LAWRENCE — The question posed to new Kansas coach Charlie Weis was simple and direct, and the answer he tossed back was just as blunt.
After flaming out at Notre Dame, where resources are in abundance, and bouncing through stops in the NFL and as offensive coordinator at Florida, what could he reasonably expect to accomplish with the Jayhawks?
“I want this team to win,” he said. “The more wins, the happier I am. I didn’t go to school here, but if you’re a student in the student body here, there is nothing better in the fall than a Saturday afternoon where your team goes out and wins a football game, and you go out on Saturday night and have a good time.
“It’s part of college life. That’s what it’s supposed to be like. It puts a big damper on things when things don’t go well. I want to get this program where we are winning more than we are losing. When we get to that point, we’ll aim even higher.”
Winning more than losing is already aiming plenty high.
The Jayhawks are only a handful of years removed from the heady days of an Orange Bowl win under Mark Mangino, but the program regressed so far under the fired Turner Gill that it reverted to being the laughingstock of the Big 12. When athletic director Sheahon Zenger dumped Gill after a season-ending loss to rival Missouri last year, he went searching for “the best coach I could find,” and he found Weis in Florida.
Weis hadn’t been successful with the Gators, just as he hadn’t been successful in his first job as a college head coach with the Fighting Irish. But that didn’t stop Zenger from making a hire that made plenty of headlines, if not raise plenty of eyebrows.
Weis came into his introductory press conference with plenty of bravado, saying all the right things and putting weary fans at ease.
Weis talked about winning games, and winning lots of them, even though he was inheriting a program that won just twice last season. Along the way was a 54-point loss to Texas A&M, a 43-point defeat by Texas, and 42-point drubbings from Georgia Tech and Oklahoma State.
Even when the Jayhawks managed to jump out early, like the 24-3 lead on Baylor, the defense was so abysmal and the offense so inconsistent that Kansas failed to hold on.
“I was really disappointed when I finally went back and watched the games from last year, the number of games that they just got the crap kicked out of them,” Weis said. “You want to know something? That just doesn’t cut it.
“I understand about talent discrepancies. I got it. One team’s got a lot more talented guys,” he said. “But to have games get away from you that quickly and by that wide a margin — if I were one of those fans I would have left at halftime and not come back myself.”
Weis spent a good chunk of the offseason working on the talent discrepancy.
Dayne Crist, once a highly sought recruit lured by Weis to Notre Dame, decided to reunite with his former coach. The senior quarterback is taking advantage of an NCAA rule that allows players who have graduated to transfer and become immediately eligible to compete.
Weis has lured several of the so-called “fifth-year transfers” to Lawrence.
“It really wasn’t about me selling him on me,” Weis said of Crist. “It was whether or not he thought that he could come in here and be competitive or not.”
Crist is banking that he can be, but only if he’s able to get on the field.
The Jayhawks’ defense was so poor last season — statistically among the worst in major college football in every significant category — that when they finally got on the field on offense, they were often playing from a hole too deep to dig out.
Weis has hired former Dallas Cowboys coach Dave Campo, one of the top defensive minds in the sport, even though he’s long removed from the college game. While Weis talks in terms of wins and losses, Campo has a very different set of goals.
“I want us to play from the snap to the whistle, no matter what the situation, no matter what the time, no matter what the score. That is what I’m looking for,” Campo said. “If we do that, then we are talented enough that we will stop serve on some of these guys.”
Stop serve enough, and just maybe Kansas can win more games than it loses. The Jayhawks open the season with three straight home games.
“You won two last year, so the fans are, ‘Well, if we win four, that’s great improvement,’ ” Weis said. “But as a coach, you can’t be thinking like that. I mean, what coach in his right mind would be thinking, ‘God, if we could just win four games!’
“Now, I might have delusions of grandeur,” he said, “but my expectations are way higher than yours, I can promise you, because that’s what they’re supposed to be. That’s what they’re paying me for.”
• Kansas Jayhawks
2012 football schedule
Sept. 1 — SOUTH DAKOTA STATE, 6 p.m.
Sept. 8 — RICE, 2:30 p.m.
Sept. 15 — TCU, 11 a.m.
Sept. 22 — At Northern Illinois
Oct. 6 — At Kansas State
Oct. 13 — OKLAHOMA STATE Oct. 20 — At Oklahoma
Oct. 27 — TEXAS
Nov. 3 — At Baylor
Nov. 10 — At Texas Tech
Nov. 17 — IOWA STATE
Dec. 1 — At West Virginia