The Worst Team Ever? Kansas Is Making Its Case

Greg CouchNational ColumnistSeptember 10, 2015

APTOPIX South Dakota State running back Brady Mengarelli (44) and  Kansas cornerback Tyrone Miller Jr. (19) tumble into the end zone as Mengarelli runs 25 yards to score a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA football Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, in Lawrence, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Associated Press

It takes more than losses, no matter how many, to reach truly historical badness. All time is a long time, and numbers and statistics and record books can't really measure it or put it into context. It takes oral history.

To be the worst of all time takes a little comedy—or tragicomedy.      

Like this: On Saturday, Kansas was losing big in its opener against South Dakota State. But the Jayhawks came back and got in position for a game-tying field goal. Time was almost up, though, so the offense rushed to the line to spike the ball and stop the clock. And then?

The quarterback fumbled the snap and knelt down to pick up the ball and spike it. But with the ball in his hand and his knee on the ground, he was ruled down. The clock ran out. Yes, Kansas lost because it could not snap the ball from the center to the quarterback, whose goal was just to throw the ball on the ground.

"We take snaps under center every day," KU's new coach, David Beaty, said this week on a conference call. "Numerous snaps under center every day in practice."

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Are we seeing history? Is Kansas the worst team of all time?

This era of KU football can be defined as including this year's team and the previous five years under Beaty's predecessors, which means, mostly, Turner Gill and Charlie Weis. Their coaching, to put it nicely, turned Kansas football into a mushroom cloud.

I'm going to go with no, Kansas isn't the worst ever. Not yet. It has a lot to prove to be that bad, a lot of comedy. But there's still a lot of time, too.

Consolation prize: The Jayhawks are definitely the worst major college team in the nation this year. They're just 0-1 but are good bets to become the first winless major college team since Washington in 2008.

"Until we earn it, we're going to be underdogs in every game we have," Beaty said. "That's just the way it is."

Over the past five seasons, starting with 2014, Kansas' Big 12 records have been: 1-7, 0-9, 0-9, 1-8, 1-8. That's 3-41 total. The most total games it has won in any of those seasons is three.

It didn't have to be quite this bad this year. I mean, it had to be bad, just not this bad. But the team's best receiver, Nigel King, decided not to come back, instead opting for the NFL draft.

Then, no team drafted him. The Dolphins gave him a shot, then cut him. The 49ers gave him a shot, then cut him. Now he doesn't have a team. And Kansas doesn't have the guy who should be its best receiver.

It did appear to have a solid quarterback. But in the spring game, a dark cloud floated over KU's stadium and just hung there. That's not a metaphor. It really happened. A black cloud. And quarterback Michael Cummings, wearing the red jersey that tells teammates not to hit him, got hit in the knee by a cornerback who isn't on scholarship. Cummings is out for the year. Montell Cozart, who drove fans crazy last year, is back in.

The Jayhawks are on their fourth head coach in the past six years, counting interim coach Clint Bowen, who took over for most of last season after Weis was fired. They didn't win a road game under any of them.

Look, you want comically bad? In 2012, Forbes magazine tallied up the costs of all major college football teams over a three-year span, then divided the totals by the number of wins. Kansas had spent $8 million per win, and Forbes labeled it "college football's worst team for the money."

The amazing thing is that while the football team can't snap a ball, the basketball program is one of the best in the country. Not only that, but Kansas football also was among the best as recently as the 2007 season, when coach Mark Mangino led it to an Orange Bowl win.

Then Mangino was asked to resign over allegations of his harsh treatment of players.

It turns out, you can put a price tag on failure. Mangino negotiated a $3 million buyout. Kansas then hired Turner Gill, who had been the coach at Buffalo. He was immediately in over his head, though, in fairness, Mangino's recruiting had dropped off. Gill was gone after two years, and boosters had to come up with the rest of his five-year, $10 million guarantee.

And then, tragicomedy: Kansas considered hiring Gus Malzahn. Yes, that Gus Malzahn, who is now known as the coaching genius who rebuilt Auburn into a national title threat.

Instead, Kansas decided to hire Charlie Weis. Yes, that Charlie Weis, who had failed colossally at Notre Dame.

Weis walked in at Kansas and dumped 29 players. He cleared them out to make room for his own guys and send a message to everyone else who the new boss was. One of the players he dumped was cornerback Tyler Patmon, who now plays for the Dallas Cowboys.

Weis went for the quick fix. With his NFL background, he had never understood at Notre Dame that college coaching is almost entirely about player development. He still didn't get it at Kansas and decided not to bring in high school players. According to numbers compiled by KUsports.com's Tom Keegan, Weis' 2012 and 2013 classes included "27 junior college transfers, six transfers from Div. I schools and 18 high school recruits." Just 18 high schoolers.

After his first year there, he described his own team as a "pile of crap."

He used that as a selling point, telling recruits they could play right away. Weis was dumped midseason last year and will be paid through 2016.

To tally: Gill made $10 million for one Big 12 win. Weis made $12.5 million for one more.

So, Weis is gone, his junior college players are gone, and the high school players never came.

Welcome David Beaty, who wasn't a head coach or even a coordinator. He was the receivers coach at Texas A&M and known as a recruiting specialist. KU had enough money to pay him just $800,000 a year—less than Weis will make from KU this year.

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Beaty has just 64 scholarship players, according to the Wichita Eagle's Rustin Dodd; the limit big teams are allowed is 85. It will take him a few years to fill a roster.

But worst team of all time? I'm going with KU's neighbor, Kansas State, from the 1980s. Once, K-State scored late for a lead that could have broken the nation's longest losing streak. The assistant coaches wanted to be on the field for the postgame celebration, so they stopped coaching and left the press box. While the coaches were on the elevator to the field, K-State committed three 15-yard penalties and gave up the game-losing touchdown.

When K-State coach Bill Snyder took the job, he was embarrassed by the school's trophy case, which had just one trophy in it, for the Independence Bowl. He once told me he gave it to his secretary, who took it home and put it on her piano.

Beaty is starting to dig out. He put in a modern hurry-up offense, but the players looked confused Saturday.

"We've got to utilize our tempo," he said, "and make sure it doesn't hurt us as much as it hurts the other team."

Eventually, every team gets out of the mess. History says so. Beaty is a fresh face with a lot of optimism.

"We're dealing with reality," he said. "It's a long road ahead."

The first step is teaching the center how to snap the ball to the quarterback.

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.