LAWRENCE — By the time Charlie Weis settled into a seat next to his son on the Kansas team bus, he knew something had to change. It was Saturday, and the Jayhawks had just lost their 23rd straight Big 12 game, falling 27-17 to TCU in Fort Worth.
Weis’ offense had struggled again, scratching out 198 yards. As he sat down next to his son, Charlie Jr., a student manager, the ride was permeated by silence.
“I don’t think I said two words to him,” Weis said. “And I sit there, and all I’m going through is ‘What can I do?’”
Three days later, after some reflecting, Weis unveiled his latest plan to spark a stale offense, shaking up the coaching responsibilities for the unit. Quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus will now oversee the passing game, while tight ends coach Jeff Blasko will be in charge of the run-game. The changes will allow Weis to take a more hands-on role in coaching the Jayhawks’ specific skill positions. And he’ll remain the Jayhawks’ offensive coordinator.
“I felt like I had to back off a little bit,” Weis said, “or else we were never gonna get any better. And it’s not easy for me to do it that way.”
Weis had designed a similar power structure for the defense during the offseason. Linebackers coach Clint Bowen, who had more experience defending spread offenses, was enlisted to run the defense at the ground level, while defensive coordinator Dave Campo retained his title and took on a more advisory role.
The change has paid dividends thus far; the new scheme has put more heat on opposing quarterbacks, and the KU defense has made measurable progress over the last year.
“I sat back,” Weis said, “and said, ‘Lookit: I was willing to do it with Dave, why am I not willing to do it with myself?’”
After the loss at TCU, which dropped KU to 2-3 and 0-2 in the Big 12, it appears Weis reached a breaking point. Something had to change.
“I really don’t care about my ego,” Weis said. “I just wanna get better and win.”
Of course, if you’re looking for a wholesale change in scheme when Kansas faces No. 18 Oklahoma this Saturday at Memorial Stadium, you might not see it. The framework of the offense will remain in place, but Weis is hoping for a better exchange of ideas and more input from his assistant coaches.
Weis will also be sitting in on position meetings with the Jayhawks’ skill groups, another change from the old way.
“I’m gonna get much more involved in the coaching of the skill positions, which I think has been lacking,” Weis said. “I’ve been a position coach at all these positions — quarterback, running back, tight end, wide receiver — on the NFL level for multiple years. And I think some of the areas where we’re deficient at, I think that I can lend a hand and improve.”
Weis is also remains hopeful that the staff changes could give a lift to the passing game, which has been a season-long issue. Junior quarterback Jake Heaps has completed just 52.6 percent of his passes while throwing five touchdowns and six interceptions. And Powlus believes that part of the problem is that Heaps is simply trying a little too hard to be perfect.
“He does strain,” Powlus said. “The kid is in tears after every game if we’re not winning. He strains so hard to make the offense work.”
On Monday, when the coaching staff met to discuss the game plan for this week, Weis said he began by asking Powlus and Blasko for their ideas. It wasn’t all that different than usual, Powlus says, but for Weis, it was a clear sign: The status quo can’t continue.
“I’ve always believed our offense is run through the quarterback,” Weis said, “and nobody knows what our quarterbacks can and can’t do any better than Ron.”
Could Cozart see playing time? — Freshman quarterback Montell Cozart appeared on the depth chart for the first time this season — he was listed at second string with sophomore Michael Cummings — and Charlie Weis is certainly not squashing speculation that Cozart could be the answer at quarterback.
“I would not put him on the depth chart,” Weis said, “if he was not a legitimate candidate to play this week.”
Cozart, a graduate of Bishop Miege, drew high marks from Weis during fall camp. And, according to KU quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus, Cozart has continued to progress during the season’s first six weeks. A 6-foot-2 dual threat quarterback, Cozart was a three-star prospect, according to Rivals.com.
Injury report — Junior linebacker Ben Heeney and junior running back Tony Pierson highlighted a group of players listed as “day-to-day” on the depth chart because of injuries. Heeney suffered a knee injury at TCU last Saturday, while Pierson is still recovering from a concussion suffered against Texas Tech on Oct. 5.
Junior receiver Andrew Turzilli and junior nose tackle Tedarian Johnson were also listed as day-to-day, and Weis said he was unsure if any of the four would be available against Oklahoma.
“I’m not just sandbagging,” Weis said. “I really don’t know.”