seasons, the Jayhawks finished .500 or better four years in a row from 2005-08, went to three bowl games and finished 12-1 with an Orange Bowl win in 2007, easily the best season in school history. It was only in the midst of a five-game losing last fall that obviously long-simmering complaints bubbled over into an official university inquiry and subsequent media feeding frenzy. On the field, Mangino leaves a program that's used to playing in December and expects to be competitive in the Big 12 North.
The New Guy. Turner Gill is the anti-Mangino in pretty much every fiber of his being, a square-jawed, ex-star quarterback whose first major act as Jayhawk head coach was to ban swearing -- obviously a raison d'etre under the Mangino regime -- and require some small community service. Within days of taking the job, Gill was met with petitions from former players who wanted to return after quitting or being dismissed by Mangino.
Not everyone in Kansas met Gill with such enthusiasm -- Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock, sports media's most recognizable MAC fan, wasn't impressed with Gill's teams at Buffalo, and the obligatory "Fire Turner Gill" site was up before he was even formally announced as head coach -- but generally the hire went over like gangbusters. Gill's 20 wins over four years at Buffalo were twice as many as the Bulls had managed in their first seven years as a full-fledged I-A program from 1999-2005, casting their MAC championship in 2008 as a near-miracle and Gill as an obvious up-and-comer in one of the most thankless jobs in America. If he can win a conference championship at Buffalo -- sketchy statistical indicators and subsequent return to sub-.500 obscurity notwithstanding -- he can win one anywhere, or at least come close enough to weather a little grumbling in lean years.
Immediate Impact or Slow Burn? This is Kansas, after all, so lean years are an inevitability amid the kinder, gentler, FCC-friendlier atmosphere, especially for a team losing the school's all-time leading passer (three-year starter Todd Reesing) and receiver (Dezmon Briscoe) and its top defender (safety Darrell Stuckey, team tackle leader two years in a row). The basic expectations -- beat the cupcakes, break 500 overall, don't fall substantially behind Kansas State or Missouri -- won't change.
It will be interesting to gauge the mood if the Jayhawks are still a 6-6/7-5 program five years from now. Historically, that's where they should be, and it's not conceivable that Gill can increase the recruiting profile of Lawrence, Kan., enough to substantially raise those expectations. If he fails to break that pattern and at least hint at another level somewhere in that window, though, it is conceivable that the natives will begin to get a little restless with the status quo. And if he does clear that bar, it's as likely not Gill won't hang around long enough to watch it lowered again on the down side of the cycle.