The old football coach at the 30-yard line is yelling at his players, and he’s yelling because they wouldn’t yell or scream loud enough.
He’s yelling, he says, because these young players don’t know how to win. And this needs to change. Now.
It’s just before 7 on a Thursday morning in April, and KU coach Charlie Weis is making a point. In a specific sense, the point is about celebrating. The Jayhawks are in the final minutes of an early-morning practice, and junior kicker Ron Doherty has just knocked a “game-winning” kick through the uprights. And in Weis’ mind, the team’s reaction was too tame.
But the larger point, Weis says, is about preparation and discipline.
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“I believe in practicing everything!” he screams.
Weis, in his first year at Kansas, is attempting to remake the football culture at a school where the weather and tailgate plans often take precedence on Saturdays. For now, Weis isn’t making any promises about wins and losses. But his players, he says, will do things the right way.
“I think you get one opportunity to set it right,” Weis says. “You only get one chance.”
In the last month, Weis has kicked three players off the team and suspended starting running back James Sims for the first three games of the 2012 season. These measures came after Weis parted ways with 10 players in January.
Two of the dismissed players — linebacker Collin Garrett and cornerback Chris Robinson — were involved in a Lawrence bar altercation, while Sims was cited for operating a vehicle under the influence earlier this spring.
Weis says he’s not in the business of running off kids. But he will let his players understand how it’s going to be. And if the rules are broken more than once, well.…
“It’s always easier to loosen up on a team after it’s been rigid,” Weis says, “then it is to tighten up on a team after it’s been loose.
“I think if you start loose, you have no chance.”
Weis has also cracked down on failing grades and missed classes. Earlier this spring, Weis bragged that the number of players missing class had shriveled into the single digits. And when somebody was absent, there was a 6 a.m. appointment with new strength and conditioning coach Scott Holsopple on a Saturday morning.
“Every time somebody missed,” Weis says, “it was horrible.”
Other changes, though, have been more subtle.
On April 18, 10 days before the spring game, Weis released the official format for the game. It was 346 words of precise details, right down to the time players would switch into the correct jersey before the game — and the fact a coin toss would be used before the game.
In the vast landscape of college football micromanagers, it was pretty standard stuff. But it stood in stark contrast to the final spring game of the previous regime, where players were kept in the dark until just days before the game.
Weis’ predecessor, Turner Gill, was described as a players’ coach, a teacher who would motivate by developing relationships. In essence: the anti-Mark Mangino, who left Kansas in 2009 after an internal investigation into his treatment of players.
“That’s two opposite ends of the spectrum,” said Steven Johnson, a former KU linebacker who played for Mangino and Gill. “You’ve got a really mean, strict coach who demands a lot out of you, and coaches a certain way. And then you’ve got a players’ coach.”
Now KU has Weis, another coach that lives and dies on the details. Johnson is still on campus this spring. And while he says he hasn’t seen it firsthand, he’s heard plenty from former teammates that Weis’ way is closer to Mangino’s style.
“I guess you could say, he’s somewhere in the middle,” Johnson said. “Maybe a little bit more toward the mean side.”
Senior quarterback Dayne Crist, who played under Weis at Notre Dame, said the message has been consistent all spring: Do things the right way. And other players have felt the beginning of the sea change as well.
“If you don’t come in early and show your discipline, you’re never going to earn that respect from your players,” senior captain Toben Opurum said. “Some people see it as harsh. But the fact that he’s doing it now, more so than later, it definitely will help him down the road.”
Weis says he’s not trying to be a drill sergeant. But he’s not afraid to bark out orders either, whether it’s at 6 a.m. practice or a team meeting about academics.
“It’s always important in the beginning, to set the tone right from the start,” Weis said. “This is the way it’s gonna be.”
The Weis way.