DALLAS — Every week, Kliff Kingsbury would review the game plan, poring over the glossy pages of schematic details and subtle nuance. This was the game plan of a football junkie. There was always something different, some fresh point of attack, or elaborate wrinkle.
Kingsbury was just an NFL rookie quarterback then, and he’d never seen stuff like this — even while playing under the mad-scientist ways of Mike Leach at Texas Tech.
It was the fall of 2003, and by the end of each week, Kingsbury, now a first-year coach at his alma mater, would arrive at the New England Patriots practice facility and watch starter Tom Brady go to work with offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.
“He was unbelievable with the X’s and O’s,” Kingsbury said of Weis. “Just watching him work with Tom on a daily basis, and how comfortable Tom was with every game plan we did, that guy is an incredible coach and an incredible quarterback mentor.”
Maybe this story helps explain why Weis felt the weight of so much failure in his first year at Kansas — a 1-11 debacle that ended with zero Big 12 victories for the second straight season. Weis was supposed to be quarterback whisperer, armed with another former protégé in Notre Dame transfer Dayne Crist, and any right arm he touched would turn to quarterback gold. This was, after all, the man who made Matt Cassell good.
Well, that’s how it was supposed to work. Instead, the Jayhawks’ passing attack cratered. Crist crumbled. And KU finished 113th in the nation in passing offense, averaging just 148.7 yards per game.
“You feel like you failed,” Weis said, sitting in a ballroom at the Dallas-Omni Hotel at Big 12 media days on Monday afternoon. “That was part of your job to get that right and you couldn’t get that right.”
So here comes year two of Weis, another opportunity to make things right, and the story line feels strikingly familiar. The Jayhawks are still in the cellar. Weis has brought in a new cast of juco transplants. And he possesses another transfer quarterback in junior Jake Heaps, who spent last season on the scout team after playing his first two seasons at Brigham Young.
The scenario has left Weis in somewhat of an awkward position. He’d like to gush about Heaps’ ability, he said. He’d probably like to tell you that the KU staff would send tape of Heaps to prospective recruits, selling them on KU’s future. But he’s also cautious of putting too many expectations on one arm — like he did last year with Crist.
“The problem I have, is that was the same thing we went through with Dayne Crist last year,” Weis said. “So Dayne comes walking in the door — and though I do not put the situations the same — one of the problems was, as bad as we were last year … people had this idea that ‘this kid’s gonna be the savior.’ And maybe I’m partially guilty for people feeling that way.”
Weis finishes his thought, and then he adds another. He’s talking about Heaps again.
“I don’t (want to) make that mistake,” Weis said, “that this is the savior coming on the right hand of the Lord. Because sometimes when you say that, that’s the way it could be perceived.”
Weis said he still loves Crist “with all his heart.” But still, he’d also like to make the case that Heaps can be different. He’d like to believe that he has another quarterback to believe in. Heaps completed 57 percent of his passes in two years at BYU, and Weis would like to believe he can make him better.
“I’m not saying I’m trying to lower the expectations,” Weis said. “I expect us to be significantly improved at the quarterback position, which gives us a better chance to compete and win more games in the league.”
More games, of course, would start with one. The Jayhawks’ last conference victory came against Colorado in 2010.
If there’s another reason to hope, it’s the Jayhawks’ rushing attack, which features senior James Sims and a group of capable backs. Weis expects the backfield to be even better this year, and for Heaps and Weis, the key word isn’t just passing — it’s balance.
“In order to become a really good team, and a winning team, we gotta be balanced on offense,” Heaps said.
So this is the stated goal. More balance. More completions. More competitive games. And just maybe, more victories.