Originally posted on Fox Sports Kansas City  |  Last updated 8/29/12
LAWRENCE, Kan. - Pepper Rodgers inherited a Kansas team that had won two games overall and none in conference play the year before. During his first season in Lawrence, Rodgers somehow coaxed five victories out of that bunch, kids. It can be done. Of course, Rodgers also inherited a backfield that featured Bobby Douglass and Donnie Shanklin. And the Jayhawks had just signed some kid out of Centralia, Kan., a track whiz by the name of John Riggins. That helped. "People ask me, 'Did you coach John Riggins?' I say, 'No, no, no, I RECRUITED John Riggins,'" Rodgers, the Jayhawks' football coach from 1967-70, recalled with a guffaw. "That's what Charlie (Weis) has gotta do." Staff and studs. The chassis and the engine. "He's gotta find him a John Riggins or Gale Sayers or some of those guys like that," Rodgers continued. "A big-play guy, a guy that can make it happen." Our man Pepper, now 80 years young, is long on quips ("Golf is like sex: You don't have to be good at it to enjoy it," he noted) and famous pals (actor Mark Harmon, whom he coached at UCLA, and FedEx founder Fred Smith, to name a few), but respectfully short on advice for Weis, who'll make his coaching debut with the Jayhawks on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium. "At Notre Dame, whatever you do, it's not good enough unless it's good enough," Rodgers said of Weis, who'll open the ledger against the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State. "I think, obviously, Charlie's a good football coach." But Rodgers, who posted a 20-22 mark on Maine Street and piloted Kansas to the Orange Bowl, also added this: "I love Lawrence. It's a tough place to coach. I mean, you don't have as many high school football players in the state as some of the other states do. Nebraska, they've got only one school up there, really, and you've got Kansas State, which is playing very well. But I'm a Jayhawk. I love KU Kansas is always like your first baby." Rebuilding programs are cute when they're little, those infant stages when expectations are low. Mind you, over the past 45 years of Jayhawk football, some coaches moved from the crawling to the walking phase faster than others: Rodgers reached a bowl in Year 2; so did Mark Mangino. It took Glen Mason until Year 5. "I live in the present and the future," Weis allowed during his weekly media presser on Tuesday. "I don't really live in the past. But I think that bringing back moments from the past, both good and bad, are always good teaching points." We've learned that sometimes Lawrence lifts your resume, and sometimes, she torpedoes it. Bob Valesente went 4-17-1 in two seasons and got a pink slip for his efforts. Turner Gill went 5-19 over a pair of face-palm campaigns and suffered the same fate. On the other end of the spectrum, Bud Moore was bowling by Year 1. "I don't know that I could give any advice that would really make a difference," Moore, who went 17-27-1 in Lawrence between 1975-78, said of the newest Kansas boss. "(Weis) is a pretty sharp guy and has had success in the past. He knows this (situation) well, and I'm sure he'll do well with it." Moore is 73 now, a retired businessman down in his native Alabama who's still got a hand in a couple of car dealerships. He'd originally turned up at Kansas fresh from Bear Bryant's staff in Tuscaloosa, where he was offensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide's 1973 UPI national champions. "We went to Kansas," Moore said, "and we (were) a little bit more egotistical about what we thought we could do." Staff and studs. Everybody eats. Not everybody eats from a silver spoon. "It wasn't a shock," Moore said. "But it was something we had to be able to work at. Especially the recruiting part. It was tough." Like Rodgers before him, Moore grew to lament the smaller pool of in-state talent. And as he remembered it, the facilities on Mount Oread were perceived as, shall we say, lacking compared to peers such as Oklahoma or Nebraska. And yet Moore's first Kansas team won seven games and stunned the Sooners in Norman - the coach reportedly called it "the greatest victory there has ever been in the history of college football," having snapped a 37-game Oklahoma winning streak - thanks in part to the legs of wishbone quarterback Nolan Cromwell and tailback Laverne Smith. Those Jayhawks would eventually fall to Tony Dorsett and Pitt in the Sun Bowl, but it was enough to secure Big Eight Coach of the Year honors for Moore. His second squad opened the 1976 season 4-0 and had cracked the Top 10 by the first week of October. Cromwell got injured against the Sooners on October 16, though, and Kansas toppled from the polls and the league title chase with a 2-5 Big Eight mark. The honeymoon was kaput; Moore's last two teams went a combined 4-17-1, and an 0-7 conference debacle in '78 proved to be his swan song. "Well, you know, I hope he realizes the challenge that he has," Moore said of Weis. "He's been fortunate - if you look back on his career, he's been very fortunate in the (NFL), as well as in college, to be associated with programs that have won and have been able to recruit all over the country. He's going to be a little bit restricted there in his ability to be able to get out and attract players to come to (Lawrence)." Moore, for the record, is a fan of the Weis hire. So is Rodgers, who mentored John Cooper, Terry Donahue and Dick Tomey, Dave McClain and Don Fambrough - all future head coaches themselves - during his time in Lawrence. If you want to get the station wagon out of the Big 12 ditch, Pepper chuckled, the formula's the same as it ever was. "It's just hard, when you're not USC, to go all the way to Georgia and get the best football player (there). You might do that in basketball at Kansas, (but) it's just really hard in football," Rodgers warned. "I'm sure Coach Weis is a very good coach, and I'm sure they gave him the money to get some good assistants. And you know, if you have those things, you've got a chance. Difference-makers are what you have to find if you're going to win at KU. You don't have to have 11 of 'em. But you've got to have two or three of 'em." Staff and studs. They only promise you a dog. They never promise that it'll hunt. You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com
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