Saturday evening we were on our way to dinner and my phone kept chirping, notifying me of incoming text messages. A couple college friends and I had been texting about random life stuff before we left home, and that thread continued as we drove. My wife asked, “Is your team playing?” Usually if I’m getting a stream of texts that means a game is going on. I shook my head and answered, “No, they played last night…Well, they’re playing football right now, but that’s not what we’re texting about.”
I know, I know: typical KU fan.
Oddly enough, while we were in the car, KU got a pick-six and kicked a field goal and took a 10–7 lead over Texas. As my two buddies I was texting with both live in Texas – one in Austin – the conversation had turned to football, something I didn’t learn until we had parked at our restaurant of choice.
Fortunately we were home in time for me to see KU tie the game in the closing seconds of regulation, get an interception to start overtime, and then kick the game-winner to get the biggest win for the program since beating Missouri in the 2008 season.
That’s right, beating a crappy Texas team that’s about to fire its coach is field-rushing, goal post yanking worthy win for KU football. Make fun if you want, but I think the reaction to beating a name team that doesn’t measure up to its name these days was entirely appropriate. And I think this was a huge win.
Not because it’s some marker that the program has taken a leap from utterly awful to possibly mediocre. But, rather, this win means there’s no pressure to nuke things, fire the coach, and start over again. Which, believe it or not, I think a certain portion of the KU fanbase was starting to think was the way to go.
That’s mostly because in some small ways, KU doesn’t appear to have made progress. There are far too many silly errors in games that seem to result from coaching errors. Calling a time out then coming out and false starting. Calling a time out and then pooch punting. Guys who have shown, time and again, that they are incapable of hanging onto the ball getting chance after chance.
I’m not saying blaming David Beatty and his coaching staff was correct. You have to look at what they’re working with. Sometimes option A isn’t that great, and there is no option B. When a program has sunk as low as KU’s has, sometimes you just have to suck it up and take the extra pain as you try to turn things around.
Still, though, there were questions about whether Beatty is the right guy for the job. And those questions haven’t been completely answered by one game. Beating Texas means that there’s not going to be a snap decision at the end of this season. I think Beatty, or whoever was hired to replace Charlie Weis two years ago, had to be given at least four years to bring some life to the program. The downward spiral that began with the controversial loss to Colorado in Mark Mangino’s final season was going to take a long time to pull out of. Hell, KU may never pull out of it. But starting over again after two years would be the worst possible decision.
Beatty needed something to build on. He’s got a few good, young kids in the program. Clint Bowen has done a fantastic job with the defense. They should have beaten TCU. They could have beaten Iowa State. Beating Texas doesn’t mean they’re going to go out and sign a bunch of five-star guys this February. But, even though Texas is shitty right now, Beatty has something he can take to the kids he can sign and say, “Look what can happen here.”
I thought Beatty was a good hire simply because of his history with the KU program. He had coached in Lawrence twice before, once during the Mangino era. He willingly came back. He could tell recruits, “Hey, it’s going to be tough, but we can win at KU. I’ve seen it happen.” There is some weight to his recruiting pitch that a coach who had no history with the program could offer.
I do have concerns about whether he’s going to be a great head coach. But I’m still holding my judgment until he can get more talent to work with. If he is still making head-scratching decisions when he has talent to line up against average D1 teams, then it will be time to reconsider. But not now, when the program is just barely above rock bottom.
Beating Texas is a win that’s going to look a lot better in the media guide 10 years from now than it does today. Still, it just might be that spark that finally gives KU football a little momentum down the path toward respectability again.
So, Rock Chalk, bitches.
- Bowen, who was interim coach after Weis was fired, played at KU, and has spent almost his whole coaching career there, can offer that same weight. ↩