LAWRENCE — One of the first goals for Charlie Weis was simply for Kansas to become competitive.
He inherited a program that had won just one conference game the previous two years, had won two games total the final season under Turner Gill, and had floundered to the bottom of the Big 12 five years after winning the Orange Bowl.
Weis wanted to see his team fight, and learn how to win again. And despite a 1-9 record with two games in his first year, the Jayhawks have at least accomplished that much.
“If you were an outsider looking in at KU football and you see our record at 1-9, you obviously wouldn’t think we are a very good team,” said senior offensive lineman Tanner Hawkinson, who is preparing for his final home game Saturday night against Iowa State.
Last week’s double-overtime loss to Texas Tech was the latest in a slew of one-possession losses that show — even if the program is not winning yet — that it may be turning the corner.
Kansas has lost five games this season by a touchdown or less. Hawkinson said team has a new attitude this season.
“I feel that it doesn’t show a lot of the heart we have on our team,” said Hawkinson, who has endured two coaching changes and just 13 wins in his career.
“It takes a lot of heart to have a lot of those close games and be able to come back the next week and go out to practice and work just as hard as we do,” he said, “and then going out there the next week and fighting till the end of every game.”
When Weis first started meeting alumni from around the state, he expressed to them his disappointment in the way Kansas was not competitive. Fans were slinking toward the exits before halftime because the Jayhawks were usually out of the game.
Not this season.
Weis asked fans to stay, and promised them that the team would fight for 60 minutes, and they have a victory along with three close losses at Memorial Stadium.
“When a team fights for 60 minutes, I think you can respect that,” Weis said. “They have certainly earned my respect.”
Senior wide receiver Kale Pick credited Weis and his staff with bringing a competitive spirit. Before, he said the Jayhawks were stuck in an ‘Oh, here we go again’ attitude when it came to close games. They just learned to assume they would lose, but not with Weis.
The team goes into games now expecting to win.
That’s part of what makes this season so frustrating.
“I don’t think I remember a team that has had as many close loses and tough loses as we have had that is five loses that have come down to the last minutes or seconds,” Pick said.
Two weeks ago, Kansas had a three-point lead over Texas with less than 3 minutes left, but the Longhorns marched down the field for a touchdown, stealing the win with 12 seconds left.
“If the ball bounces our way a few more times we would have a few more wins, but this is the first year with a new head coach and there has been a lot of improvement and we can all see it inside the locker room,” wide receiver Daymond Patterson said.
The process is slower than Kansas had hoped, but the seniors bought into Weis’ plan early.
“I think that still motivates us to keep coming to work every day,” Pick said, “because we are so close to turning that corner that makes us want it that much more.”
It may be too late for the seniors, who have two games left to see the improvements, but the losses have left them hungry going into senior day against Iowa State.
“I know with coach Weis being here and the new staff that things will start turning here pretty soon,” Patterson said.