KANSAS CITY, Mo. You know what Year 1 tells us? Nothing. Not a blasted thing, in the long run. Oh, the 2012 Kansas Jayhawks were lousy, sure, but plenty of coaches starting from scratch in Lawrence had to open with lousy. Terry Allen was 5-6 in Year 1. Glen Mason was 1-10.
So Charlie Weis' 1-11 is just a number, a means to wherever this story happens to end. He inherited a fixer-upper, not the Taj Mahal. Year 1 is a lube job. It's about getting those season tickets up, changing the culture, and whetting expectations.
Year 2 on Mount Oread, see that gets a little more interesting, at least in terms of precedent. Weis is the program's seventh coach post-1983, the seventh coach after the late, great Don Fambrough's second stint. Three of those coaches had more wins in Year 2 than they did in Year 1; three didn't.
But here's the rub: The three that did Mark Mangino, Mason and Mike Gottfried all eventually produced .500 seasons or better in Lawrence. Of the three that didn't, one was Allen. The other two Bob Valesente and Turner Gill didn't get a Year 3.
"I think there's only one way you measure success, and that's playing games," Weis told reporters at a news conference Thursday. "Progress is different than success. I think you can measure programs, how much progress you've made, but really, at the end of the day, success is when you win games. We won one this past year, and that's not what we're shooting for, obviously. I think success is measured when you play on Saturday in front of a packed house at Memorial Stadium. Progress is a totally different thing."
Progress is subtle, the mortar that fills in the cracks. For example: The team's collective GPA reportedly went up in Weis' first semester at the helm, from 2.4 to 3.0. There's new a foundation of discipline and accountability.
On the flip side, of course, there was the game film, the kind you never speak of again in polite company. The Jayhawks were gashed for a 99-yard touchdown run to South Dakota State's Zach Zenner on the first defensive play of the campaign, a soul-crusher that pretty well set the tone for what was to come. Quarterback Dayne Crist completed just 17 of 36 throws versus the Jackrabbits that night which, in hindsight, also proved to be a rather telling harbinger as well.
A painful September, which featured close losses to thought-we'd-win-these-tilts-at-least dance partners such Rice and Northern Illinois gave way to hope in October, which featured close lossesmoral victories versus the likes of Texas and Oklahoma State. But after a plucky effort at downward-spiraling Texas Tech on November 10 Red Raiders coach Tommy Tuberville fled Lubbock for Cincinnati, of all places, not too long after that the Jayhawks were spent. Kansas lost its last two contests, at home to Iowa State and at West Virginia, by a combined score of 110-33, and the wheels were officially off the wagon.
When it was in the mood, Weis' first KU team could run the ball like nobody's business. It was also 117th out of 120 FBS programs in passing yards (148.7 per game), 118th in points per game (18.3) and 112th in points allowed per game (36.1). And Forbes magazine poured a little more salt on the wounds earlier this week by declaring the Jayhawks as America's "Worst College Football Team For The Money," by virtue of spending more per victory over the past three years than any other program in an automatic-qualifying conference more than 8 million per win. (Another twist of the knife: Forbes tabbed Kansas State as the "best" for the money, based on the last three seasons.)
When you're not bowling, the winter is even less fun than usual. It becomes one long, painful look in mirror, its soundtrack the catty, nitpicky evaluating you typically find on reality shows.
"Besides self-scout, which is one of the things we do, what did we run that just wasn't any good?" Weis asked. "Why wasn't it any good? Was it not any good because of execution, or because it was a crummy idea? You have to figure that out."
On the plus side, the Jayhawks' two top tailbacks, James Sims (1,013 rushing yards) and Tony Pierson (760 yards) are slated to return. Every review of incoming quarterback Jake Heaps, seen mostly behind closed doors, has been gushing. And most pundits have solid to glowing words for Weis' most recent junior-college haul, a crop headlined by massive defensive lineman Marquel Combs, a 310-pounder, and 260-pound defensive end Chris Martin.
"Well, I don't think we're good enough, and I think that if you don't have offensive and defensive linemen, it doesn't make a difference what else you have," the coach allowed. "If you don't have those guys, you can have the greatest skill guys in the world, but if the offensive line can't block, guess what? It's not going to make a difference."
And Weis' 1-11 is just a number, albeit an awfully ugly one. After the debacle in Morgantown, the coach did what any right-thinking coach would do, given the circumstances: He got back on the road, recruiting, trying to put as much distance physical and metaphorical between himself and the train-wreck as possible. Until March, it's Bob Vila mode on the corner of 11th and Maine: Roll up the sleeves, grab a hammer, and start patching holes.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org