Few teams underwent a bigger facelift from top to bottom than Kansas this off-season, as former head coach Mark Mangino was essentially ousted by his players and administration and replaced by former Nebraska player and Buffalo head coach Turner Gill.
Along with trying to change the entire culture of the program, Gill will be faced with the task of replacing former quarterback Todd Reesing, who is regarded by many as the best ever to play for the Jayhawks, as well as a handful of other big names on both sides of the ball.
To get a feel for how Gill's first spring in Lawrence went, HuskersIllustrated.com sat down with Brady McCollough of the Kansas City Star to get his thoughts and observations.
How would you say the first spring of the Turner Gill era went for the Jayhawks?
"Well, obviously it was Turner Gill's first spring, and he's trying to build a new culture after I guess you could say the damage done by Mangino there. He's kind of doing some things that are maybe a little bit unorthodox. He's a devout Christian, and he's kind of mandated among his assistant coaches that there will be no cuss words used at practices or any football activities. They've decided to take the names off the back of the jerseys, which other coaches have done in his position, but he wants them to be a team and all that stuff.
"As far as the actual on-the-field stuff, quarterback is a huge issue. Todd Reesing was the best quarterback in Kansas history, and they've got a couple of young guys battling it out to be the successor in redshirt sophomore Kale Pick and redshirt freshman Jordan Webb. Kale Pick had a really good spring game. He moved the team better than Webb did, but Turner Gill wouldn't say anything about who was in the lead or if there was a leader between the two of them. I actually think Pick has the upper hand. He's a year older, and he really kind of looks the part. He certainly did in the spring game. He's kind of more of a runner, but he's a run and pass guy, a dual-threat quarterback, whereas Jordan Webb is more of a traditional pocket passer. He won't make things happen with his feet, but he can work more with the pass. It's a team with not a lot of returning star power. They're kind of going to have to wait and see what they've got in the fall as far as really evaluating."
Kansas ranked 75th overall in total defense last year and 96th in run defense. How has the effort gone in fixing that side of the ball gone?
"Defensively, they lost Darrell Stuckey, a fourth-round draft pick this year, at safety. They're pretty inexperienced all over the field defensively. Carl Torbush, their new defensive coordinator, has talked a lot about wanting a more aggressive defense. They're going to play more man-to-man. Mangino used to play a lot of zone coverage in the past few years, and I think it kind of set them back. They were trying to prevent big plays, but it didn't really help. So they're going to attack more and mix things up a little more in coverages.
How about the rest of the offense outside of quarterback? How are they looking on the offensive line and skill positions?
"Offensively, you've got five starters back on the offensive line, but I'm not sure that's a good thing. They didn't do so good last year, but they have all five of those guys back, so the offensive line should be alright. At wide receiver, they've got some guys that look like they could be playmakers, but none of them have proven to be at the level of Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier, obviously, so they're going to need somebody to step up there. At running back, they're not looking very good. They don't have that proven guy. Toben Opurum was a freshman from last year, and it was figured that he'd be a starter, but he's not even in the top two on the depth chart coming out of the spring because he was hurt."
From the sounds of things, this has all the makings to be the definition of a rebuilding year for Kansas. Is the team looking at this season like that or is it still viewing itself as a legitimate contender in the Big 12 North?
"It's hard to really pick out what the team's outlook is. You look at last year, this was a team that was coming in saying we should be favored to win the Big 12 North. This year, you didn't hear anything like that. I think everybody is sort of cautious and very aware that with a young quarterback and a new coaching staff and all that stuff, it's definitely a rebuilding year, and I think people realize that. Obviously they're going to try and surprise some people, but I think among the fans anyway, I think Turner Gill gets a grace year where if they go 4-8 or something, it's not the end of the world as long as they're competitive. They don't have Texas, Oklahoma or Texas Tech on the schedule this year with the soft schedule they've had before. Obviously Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Baylor are all probably going to be beat Kansas, but at least those are teams that I think fans are going to expect Kansas to at least be competitive with. I think that's the main thing, to be competitive."
What is the overall opinion on Turner Gill from both the players and the fan base now that he has a full spring under his belt?
"The players love him. The players were in need of a guy like Turner - a positive guy. Turner's just really, really positive, and I mean he's the opposite of Mangino as far as his style. I think the only thing you could really know about how the players felt about him from the beginning was that there was a coaching change, and from top to bottom a program change, and to my knowledge there was not one transfer from the program from someone who was already there. The players were ready for a change I think, and they certainly got it. So I think the players are loving life right now.
"With the fans, it's kind of a mixed bag. In the beginning, a lot of fans wanted a bigger name hire like Jim Harbaugh or someone like that. Turner's overall record at Buffalo was under .500, like 20-30 or something. I think fans see that one winning season in Buffalo, but I think they also realize Buffalo was nothing when he got there, and they won the MAC. I think fans are OK with it as a whole, I just don't think they were blown away by the hire."
A lot of Nebraska fans are saying that they will root for Kansas now because of Gill whenever the Jayhawks aren't playing the Huskers. Do you see the dynamic of that game changing because of Gill on Kansas's end?
"I don't think it will be any different from the KU side. If anything, I think KU fans are wary that at the first sign of success at KU, if Bo Pelini leaves Nebraska well then Turner is going to be the coach at Nebraska. I think KU fans are definitely wary of Nebraska and want to make sure that Turner Gill is a Jayhawk and not a Husker. I think if anything, that Nebraska rivalry might heat up eve more with KU fans just wanting Turner to have success against his old team and just have success at Kansas and not Nebraska. Overall, I think on this end of it, KU fans are wary of Nebraska as far as Gill is concerned. I'm sure Nebraska fans will root for Kansas as long as KU is not competing for them for the North title, but for (Kansas) to do well just for Turner."
Where does Kansas stand in all of this conference expansion talk?
"Certainly the No. 1 question right now is what's going to happen to anyone. I was talking to (KU athletic director) Lou Perkins a couple weeks ago, and it's kind of a wait-and-see approach is what he's taking. I think KU wants the Big 12 to survive. KU wants Texas to stay put in the Big 12 so the conference survives. It might not look like the same conference probably, but as long as Texas is there the conference stays viable and KU can stay put and have a home. If Texas leaves, I think everything is up for grabs, and the Big 12 is probably no more, and KU is going to have to find a way to get into the Pac-10 or who knows what will happen? The priority for a team like Kansas is trying to do whatever it can do to strengthen the Big 12 so that Texas won't feel like it needs to leave for a better conference."
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