LAWRENCE — It could have been interpreted as the first salvo fired against bitter rival Kansas State the day Charlie Weis was presented as the new coach at Kansas.
Weis stepped to the podium and, not long into his introductory news conference, asked this rhetorical question: “Why was the University of Kansas 2-10 (last season) and why was Kansas State 10-2? I don’t have that answer, but that is what I am here for.”
Over the last 10 months, he may have found some answers.
“Starting with the head coach, that might be their biggest advantage,” Weis said with uncanny stoicism, referring to Bill Snyder, who will be on the opposing sideline Saturday.
Weis didn’t stop there, so effusive was he in praise of the seventh-ranked Wildcats.
“I like the way they create extra gaps in the run game,” he said, “how they use misdirection to put pressure on defenses. If you’re not sound fundamentally on defense, they’ll expose you.
“I have a lot of respect,” Weis said, “for what he does.”
Enough respect that Weis believes Kansas State should serve as a blueprint for Kansas.
“I don’t want to get our fans mad, but it’s a pretty good role model, you know? Everyone wants to look at it differently than that, but from my perspective, they’re doing everything right.” Weis said Tuesday. “Let’s try to get to that level first. If we can get to that level in the not-too-distant future that would be a good place to go.”
The Wildcats (4-0) are certainly humming after becoming the first ranked team to win at Oklahoma with Bob Stoops coaching the Sooners. They’re undefeated a third of the way through the season for the second straight year, with a Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Collin Klein, a devastating ground game led by John Hubert and a defense that somehow finds ways to make stops.
In short, they’re everything to which the Jayhawks (1-3) are aspiring.
Kansas has certainly gone through growing pains since Weis took over for the fired Turner Gill in December. After a less-than-impressive win over South Dakota State, the Jayhawks blew late leads against Rice and Northern Illinois, sandwiched around a 20-6 loss to No. 15 TCU.
Now, Weis is asking his players the same rhetorical question that he offered up to the media who gathered for his first press conference inside the Anderson Family Football Complex.
“’Here’s them, here’s you. Why is that?” Weis said. “Both are in Kansas, right? Both are in the same conference, right? Both have the same recruiting base.”
The only difference seems to be in terms of success.
And perhaps, as Weis pointed out, the guys on the sideline. Snyder has relished nothing more than beating up on the Jayhawks during his time in Manhattan, going 16-4 against them, many of the victories the lopsided variety that send fans of both teams heading home early.
“You get 12 games a season, maybe 13,” Weis said. “That’s 12 times for a competitive young guy to really be competitive, and that’s 12 out of 365 (days). That’s it. There isn’t any more.
“How could you pass up the opportunity to do what you love to do and be as competitive as you love to be in any game that you play? I think they all feel that.”
That goes for Snyder, too, who usually resembles a caged lion stalking the sideline. But having the chance to pounce on Kansas only ramps up his intensity, especially when a first-year coach saunters into town intent on changing the dynamics of a century-old rivalry.
Terry Allen tried and failed — he was waxed by scores of 48-16 and 54-6 his first two tries against Kansas State. Mark Mangino went on to have a successful few years in Lawrence, but his first two games against the Wildcats resulted in humiliating defeats of 64-0 and 42-6.
Gill may have lowered the benchmark most, falling 59-7 and 59-21 the past two years, which almost certainly played a role in the decision to part ways with him after last season.
The last first-year Kansas coach to beat the Wildcats was Glen Mason, who won 30-12 in 1988 — the final year before Snyder arrived in Manhattan and embarked on what many have described as the greatest turnaround in the history of college football.
“Obviously it wasn’t the most covered thing where I grew up, but I remember as a kid watching Darren Sproles play for K-State,” said Kansas quarterback Dayne Crist. “I knew K-State was always a great program. I had an understanding and respect for them.”
Even if he didn’t back then, he certainly does now.
Weis has made sure of it.
“We can say all the accolades we want about different coaches, and a lot of times when you have a rival or in-state rival they want you to say negative things,” Weis said. “It’s very difficult for me to say negative things about Coach Snyder.”