LAWRENCE (AP) — The search is on for a replacement for Turner Gill at Kansas, who was popular with his players yet couldn’t manage to win enough games to make it to a third season with the Jayhawks.
Consistent with his charming demeanor, Gill took the opportunity to thank his players, coaches and even the Jayhawks fans who called for his job so often this season in a statement released Monday, one day after he was fired by athletic director Sheahon Zenger.
“I would like to thank the University of Kansas for the opportunity to be its head football coach,” Gill said. “On behalf of our staff, I want to thank the players for putting their heart and soul into this football program the past two years. I hope nothing but the best for all their future endeavors, both on and off the field.”
Gill was just 5-19 after arriving from Buffalo, where he had one winning season. He was hired by former athletic director Lew Perkins and given a five-year, $10 million contract, which Zenger has said the school will honor — he’ll essentially be paid about $6 million to not coach the Jayhawks.
Zenger will turn his attention to finding Gill’s successor.
Candidates could include Mike Leach, the former Texas Tech coach who was fired after allegations that he mistreated some of his players. Leach and Zenger have been friends for several years, dating to the days in the early 1990s when Zenger helped to found a magazine called American Football Quarterly.
The two have kept in touch over the years and, considering the success Leach had at a program that was similar to the Jayhawks, it’s likely that he’ll be given a chance to interview. Leach’s name has also been mentioned in connection with several other jobs.
Among the other coaches connected to the Kansas job are former South Florida coach Jim Leavitt, who is now coaching linebackers for the San Francisco 49ers. Leavitt was a coach at Kansas State in the early 1990s, when Zenger was also an assistant coach under Bill Snyder.
Houston coach Kevin Sumlin, whose team is unbeaten and could crash the BCS this season, is another name that has popped up. Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora is cut from a similar mold — both have taken programs at less prestigious schools to almost unparalleled success.
Whoever is chosen will be taking over a program that finished the season on a 10-game losing streak, which included some of the most lopsided and embarrassing losses in school history.
Basketball coach Bill Self, perhaps as ingrained in the fabric of the school as anybody, said Monday that he thinks the Kansas job is good enough to attract a high caliber of coach, though even he acknowledged that it’s no easy chore to win when the football program is often dwarfed by hoops.
Self noted that it’s possible to win at Kansas — just four years ago, Mark Mangino led the Jayhawks to a 12-1 record and a victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
“It’s been proven that you can win here,” Self said.
He also pointed out the importance of having a good football program at the university as a whole, not only in terms of recruiting, but also in terms of budgeting. Self said that the Jayhawks’ perennially ranked basketball program is nearly “maxed out” in terms of the revenue it can generate for the athletic department, and it’s up to the football program to help fill the coffers.
“Everyone needs to have a good football program. There’s no question,” Self said. “There’s no revenue stream this university can create that’s better than putting people in seats over there. You put more people in seats, the advertising goes up, there’s more television exposure. ... Regardless of how people see it, it is a business, and you have to generate income.”
There were plenty of empty seats at Memorial Stadium this season, the apathy of fans having taken hold after lopsided losses to Georgia Tech and Oklahoma State early in year.
It will be up to Gill’s successor to change that.
“We are striving for excellence across KU’s academic and research missions, and that drive extends to all of our athletic programs,” Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said in a statement issued late Sunday. “In order to achieve the excellence we seek in Kansas football, it is time to make a leadership change.”