LAWRENCE, Kan. To paraphrase James Taylor, David Lawrence has seen fire, and he's seen rain. He's seen sunny days that he thought would never end (The 2008 Orange Bowl). He's seen lonely times when he could not find a friend (Oklahoma State 70, Kansas 28).
He's seen Charlie Weis, up close and personal. And five months in, the man's a believer.
"He's very sure of where he wants to go and in the small amount of time he's been here, you have to say, it's off the charts as far as what he's been able to do," the former Kansas offensive lineman and longtime analyst said Saturday afternoon, shortly after the Jayhawks wrapped up their first spring game under Weis.
"People are excited about having a name coming in. Granted, you have to perform. And when you get a name, he brings in the positive (vibes) and it makes people feel like they have a chance."
The culture inside a football program can be a delicate beast, especially when that program is on the rebound. The super powers generally run on autopilot, unless hubris or transgressions send them flying into a ditch. Some places need a gentle tweak. Others require a wrecking ball.
"I want to handle that a little bit delicately because what I don't want to do is slight anyone (who was) here before," Weis replied Saturday when asked about the challenges of a regime change. "So let's just say that there's a certain way that I expect things to be done. And I'd like those ways permeated down through the assistant coaches and leadership ... because there (are) several different ways that you can run an organization. I just think that they're starting to figure me out more. I'm easier to read now."
Kansas Charlie is Straightforward Charlie. It's his way or the highway. If you aren't all-in, brother, there's the door. In January, 10 players left the program, including tailback Darrian Miller, the team's second-leading returning rusher. The Jayhawks' top ball-carrier from last season, James Sims, has been suspended for the first three games of 2012 after being arrested earlier this month and charged with operating a vehicle under the influence. Defensive lineman Julian Green, linebacker Collin Garrett and defensive back Chris Robinson were dismissed this spring after violating team rules.
Said Lawrence: "Kansas was in need of having some discipline. And he's applying that."
The Jayhawks were also in need of some talent, and quickly. So Weis dug in and opened a pipeline from South Bend, where the kids he recruited at Notre Dame the Irish brass let him go in 2009 are upperclassmen now. The first to head west was quarterback Dayne Crist, who's slated to open preseason camp as the Jayhawks' No. 1 signal-caller. Two more former Notre Dame standouts, linebacker Anthony McDonald and tight end Mike Ragone, have also pledged to re-join their former coach. All three are seniors who've already graduated from their former institution, leaving them free to take advantage of an NCAA loophole that allows graduates to spend their final season of eligibility at another school without having to sit out a year. And Weis expects to add more transfers over the next few months.
"Everyone looks for a way to have an edge," Lawrence continued. "But his ability to get these fifth-year guys in as transfers to improve the most important position (on the field), you can't underestimate that."
Like a lot of Jayhawk lifers, Lawrence is hoping Weis is in this thing for the long haul, and not as some career re-launching pad. Over the last two decades, Kansas football has developed a tendency to change coaches the way the No. 3 television station in your hometown changes anchors trying to find a formula that works, and when it doesn't, blowing it up and trying an approach that veers 180 degrees the other way.
Glen Mason raised the bar, but the locals tired of his wandering eyes. He begat Terry Allen, who was Mr. Commitment, yet never could quite get the engine to turn over. Allen begat Mark Mangino, an offensive wizard who lacked, shall we say, "people skills." Mangino begat Turner Gill, a pleasant soul who worked wonders at Buffalo but failed to gain any real traction in Lawrence. Gill begat Weis, owner of four Super Bowl rings, to bring star power back to a program that was scraping the rocks at the bottom of the lake.
"The fact that he's confident, I think, gives players confidence," Lawrence observed. "Everyone I've heard has said, He's completely honest with you.' He's not a yeller, like some coaches who are disciplinarians are."
Still, there's a fine line between Honest Charlie and Blunt Charlie, who pulls no punches, plays no favorites.
"You know, they're not used to people just coming and just saying it to you. They're used to coaches playing mind games, where you have to try and figure out what the coach is thinking," Weis said. "That's not my deal. That's not what I do. I like to come in, and after I talk to you guys (in the media)
"Here's, basically how I do it: Let's say we just lost a game by 28 points. I will come in here and try to take every bullet that I possibly can. That's what I try to do, just so you already know this is what I'm going to try to do, so that they're deflected and they're not hitting (the players). Now, once I get behind closed doors, then I start firing them. OK? So I tell them, I'll (always) go out there and take the bullet for you. Obviously, we're talking figuratively, but I'll take the bullet for you. But, OK, just know that I'm going to spread the wealth when we get into that private setting."
Oh, they know. Trust us. They know.
"Coach Weis and Coach Gill, they've got a different mentality," running back Tony Pierson said.
"It's a big difference," linebacker Michael Reynolds added.
Coaches who throw themselves into rebuilding projects tend to obsess over every last brick in the foundation, leaving no stone unturned. During one recent practice, Weis had his troupe simulate a game-ending, game-winning field goal. After the make, players stormed onto the middle of the field in mock jubilation.
Then a funny thing happened: Weis not only broke up the party, he admonished them for their celebration. With the cameras running the session was open to the media the new coach told them they need to re-learn how to do that, too.
"I think that any time you come in as a head coach, you have certain expectations of the way things are supposed to be done," Weis said. "And the only thing I can say is, That's the way it's going to be done.' And right or wrong, that's the way it's going to be done.
"And I think the team understands how I'm going to react to most situations. There's going to be things that happen that we haven't been exposed to yet they'll know very clearly how I'm going to react. And I think that once they understand that, I think it makes it easier to move forward."
Which led a reporter to ask: Do they understand now?
To that, Weis just smiled.
"Yeah," he replied. "They do. Yeah. I'm very transparent."
Consider yourselves warned. The Jayhawks may not be great this fall. But they sure as heck won't be boring.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org