LAWRENCE – The days began before dawn, an energetic young high school football coach crawling into his car around 5 a.m.
He was in his early 30s, a native Texan who had come home to a dream job. In fall 2001, David Beaty, the pride of Garland, Texas, had been hired at North Dallas High, a scuffling program that up-and-coming coaches avoided at all costs, a place with few resources and little football history.
Beaty, though, had spent most of his adult life waiting to be a high school football coach, so those kids at North Dallas might as well have been the Cowboys.
Given the title of football coach and athletic director, Beaty was not required to teach classes, but he was tasked with a daily duty. Each morning, he played the role of high school chauffeur, picking up a carful of students and dropping them off at the high school around 6 a.m.
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Then it was time for doughnuts.
Beaty would steer his car toward a local Kroger’s supermarket, forking over $5 for a box of glazed specialties. When he returned to school, the first-year coach would set up shop, re-selling the doughnuts to students and staff, the profits directed to the ramshackle football enterprise.
“We’d spend about $5 per day and we’d make about $20 per day,” Beaty says. “Just trying to create some kind of funds to be able to buy our kids things that we needed, because the budget wasn’t there.”
More than 13 years later, Beaty is sitting in the football coach’s office at the University of Kansas, the plush corner suite that overlooks Memorial Stadium. The walls and shelves are a dark oak color. This building, the jewel of a losing program, cost more than $30 million to build.
On this day, Beaty has officially become KU’s 38th football coach, and while reasonable minds can debate how big-time this job really is, there’s no mistaking this: This is not North Dallas High, and the only doughnuts here are the free ones set out for a curious parade of reporters.
Beaty is 44 now. His face slightly more weathered. His Texas drawl still as thick as ever. And once again, he is taking over a program that few up-and-coming coaches could truly want. The challenge is obvious and yet still daunting. The Jayhawks have won just 12 games in the last five seasons. Two coaches have been hired and fired before they even reached 30 games.
But Beaty is still confident, in part, because the man hired to transform Kansas football is still the Texas high school coach who woke up before 5 a.m. to give rides to school and sell doughnuts in the hallways. At the core of his identity, Beaty is still the high school coach who would pull out his own push mower and cut his football field’s “jungle” grass when the district’s mowing rotation lagged behind. He is still the coach who helped tear out a weight-room floor, powerwashed the place, then painted the squat racks to complete the job.
“People don’t think about it,” Beaty says, “but somebody has got to do it.”
More than two decades after he first became a high school assistant coach — and eight years after he first entered the college ranks as an assistant at Rice — Beaty still wears the battle scars from those early high school days. He also holds onto the old ties and relationships, an advantage that has made him one of the most potent recruiters in the state of Texas.
But the dusty old stories — from schools with names like Irvin MacArthur and Naaman Forest — help define Beaty as a coach and football man.
They also help explain where the Kansas football program hopes to go.
“When you’ve been a high school coach, you understand that chip that those guys carry on their shoulders,” Beaty says. “What I mean by that isn’t necessarily negative. They have an edge.”
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In the vast pop-culture history of Texas — a state of myth, legend, heroes and anti-heroes — there are usually three archetypes and characters who tend to stand out from the rest.
There is the stoic and honorable lawman. There is the ambitious and determined oilman. And in most every town across the state — from the oil fields of Odessa to the streets of Denton and Mesquite — there is the high school football coach.
In the television series “Friday Night Lights” — a fictionalized show based on a popular movie, which itself was based on a best-selling book — the hero of the series is Eric Taylor, the coach of the Dillon Panthers, a frank, stressed-out, charming and overall decent man.
To say that Kansas has hired an Eric Taylor clone to be its football coach would be stretching the boundaries of fiction and real life. But sitting in Beaty’s office on a Monday in December, you get the feeling that, if he really needed to, he could slide into an episode of “Friday Night Lights” with relative ease.
“He’s one of us,” says Joey McGuire, the football coach at Cedar Hill High who has known Beatty for more than a decade. “He’s honest. What you see is what you get.”
In other words, Beaty is Texas with a capital T.
Born and raised in Garland, an inner-ring suburb that lines the northeast corner of Dallas, Beaty was indoctrinated this way. His biological father, Buford Beaty, was a Dallas police officer in the narcotics division. On the morning of Nov. 24, 1963, Buford was on duty at police headquarters when Jack Ruby stepped in front of a row of cameras and shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald at close range. If you comb through photographs and television broadcasts from the day, Beaty says, you can see his father in the background.
Beaty’s father died when he was 5, and his mother, Rachel, married a man named John Lee Ford, who worked on the oil refineries outside of Houston.
“They were just blue-collar people,” Beaty says. “We had what we needed but we didn’t have much more than that. They just taught us hard work.”
On most mornings, when David and his twin brother were growing up, Rachel would roust the boys before 6 a.m. and drop them off at school before heading to her job in the drugs receiving department at the local Albertsons grocery store.
On one particular day, Rachel locked her keys in the car while attempting to transport the boys to school.
“We didn’t have any money to call a locksmith,” Beaty says, “so she’d throw a brick through the window and open the car, and we’d go to school and she’d go to work.”
As Beaty finishes this story, his eyes fill with tears. He’s not sure why this one memory came to him at this moment. His mother is 85 now. She still lives in the same house in Garland where the family grew up, still driving her car and following her son’s career.
