LAWRENCE — The assumption was that newly-crowned Kansas football coach Turner Gill would head straight for the recruiting trail to ensure the Jayhawks' future.
Not so fast. Gill spent Monday night bonding with the current players in the program, the ones who lost seven games in a row to end the 2009 season and later lost their coach.
"I gotta connect right now with them," Gill said. "My first priority is not recruiting. My first priority is connecting with these guys here. They have nothing to be ashamed of. They have nothing to hold their head down for."
The Jayhawks could certainly use some reassuring words after the way the past month has unfolded, starting with KU athletic director Lew Perkins' investigation into former KU coach Mark Mangino's treatment of players and ending with Gill's hiring, officially announced Sunday.
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"These past couple of weeks have been a bit confusing," KU offensive lineman Brad Thorson said, "and we've kind of withdrawn ourselves from the rumors and all the speculation. When I first heard it was Coach Gill, it was coming 18 hours after I first heard it was (Stanford) Coach (Jim) Harbaugh. I was waiting for the next one in the next 18 hours."
Turns out, Gill is the guy after spending the last four season at Buffalo, and it didn't take long for Thorson to find out about his new head coach. Thorson received a Facebook message from Buffalo senior Dane Robinson explaining to Thorson that Gill would be a players' coach. Thorson didn't take that to mean that Gill was going to take it easy on the Jayhawks.
"He's going to push us just as hard as any coach," Thorson said. "In fact, I think he's going to push us harder. He's got a heck of a record as a player; he's an incredible competitor from the research that I've done. I expect him to be incredibly demanding, and hopefully when I succeed I can get a pat on the shoulder."
KU defensive back Chris Harris likes the idea of bringing in a coach like Gill.
"The team definitely needs a players' coach," Harris said. "That is definitely the right fit for what we need here. A lot of people on the team want to have a relationship with our coach on a deeper level. That will help a lot."
Gill couldn't have put it better himself.
"I build relationships," Gill said. "I'm gonna get to know them in a deep way. We're gonna start that (Monday night). They're gonna get to know me in a deep way. As you build relationships, you begin to build trust. We're gonna spend time together, we're gonna talk about deep issues and deep things that are going on in their life."
Gill talked about creating an environment that is conducive to being productive yet comfortable for players at the same time.
"A guy that's in the running for the Heisman Trophy, he knows how to win games," Thorson said. "The biggest thing that says is that he understands the life of a college football player."
A major change from the Mangino Era will be Gill's policy on releasing injury information to the public. Gill said that he will reveal player injuries in a similar way to an NFL franchise, labeling players probable, questionable and doubtful during the week. Mangino did not reveal player injuries to the public.
Fate of Mangino assistants — Turner Gill said Monday that he will meet with any current KU assistant coaches who are interested in being a part of Gill's staff.
With Gill already naming Chuck Long and Carl Torbush as his offensive and defensive coordinator, respectively, it is unlikely that KU offensive coordinator Ed Warinner and defensive coordinator Clint Bowen would stick around.
KU wide receivers coach David Beaty and cornerbacks coach Je'Ney Jackson could be candidates because of their recruiting ties in the state of Texas. KU linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator Bill Miller is from Hutchinson, and fits the mold of an experienced assistant that Gill appears to be looking for.