Posted on Sep 29, 2014 in Alumni News, News, and Sports
Shortly after watching the Monday morning press conference that introduced Clint Bowen as KU football’s interim head coach, former KU and NFL offensive lineman Keith Loneker jumped onto Facebook to shout his approval: “Proud to wake up a Jayhawk today,” Loneker wrote. “Now when we say 1 team 1 chant, you can believe we mean it.”
Loneker, ’94, was speaking not only as a former teammate and lifelong friend of Bowen and his family, but also as one of the many proud and loyal Jayhawk alumni who have suffered through too many frustrating and even embarrassing football games and seasons since KU’s last taste of football heroics, the Orange Bowl and Insight Bowl victories engineered in 2007 and ’08 by former coach Mark Mangino.
After Mangino’s rocky departure the following season, the Jayhawks went 5-19 in two seasons under Turner Gill, 4-20 in Charlie Weis’ two full seasons, and were 2-2, including Saturday’s Homecoming shutout by a less-than-dazzling Texas team and a humbling defeat Sept. 13 at Duke. Athletics director Sheahon Zenger, PhD’96, on Sunday morning replaced Weis—who has two years remaining on his contract after this season—with Bowen, the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach with 19 years of experience as a player and coach at KU.
“In our way, we’re going to invigorate the KU family again,” Bowen said Monday. “Former players, we want you back. They are welcome at our practices, they’re welcome in this facility. We want to see those people, the people who helped KU become such a great place. … I told our guys yesterday, this building, this locker room, everything that we have here that’s so great right now, someone else sacrificed to get us here.”
Bowen said he was grateful to hear from former coaches and mentors, including Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, his defensive secondary coach at KU, and Glen Mason, for whom Bowen played and later spent a season as a graduate assistant in Minnesota. He also heard from “all the Lawrence High hecklers”—a light-hearted nod to KCTV5 sports director Michael Coleman, who moments earlier had opened his first question by proudly stating his status as a fellow LHS alumnus—and found more than 100 text messages awaiting him when he left the practice field Sunday.
“The Jayhawk family is so awesome,” Bowen said. “It has been forever and it always will be.”
Bowen said the assistant coaches—many or all of whom could be looking for work after the season, when a permanent replacement is hired—were supportive of his promotion and ” jumped onboard 100 percent with great attitudes, great energy. It’s a very tough and difficult time for those guys. Coaching football is not a fairy-tale world. It’s real families, real lives that are affected by the decisions that have to be made sometimes. They were unbelievable yesterday and I truly appreciate that.”
And, crucially, the players appeared to have taken the midseason coaching change in stride and were eager to focus on Saturday’s Big 12 game at West Virginia.
“They were smiling, they had fun, we had energy,” Bowen said. “I felt like the kids were ready to move on. I loved the tempo of practice, which is something that we’re going to continue. Urgency is a big word for us now. For everything we do, we will do it with an urgent mentality, and that started yesterday.
“I have tremendous respect and admiration for the people who came here before me, respect for the traditions of Kansas, respect for the values that everyone has at Kansas and what this university and football program represent. If nothing else, in the next nine weeks we will have established an identity of knowing where we came from and how to act. To be a Jayhawk is a special thing.”