“She taught us: ‘You’ll never be late anywhere,’” Beaty says. “To be early is to be on time. So if it meant she had to throw a brick through the window.…”
His voice trails off.
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The first decision came around summer of 1994. But the way Jeff Driskill remembers it, it wasn’t really a decision at all.
It was early 1994, and Beaty was set to graduate from Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., after spending four seasons on the school’s NAIA football team. Beaty had one season of eligibility remaining, and Driskill, then the Lions’ coach, would have surely welcomed his leading receiver back for one more year.
But Beaty had lined up a job as a high school assistant coach in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. And Driskill knew exactly which way Beaty was leaning.
From the moment Beaty had stepped on campus, Driskill could see that this young receiver from Garland was destined to become a coach.
“That’s always what he wanted to be,” says Driskill, who now lives in Kansas City, Mo. “He wasn’t the best athlete on the field all the time. But he would out-think and out-work everybody.”
Even 15 years later, Driskill can offer a collection of Beaty stories on the spot. One season, Beaty missed a chunk of time because of an injury and essentially became another position coach, working with Lindenwood’s younger receivers. Another year, Lindenwood lost its three quarterbacks to injury and Driskill was forced to hand the ball to Beaty, who was not particularly thrilled with the move. Beaty was a receiver, and he enjoyed operating in space and sprinting away from opposing defensive ends. But Driskill knew that Beaty understood the offense as well as anybody, and that he wouldn’t complain.
How did it work out? Well, perhaps some stories are best told without the ending.
“He would probably tell you that it was not his most successful athletic endeavor,” Driskill says, “but we knew we were going to get everything he had.”
While Beaty excelled at receiver, some of his most valuable work was put in on the weekends, when the Lindenwood staff welcomed recruits to campus for official visits. Perhaps it was Beaty’s warm nature, or his inclination toward honesty, or some combination of the two. But if Driskill had a recruit in town, there was almost no question: He was calling Beaty to host the kid for the weekend.
“He was one of those that we knew we could place a young man with, and they were going to get an honest, complete answer,” Driskill says. “David was going to take care of them.”
In the years after college, Beaty spent seven as an assistant coach — first at Naaman Forest, then back at Garland High, his alma mater. Next came his first head-coaching job at North Dallas in 2001, followed by the head gig at Irvin MacArthur High, where Beaty joined a generation of Texas high school coaches who were revolutionizing the spread offense on Friday nights in the Metroplex. In four seasons, MacArthur finished 33-11 and won two district titles.
Then came another decision.
After the 2005 season, a former Texas high school coach named Todd Graham was hired to be the next coach at Rice. And Graham wanted Beaty on his staff. Beaty was in his mid 30s, with a wife and two young daughters at home, and the idea of joining the volatile world of college coaching was counter to the life he had built.
“I told him no,” Beaty says. “He came back and offered me more, and I said, ‘Man, let me think about it.’”
Before Beaty could think too much, Graham was calling again. This time, he was offering even more money. So Beaty called his wife, Raynee.
“Babe,” Beaty told her, “I guess this is what the good Lord wants us to do.”
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Beaty’s resume does not stop at the high school ranks, of course, and perhaps it’s important to point this out now. For the last three seasons, Beaty has served as the receivers coach and recruiting coordinator under Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M, a job that followed two stints as an assistant at Kansas. The first came in 2008 under Mark Mangino, who was happy to tap into Beaty’s recruiting ties in Texas.
“I interviewed a couple of guys, but he really impressed me,” Mangino says. “I thought he was the guy to go with.”
But if you want to know why Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger was comfortable hiring a man with no college head-coaching experience — and just one season as an offensive coordinator — perhaps it’s best to look across the college football landscape, where a wave of former high school coaches are winning — and winning big.
“We found an individual who is part of an emerging niche within college football today,” Zenger said. “He established himself early as a successful head high school coach in the state of Texas and successfully transitioned into the college ranks.”
Put another way: Zenger hopes he’s found the next Art Briles, a former Texas high school coach who has led Baylor to a program renaissance after five solid years at Houston. Briles, of course, is not alone. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn began his career as a successful high school in Arkansas, while Graham has Arizona State in the Top 25 after successful stints at Rice, Tulsa and Pittsburgh.
And just in the past month, SMU and Tulsa hired coaches who began their careers as high school coaches in Texas.
“Friday Night Lights is real,” says McGuire, the coach in Cedar Hill. “In Texas, you go to church on Sunday and you play football on Friday night. It’s the importance of football, and these guys get it.”
As Beaty says, it’s also the importance of relationships. To be successful at Kansas, it’s paramount to recruit Dallas-Fort Worth. Just eight hours from Lawrence, the area will produce more Big 12 recruits in one year than the state of Kansas will in two or three — and maybe four or five.
“He’s going to recruit the mess out of the Metroplex,” says McGuire, whose program sent receivers Dezmon Briscoe and Marcus Herford to Kansas during the Mangino era.
During his first week on the job, Beaty wasted little time, landing seven commitments from the area. After each commitment, Beaty would log onto his Twitter account, tap out a cryptic message and press send.
Here it was, Beaty’s folksy rallying cry for his new program, the latest hopeful message for a program yearning for better days.
Neat deal? Yes, this is now Kansas football.