It’s been a roller-coaster of Kansas football news the past couple of days.
From coaching hires, to recruiting battles, to signing day, we’ll try to make sense of what’s gone down in Lawrence these past 48 hours.
*NOTE: All recruiting rankings are based on 247sports.com composite rankings.
Bowen and Hull Retained
On Tuesday, during the halftime of the Jayhawk basketball game no less, it was announced that RB coach Tony Hull and Clint “9 Lives” Bowen will be retained under new head coach Les Miles. (You’ll understand why I gave Clint that nickname here in a moment.)
“They are talented coaches and recruiters, but what sets them apart is their ability to establish strong relationships with their student-athletes,” Miles said in a press release. “Their familiarity with the program is a great asset to us as we move forward in building something special together here at KU.”
The Tony Hull news was welcomed with open arms by most of Jayhawk nation due to his demonstrated recruiting prowess these past couple of years.
Due to his days as a Louisiana high school football coach – and despite KU’s abysmal record the past few years – he has been able to land some of the Jayhawk’s most talented players.
- S Mike Lee
- RB Dom Williams
- CB Corione Harris (247Sports Freshman All-American)
- RB Pooka Williams Jr. (GOAT and Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year)
His recruiting expertise and the success of Running backs Pooka Williams Jr. and Khalil Herbert, have had made this decision a no-brainer for Miles. The reason for the delay in the announcement could have been that Hull was weighing other coaching offers.
The Clint Bowen news however, has been met with some resistance from Kansas fans.
Bowen is a polarizing figure in Lawrence. He’s a Lawrence native and played high school football at Lawrence High.
He also played at Kansas from 1991-94, helping lead Kansas to a win over BYU in the 1992 Aloha Bowl and became one of the Jayhawk’s all-time leaders in tackles by a defensive back.
What’s most remarkable – and why I referred to him as “9 Lives” Bowen – is that he has coached at KU for the better part of 20 years now under five different coaches…That is unheard of. It’s also a testament to Bowen’s affinity for Kansas. For him to take a demotion from defensive coordinator to safeties coach, says a lot about his desire to remain in Lawrence.
His opponents claim that he hasn’t been a good DC and his defenses have left a lot to be desired. However, in 2018, he led a defense that ranked top 10 in the nation in takeaways and top 10 in the nation in turnover margin.
And of the six current Jayhawks playing in the NFL (all of whom are defensive players), Bowen coached five of them in the past 10 years.
Not to mention, Bowen served as DC and/or safeties coach during Kansas’s best years from 2003-08 – which saw three bowl wins, including the 2008 Orange Bowl.
He’s no longer leading the defense thanks to the hiring of D.J. Eliot, so the argument that things won’t change with him still on board is misplaced. He’s proven himself as safeties coach before, he’s liked by players and recruits, and he’s dedicated to Kansas football.
Coaching Staff Finalized
The final piece to the coaching staff was added on Wednesday when KU announced that Jeff Hecklinski would be joining Miles’ staff.
He was recently the OC/receivers coach at Indiana State and was also the assistant HC, recruiting coordinator, and WR coach under Brady Hoke at Michigan from 2011-14.
While at Michigan, he helped land eight 4-star recruits, six of whom were ranked as a top-100 player in their class.
With this announcement, Les Miles now has a complete staff that could be the best combination of coaching and recruiting Kansas has had since their 2008 Orange Bowl team.
Wednesday marked the beginning of the early signing period in college football and Les Miles has worked hard to get this 2019 class up to par.
As of today, the class is ranked last in the Big 12 and 106th overall in the country. 10 players have signed their LOIs – six JUCO players and four high-school students.
Some of the highlights of the class include:
3-star S Jayden Russell (held offers from KSU, Iowa St., Duke, and others)
He’s also been a one-man recruiting machine for his new team.
3-star QB Thomas MacVittie (rated as the 3rd best JUCO QB in the country)
The class appears small with only 10 signees but that’s to be expected. Miles said during his introductory press conference that he expected to sign 15 guys. The early signing period runs through Friday and National Signing Day isn’t until Feb. 6, 2019 so there is still plenty of time to fill out the 2019 class.
Some other things to keep in mind with this class:
There are a high number of JUCO commits because there wasn’t enough time to build connections with high school coaches and players. That takes months, maybe years, and Miles has only been at Kansas for four weeks.
Additionally, many of these JUCO kids are December graduates – meaning they can be on campus for spring practices and get a head start on getting acclimated.
The thought from Miles appears to be to gather a number of junior college prospects who are ready to play now and add them to a crop of talented players returning from the 2018 team – which features 8 out of 11 All-Big 12 honorees returning. That way Kansas has a better chance of winning in 2019, which makes them become a more attractive destination for high school players in the 2020 class and beyond.
Basically, Beaty loaded up on JUCO players to try and save his job. Miles is signing JUCO players so they can win in 2019 and go after high school players going forward. Miles did say KU was only a “recruiting class or two away” from being a good team, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see some early success in Miles’ first year.
Also, let’s not forget that, unlike other schools such as K-State, Miles came in to a bare-cupboard situation.
There was only one player committed when he arrived (2-star RB Cole Mueller who has since decommitted). The program had also only seen six wins in the past four years.
That’s a tough place to start for any coach, no matter who they are – especially when that coach has only been around for a month and his staff wasn’t finalized until the first day of the signing period.
Miles has worked tirelessly over these past few weeks to get this class to being somewhat respectable and with numerous preferred walk-on (PWO) opportunities he’s given to high school players, that will help build depth and give Kansas the opportunity to be a more active player in future recruiting classes.
KU vs. KSU recruiting battle
A few weeks ago, we pointed out the recruiting options Les Miles had right here in Kansas and it appears he was listening.
Miles and his staff were very aggressive in their pursuit of local talent and it paid off. They landed Jayden Russell and Mason Fairchild – two of the top 15 players in Kansas.
He also wasn’t afraid to go after K-State commits, most notably Keenan Garber and Jax Dineen. Garber has been committed to KSU since this summer and he and Dineen are very close friends who had every intention of playing at the same school.
Miles ended up losing out on the Lawrence kids and understandably there were a lot of Kansas fans who were upset and disappointed by the news – myself included.
However, this was not a cut-and-dry situation.
Yes, Dineen has two brothers who have played for the Jayhawks (Jay Dineen will be a redshirt sophomore in 2019). Yes, the Dineen family is well known as being a family that bleeds red and blue.
But due to scholarship limitations caused by his predecessors, Miles was restricted in the amount of full scholarship offers he could issue. Reportedly, Dineen was offered a PWO from Kansas with the intention of awarding him a scholarship his sophomore year.
K-State however, is not handicapped with their scholarship situation like KU and thus, were able to offer a full scholarship to Dineen. Dineen had also previously been offered by Klieman while he was at NDSU, so he already had a relationship established with their new coach – despite him being on the job for less time than Les Miles.
Not to mention, KSU’s program is in nowhere near as bad of shape as KU’s has been these past several years. That matters to recruits.
To lose two of the top players in your state when they’re 10 minutes from campus is never going to feel good, but Kansas fans should know that Miles and his staff put the press on these two hard and they were very close to becoming Jayhawks.
Plus, look how happy they are to be living in Manhattan, KS for the next 4-5 years!
As previously mentioned, Miles has built a great staff of recruiters so Kansas fans should be encouraged by this aggressive recruiting strategy going forward and knowing that their new staff is not okay with losing top local recruits to other schools.
How do we avoid losing out on recruiting battles like this in the future? The first step is simple: start winning on the field and you’ll start winning over recruits.