LAWRENCE — Here’s the dirty little secret surrounding the Kansas football program, the cloak-and-dagger confession that Charlie Weis has no problem divulging.
See that other football program across the state, the one that shall not be named, the one led by a legendary coach with a tireless work ethic — the one that will play Kansas on Saturday in the Sunflower Showdown?
Well, Charlie Weis has looked at Kansas State, and he’s a little bit of an admirer.
That’s right. Weis hopes that Kansas fans won’t be upset, that they won’t besmirch his name or gasp in outrage. But when he leads his team onto the field against rival Kansas State on Saturday morning, Weis won’t see a mortal enemy. He’ll see a template, a pathway to success in Bill Snyder’s methods.
“I don’t want every Kansas fan to be mad at me,” Weis said. “But it’s a pretty good role model.”
Last December, at his introductory news conference, Weis famously waded into this territory while bringing up the Jayhawks’ in-state foe.
“Why was the University of Kansas 2-10 (in 2011), and why was Kansas State 10-2?” Weis asked. “I don’t have that answer, but that is what I am here for.”
These days, Weis thinks he’s found a few answers.
“Their coach is winning a lot more games than our coach is,” Weis said. “That’s a good place to start.”
Some of this is polite game-week gamesmanship, of course. But there are signs that Weis has already begun to instill a couple of Snyder staples into his program. Weis, working for an athletic director, Sheahon Zenger, who once served as an assistant under Snyder, envisions a KU program that is diligently organized — and a program that vigorously pursues junior college talent to fill gaps and supplement recruiting — as Snyder has done for years.
The question, of course, is whether Kansas and Kansas State can both be successful at the same time. In the last two decades, save for a period in the early ’90s, one team has generally been on the rise as another began a decline. When K-State developed into a Big 12 power in the late ’90s, KU went into an extended hibernation under Terry Allen. When Mark Mangino took the Jayhawks to the Orange Bowl in 2007, Snyder had already left K-State and begun his three-year hiatus.
“I don’t know if that makes it tougher or easier,” said KU defensive backs coach Clint Bowen, a Lawrence native who played at KU in the early ’90s and remembers watching KU block a kick against K-State in the late ’80s to keep both teams winless.
“I think that we have our battles to fight and win, and they’re doing their thing over there,” Bowen said. “We just gotta control what we do here.”
And some of what Weis can control means cribbing notes from the Bill Snyder handbook. If the Jayhawks can’t find four-star high school players willing to come to Kansas, they’ll find juco players to fortify the foundation.
“A whole bunch will want to come here,” Weis said, “and they will.”
There’s a certain player Weis is looking for, and he looks a little bit like Marcus Jenkins-Moore, a sophomore linebacker at Pierce Community College in Woodland Hills, Calif., a school that KU hadn’t recruited much until Weis arrived.
Jenkins-Moore committed to Kansas in September after visiting campus. He had offers from more than 10 other BCS schools, including Arkansas, Kansas State and Ole Miss. But Weis and the Jayhawks won him over with a simple selling point: Come play against the best in the country — and come play now. It’s the same recruiting pitch that landed top juco defensive end Andrew Bolton from Hinds Community College in Mississippi.
It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Weis and defensive coordinator Dave Campo both sport Super Bowl rings, and could provide an avenue to play on Sundays.
“They got the experience and they got the connections,” Jenkins-Moore said. “But basically it’s just me coming in and playing right away.”
This is not the first time KU has loaded up on junior college players. A similar gambit was tried in the first years under Mangino. But Weis thinks it’s a piece of the puzzle. There’s no rule that says both programs in Kansas can’t be successful. And the rebuilding process begins with catching up with Joneses — or in this case, the Snyders.
“Let’s try to get to that level first,” Weis said. “If we can get there in a not-too-distant future, that would be a good place to get to.…
“I’m not gonna be dumb enough to sit there and say I’m gonna wave a magic wand and it’s gonna happen overnight. But that’s what we have to get to first.”