Originally posted on Fox Sports Kansas City  |  Last updated 11/28/11
The swift and ruthless execution of KU coach Turner Gill makes two things frighteningly clear. It also tosses out a question that may involve the ethical priorities of the entire university. Let's start with the facts this firing made so incredibly obvious: First, Gill was a "dead coach walking" for at least a month. Maybe, just maybe, wins over Iowa State, Baylor and Missouri could have bought Gill a one-season reprieve but probably not. Athletic director Sheahon Zenger's public statement after the blowout loss to K-State on Oct. 22 made it crystal clear that Zenger was distancing himself from the coach who was hired by disgraced former AD Lew Perkins. That defeat marked the second straight year that KU had coughed up 59 points at home to the Wildcats, and it gave Zenger the perfect platform to begin a firing process. Despite all the hoo-hah political language in that statement an assertion that the football program would be analyzed in terms of progress, blah, blah, blah the truth practically screamed from Zenger's written words. "Look, Gill ain't my guy," Zenger was saying. "Just stick with me, everybody. I'll take care of this as soon as we hear the final whistle against Mizzou." Zenger's rather unprecedented vote of no-confidence proved point No. 2 in this saga, as well. KU fans, alums and supporters and especially the big boys who write large checks really ARE running the show. It sounds harsh, but intercollegiate sport at the highest level is a multi-million dollar business. Athletic directors, like board chairmen in the corporate world, must answer to their stockholders. Remember that issue of timing, and when it became certain that Gill would get the ax? Well, in the month-plus since that humiliation at the hands of K-State and Zenger's former mentor Bill Snyder KU fundraisers have been furiously tapping their best sources for large chunks of cash. There is likely a buyout price in Gill's contract that's somewhere south of the full 6 million he would be owed for those three remaining years but whatever that number might be, KU will need a significant amount of money to square things with their fired coach. It's not like the school can give Turner bus fare back to Buffalo, or Nebraska, and tell him to mind his own affairs. Gill has a lot of money coming, and Zenger has been busy for at least a month looking for enough to soften the hit. The Kansas City Star was told by an anonymous donor that he offered 750,000 to help Zenger get Gill out the door. Dana Anderson, whose donations helped KU build a 31 million football complex that bears his family's name, has spoken publicly about disappointment in the current state of the program. When you have Zenger's job, people like Anderson can almost tell you whether or not to stick with a football coach -- or pull the trigger and find somebody else. It sounds completely upside down like college sports as a business in the first place but in a lot of ways, donors like Dana Anderson are more important than the football coach. The only way that relationship can be flipped is by winning and doing it routinely. If you take a so-so program and start going to bowl games every year, the fan base and especially those big donors inside it will shake your hand and keep writing checks, even if you get caught driving drunk. Ask Gary Pinkel. Hey, what's wrong with a few cocktails with friends? If Pinkel were coming off back-to-back losing seasons when he got arrested, though Sorry, but that's the brutal truth of big-time college football. OK, we've noted that Gill's one-day trial, conviction and sentence on Sunday brought a couple facts into the daylight but the whole process also begs a gigantic question. This one could reflect on the image of the University of Kansas. Call it a lightweight version of what's happened at Penn State, where a wonderful institution has become a punch line because of a horrible set of events in the football coaching hierarchy. Would Penn State be tarnished as it has been if Jerry Sandusky were a chemistry professor? Impossible. Decisions made in the athletic department are far more critical than they ought to be but that's how American society has evolved, and there doesn't seem any way to change it. Even within athletics in general, the most glaring spotlight shines on football and men's basketball. Would anyone care that Bobby Knight threw a chair across the court if he were the volleyball coach? So now, understanding the setting in which he works and makes decisions, just how bold might Sheahon Zenger decide to be? Even fans who wanted Gill out admitted he was a wonderful spokesman for KU, an admirable fellow you'd be proud to call your friend. Thus the giant question is this: Would Zenger risk another catastrophe arising from a coach's behavior in the almighty quest for victories and bowl games? That issue looms over KU more than it would elsewhere, too, since the school cut ties with the very successful Mark Mangino just two years ago over allegations that he "mistreated" some of his players. Then the "Mangino Effect" had something to do with the choice of the openly religious Gill as his successor, no question. Now the pendulum could swing the other way, since there are plenty of KU fans thousands of them, perhaps a few with money in the game who are lobbying for former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach to be made king of Jayhawk football. Leach was a serial winner at Tech, and fielded exciting teams by re-inventing the passing game. Red Raider football exploded to the point that Leach's triumphs paid for a stadium expansion among other things. Of course, Leach is only available now because he was fired in 2009 the same year as Mangino for allegedly locking a player in a shed as a matter of routine discipline. Irony: Leach and Mangino have other things in common, like being assistants on Bob Stoops' staff at Oklahoma. More irony: Another candidate who has popped up on KU's radar is former South Florida boss Jim Leavitt, currently working wonders as linebackers coach for the San Francisco 49ers. Leavitt produced miracles while posting a 94-57 record at South Florida. But in 2009, the same year Leach and Mangino got canned, Leavitt was dismissed over allegations that he struck one of his players in a halftime rage. Zenger has personal ties both to Leach and Leavitt. Heck, he was Leavitt's assistant at South Florida. So the question hovering over this whole situation is whether or not Zenger has the chutzpah to hire a coach accused of something similar to the offense which doomed Mangino right there in Lawrence. And if Zenger wants to go that route, would the university administration allow it? Never be shocked at the power of winning especially in football. Leach still enjoys hero status among the Texas Tech faithful, and as far as the fans are concerned, they'd re-hire him in a nanosecond to replace the stumbling Tommy Tuberville. Ask somebody in Lubbock about Leach locking some kid in a shed, and the response is likely to be that the player was a sissy who deserved it. That's top-tier college football, whether we like it or not. The sacking of Turner Gill already has proven that he was doomed long before the school admitted such a thing, and that cash-heavy boosters helped grease the skids to send Gill packing. Legendary Green Bay coach Vince Lombardi once famously said: "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing." How much does KU believe that? Hiring Mike Leach certainly would answer the question. He's a slightly off-kilter genius, a passing guru and hypnotic recruiter who WILL win lots of football games and who would fill Memorial Stadium in the process. Leach's record proves that beyond a shred of doubt. Will Zenger leap at it, asking only that Leach promise to play nice in the sandbox? The only thing we know for sure is that an overwhelming majority of Jayhawk fans would pay Leach's air fare to Kansas right now and throw in full-time limo service. You think the KU Nation would turn down a coach who tosses some running back in a shed but then hammers Kansas State on Saturday? Yeah, right. The issue now is whether or not Zenger, like a Roman emperor at the Colosseum, will give the baying masses what they want. Or does he dare hire another "nice guy"? Know this: Zenger understands very well that even emperors were replaced sometimes unpleasantly. "Et tu, Sheahon?"
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