LAWRENCE — The offseason can be a lonely time for a football coach. There is the tonnage of game film, and the grueling monotony of recruiting. And for most of the summer, coaches are barred from any meaningful football time with their own players.
There is, in short, plenty of time to think. And when you’re coming off a 1-11 season, that’s not always the best set of circumstances. For Charlie Weis, it might as well have been hell.
Weis can be a miserable sort. He admits this stuff freely. For Weis, happiness is in the grind — the lunch-pail message that he passes to his Kansas players. And for Weis, all that game film meant confronting all those close losses from last year.
This, without much filter, is how Weis remembers it:
“We blew the Rice game, and they kicked a field goal,” Weis says. “And TCU turns it over six times, but we still can’t beat them. Then we go to Northern Illinois and blow that lead. Let’s not talk about Texas Tech in double overtime. Let’s not talk about blowing the Oklahoma State game where we had (the lead) cut to six and the ball is on the 30-yard line.
“How about giving up a touchdown pass to Texas with 11 seconds left? Other than that, I did a wonderful job.”
From an optimistic point of view, the Jayhawks lost five games by less than a touchdown last season. Yes, there’s that. But even if one of those games had flipped their way, Weis says, it wouldn’t have changed much in the grand scheme of things.
“I would have been miserable anyway, to be perfectly honest with you,” Weis says. “Because now you are saying we have won two? Whoopee. Not to be sarcastic, but I’m dead serious.”
On Thursday afternoon, Weis and KU begin fall camp. The Jayhawks will finally have a chance to turn the page. And Weis can as well.
Even amid the muck of 1-11, Weis is optimistic about certain things. Junior quarterback Jake Heaps will have a chance to turn his scout-team legend into tangible production. The Jayhawks posted a 3.11 grade-point-average over the summer, Weis says, another sign that he’s maintained some semblance of discipline while the losing has remained.
But more than anything, Weis was enthusiastic when he sat down to sketch out his first depth chart of the fall. Last year, the task had been a real chore. This time, with more than 15 junior-college transfers in the two-deep chart, the whole process felt like a breath of fresh air.
“Last year at this time, I had a tough time giving you a two-deep,” Weis says. “and I had probably had a tough time giving you one-deep in some cases.”
For now, any potential breakthrough is still in the abstract planning stages. Weis hopes the infusion of junior-college talent leads to a more competitive fall camp. And Wednesday at his opening news conference, he said players would have until Aug. 17 to make a case for playing time.
“I’m already giving you my drop-dead date,” Weis said. “If they’re not in the mix by Aug. 17, they’re basically going to become more show-team players.”
After a one-win season, nearly any improvement would constitute a minor success. But at Big 12 media days in July, it was clear the Jayhawks are less interested in incremental gains — and more into just winning.
“None of us think, ‘Hey, let’s go 4-8 this year, that’ll be a good season for us,’” junior linebacker Ben Heeney said. “No, we want to go 10-2, 11-1, 12-0; we want to be the Big 12 champions. We want to make it to a BCS game.”
Lofty goals? Well, yeah. And as Weis watched film from his team’s 1-11 debacle, he wasn’t thinking about bowl games or even breaking a Big 12 losing streak that stretches back to 2010. He was just trying to find an edge in the final seconds of a close game.
“If you are home for Christmas, then you had a bad year,” Weis says. “If you are singing, ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas,’ then it wasn’t a good year. Realistically in the grand scheme of things, once you have gotten to that point, you should also expect significant progress made in the next year. And that’s where we are right now.
“You don’t make any outlandish predictions on number of wins, but you expect significant progress out of everyone in the organization. It starts with me. I need to do a better job in those close games, so that instead of losing with 11 seconds to go, you get over the hump.”
• Receiver Nick Harwell, dismissed from Miami (Ohio) last spring for off-field reasons, will be forced to redshirt this season after not being able to complete his final six hours at Miami. That would’ve enabled him to play a final season at KU. Harwell had hired an attorney and challenged the school’s decision, but the fight proved unsuccessful. Weis also announced that injured linebacker Marcus Jenkins-Moore would redshirt after undergoing a procedure on his knee earlier this summer.