LAWRENCE — They were two programs at the crossroads, the circumstances remarkably parallel. Mark Mangino had been a popular coach at Kansas, a character who had led the Jayhawks to new heights. Mike Leach had been the same at Texas Tech. And in December 2009, within a month of each other, both coaches were gone.
Both were accused of improperly treating players. Investigations ensued. And each program started over.
Nearly three years later, the paths have diverged. Kansas will travel to Texas Tech on Saturday for a Big 12 game in Lubbock, a matchup between a program trying to repair a few years of rot — and one that’s been remodeled under a new leader. In Charlie Weis’ first season at Kansas, the Jayhawks are 1-8 and 0-6 in the Big 12, losers of 18 straight league games. Texas Tech, meanwhile, is 6-3 in its third season under coach Tommy Tuberville.
These days, Weis is trying to match what Tuberville is doing at Texas Tech. Weis and Tuberville are friends, bonded by a trip they once took to visit troops in Iraq and Afghanistan many years ago. Both coaches, according to Weis, have spoken numerous times about the tenets of building a program.
“He had a game plan, coming in, saying, ‘This is how we’re gonna do it,’“ Weis said of Tuberville. “People sometimes want it to happen faster. … You want it to happen faster, too. But I think he stuck by it.”
For now, though, Kansas remains years behind Texas Tech. And part of the reason can be traced back to one coach and two coaching changes in December 2009. Tuberville was out of work then, spending a year on the sideline after compiling an 85-40 in 10 seasons at Auburn, including a 13-0 record in 2004.
The KU job came open first, and Tuberville made his interest in the job public.
“Kansas is a good program,” Tuberville told The Star then. “It’s in a conference that you can compete in. It’s really come leaps and bounds over the last few years, going to the Orange Bowl a couple years ago.”
But Tuberville’s interest wasn’t reciprocated by then-KU athletic director Lew Perkins. And after a short courtship with then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, Perkins targeted and landed Buffalo coach Turner Gill.
Nearly two weeks later, Leach was ousted at Texas Tech. And Tuberville accepted the position in Lubbock. It wasn’t a smooth road in West Texas for Tuberville. The Red Raiders finished 8-5 in 2010 before backsliding to 5-7 last year.
“Just being here a couple of years,” Tuberville said this year at Big 12 media day, “Everybody said: ‘You’re on the hot seat.’”
Tuberville, a defensive mind, had to retool a defense to complement a team that had racked up historic offensive numbers under Leach. And three years in, the Red Raiders rank 18th in the country in total defense, allowing 314 yards per game.
The Kansas program, meanwhile, went into a tailspin. Gill won just five games in two years before being fired. KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger chose Weis to clean up the wreckage. In year one, the results have been muddied: Defensive baby steps and woeful offense. The Jayhawks are scoring just 16.9 points per game, the fifth-worst mark in the Bowl Subdivision.
Weis’ offense will meet Tuberville’s defense on Saturday, a reminder of how one coaching move can change the direction of a football team.
“You just have to stick to it,” Weis said of his plan. “And there’s gonna be a lot of bumps in the road. But I think just as long you come in and say: ‘This is the way we’re gonna do business; this is the way we’re gonna fix the problems.’ And we gotta just stay focused.”