This is why Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger gets paid the big bucks.
He’s looking for a coach to replace Charlie Weis, the coach he hired after firing Turner Gill after the 2011 season.
Weis didn’t work out, and Zenger fired him four games into this season.
Zenger named Clint Bowen as Weis’ replacement, on an interim basis, and Kansas is showing signs of life under Bowen, who grew up in Lawrence, loves the Jayhawks and would give his Rock Chalk to get the full-time gig.
Bowen’s stock rose again Saturday as Kansas scared the bejeebers out of fifth-ranked TCU before losing 34-30 in Lawrence.
Has Bowen done enough to be the guy? If he hasn’t, is there a better guy out there?
Zenger has a huge decision, one that will affect the short- and long-term future of KU football. He can’t afford to swing and miss again, not after it became apparent to all what a big mistake it was to bring Weis to Lawrence.
Bowen started coaching at Kansas in 1996 as a grad assistant. He left to go to Minnesota with Glen Mason, his coaching mentor, in 1997 but returned a year later and spent the next 12 years at KU. Then he went to Western Kentucky in 2010 and North Texas in 2011 to be the defensive coordinator at both spots before joining Weis’ staff in 2012.
He’s like a boomerang – he just keeps coming back.
And Bowen would be perfectly comfortable never leaving.
“Things have gone about as well as possible,” Bowen said last week, before the TCU game. “Our coaching staff has worked hard to do what is right for our players and our football program. We need to create an identity of what we’re going to be.”
That would be a start.
The Jayhawks have been a disaster since losing the final seven games of the 2009 season under Mark Mangino, who two seasons earlier guided KU to an Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech. Fans have mostly checked out with a “get back to me when you figure something out” attitude.
It’s time for Kansas to once and for all decide what kind of football program it wants to be. Time to put up or shut up. Time to start to realize all the potential KU people talk about as they are slapped with the reality of loss after loss, season after season.
Bowen is young and energetic and the Jayhawks have been a better team, especially offensively, since he took over. Moving wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau into the co-offensive coordinator position has worked. Kansas is far from being an offensive juggernaut, but at least now the Jayhawks are scoring every now and then.
Bowen took over a team that was at a breaking point following a 23-0 home loss to Texas. It was a tough game to watch as young quarterback Montell Cozart, since replaced by veteran Michael Cummings, struggled.
There are a lot of seniors on this team and they could have followed most of the fans to the exit signs. But from the outside looking in, it appears that the Jayhawks, young and old, have been re-energized.
“We talk to our kids about integrity and about how we’re in the business of winning fans over, winning people over,” Bowen said last week. “Whether it’s in the classroom, on campus, at Walmart or wherever, we want to put forth our best. And we feel like we’ve done some things, a lot of activities, that have helped bring these guys together. If you truly care about the guy next to you, then you’ll play a lot harder for them.”
Bowen, 42, is married and has two young sons. He grew up on the north side of Lawrence, on the other side of the Kansas River.
“But my aunt lives two blocks from the stadium,” he said. “It was a station point when we were kids. I spent a lot of time running around that stadium when I was younger.”
Bowen has one strong trait of a head football coach currently – he’s struggling to maintain his voice.
“The cold weather takes it out of you,” he said.
But his voice, whatever is left of it, obviously is being heard. It’s obvious his players are playing for him.
“We’ve talked from the beginning about teaching these guys how to prepare to win football games,” Bowen said. “That preparation begins on Sunday night, when we introduce the next opponent. We’re always trying to think of that particular day and what we want to get accomplished. We try to take care of our business and play with an identity of playing harder, smarter and tougher.”
Bowen insists he’s not thinking about where he might be in a month. He says he’s too busy running a football program to concern himself with Zenger’s upcoming decision.
“I’m not going to think one second about the future and what I can’t control,” Bowen said. “Every second I spend thinking or doing something to try and get job is a second I’m cheating the players and the program. To me right now, this is all about these players.”
This is Bowen’s first time to be in charge. He’s always wanted to be a head coach, but understood there was a chance he’d never get that shot and remain a defensive coach.
What has he learned about himself in the seven weeks since he took the interim KU job?
“I always thought there would be a tremendous amount of pressure with this job,” Bowen said. “But what I’ve learned is that as long as I stay true to myself and believe in what I’m doing and have conviction, there’s really no pressure to it.
“As long as you’re doing what’s right, and you know what you’re doing is right, there’s really no pressure.”