LAWRENCE — Charlie Weis felt a difference in the culture at Kansas as he stood on the sideline Saturday, the clock melting away in the second half and Kansas State on its way to another win over its rival.
Unlike last season, when the Wildcats blitzed their way to one of the most lopsided victories in the history of the series, Weis thought Kansas was in the game. In fact, until a field goal that made the final margin 31-10, the Jayhawks were still within striking distance.
All despite six turnovers, an inept offense and a sometimes porous defense.
So even though the Jayhawks finished 3-9 in his second year in charge, and last in the Big 12 once again, there are signs — modest though they may be — that there’s been progress on Mount Oread.
“I never felt, even when the score was 21-10, the game was getting away from us, and that is a change,” Weis said. “Last year, we were in the second half of that game, it was wide open. It was like there was nothing you could do about it. I never felt that way.”
Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger dispelled any notion that Weis’ job may be in jeopardy on Saturday when he gave the somewhat embattled coach a vote of confidence. Zenger noted that any rebuilding job takes time and he was prepared to give Weis the opportunity to see it through.
Still, despite the signs of progress, there are just as many signs that Kansas is no better off than when it fired Turner Gill two years ago. After all, Gill was 5-19 in his two seasons in charge, and Weis will be lugging a 4-20 mark into his third season.
While the Jayhawks ended an infuriating 27-game Big 12 losing streak by beating West Virginia, they still haven’t won a league road game since 2008 — a streak of 22 games.
Not only that, but the Jayhawks will also be forced to replace some of their best players — many of those guys that Weis inherited. The most glaring loss to graduation is running back James Sims, who became the first player in school history with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
“We have a lot of older guys coming back that have been here a couple of years with us,” Weis said. “There are a bunch of them. When you have a bunch of them that have been the same system for a couple of years, even though there are going to be tweaks in the system I think that that usually bodes well in the uptick for performance.”
As for recruiting, Weis planned to hit the road immediately.
His first stops this week will be with the offensive linemen who have already committed to the program. Offensive line coach Tim Grunhard announced this past week that he was leaving the program and Weis wants to make sure that those incoming players are firm in their commitments.
Then, he’ll start visiting with players whom he hopes can make an immediate impact. There are plenty of holes heading into next season, particularly along the offensive and defensive lines.
“I usually feel pretty good about our plan in recruiting,” Weis said. “The only time when it was rough is when you first get here and you’re scrambling. I think that we have a good plan in place and earmarked where we’re deficient at, where we need a high school kid, where we need a junior college kid, and identified who they are. Now you have to go get them.”
Senior safety Dexter Linton, who went through three coaches — he was recruited by Mark Mangino, then played for Gill and Weis — also believes that there were signs of progress this season.
It just takes scratching away a lot of the misery to see them.
“I feel like that this year,” Linton said. “Things didn’t work out our way but I always felt a positive vibe in how our team came together.”
Offensive lineman Gavin Howard, another senior, believes that there’s some momentum within the program for the first time in years. After all, three wins — and a Big 12 victory — trumps the one victory the Jayhawks managed last season.
“Those younger guys, you start to see them working harder and really expecting to win rather than wanting to win,” Howard said. “I really think they’ll continue next year with that mindset that you know what, we’re not hoping we can beat somebody, we should beat them.”