Football Writers Association of America 2004 BEST WRITING CONTEST
COLUMN | ENTERPRISE | FEATURE | GAME | LOOSE DEADLINE

FIRST PLACE: ENTERPRISE
Jason King, The Kansas City Star

LAWRENCE – He was snoring. A University of Kansas player was snoring during a game. Yes, one he was playing in.

It was 1999 when Kansas, needing just two more victories to earn a bowl berth, traveled to Stillwater, Okla., to take on Oklahoma State. As the 39,562 fans at Lewis Field whooped and hollered, Jayhawks defensive back Carl Shazor slept on the team bench, a towel hanging over his face.

"To this day, I still can't believe he did that," former Kansas receiver Harrison Hill said. "I just remember standing on the sideline thinking 'What's happened to KU football?'"

For the last eight years, Jayhawk fans have been asking that same question.

In 1995, Kansas went 10-2, scored 51 points and beat UCLA by three touchdowns in the Aloha Bowl, and stood at No. 9 in the final AP poll.

That's right, in just eight years the Jayhawks have gone from one of the top 10 teams in the country to one of the two worst in the Big 12.

Jason King
The Kansas City Star
Age: 29
College: Baylor, graduated in December '97 (majored in Journalism)
Background: Entering fifth season as The Star's Kansas beat writer. Primary duties include coverage of the Jayhawks' improving football squad and the tradition-rich basketball program, which has appeared in two Final Fours during my time on the beat. Awards include APSE Top 10 finishes in Breaking News (2003) and Enterprise (2001) as well as first place for feature writing in the FWAA’s 2002 contest.

There hasn't been a winning year since that dream season in 1995. The team has lost 23 of its last 28 games. Attendance and morale — of players, students and boosters — have dipped right along with KU's place in the Big 12 standings. A coach and two athletic directors have been forced from their jobs.

How did it go so wrong, so fast?

The answers are multiple: There was the ugly departure of former coach Glen Mason, a bad hire of Terry Allen, bad recruiting, a lack of discipline and a general lack of commitment to the program by the university, and just some plain old bad timing as the school's fall came at the same time as the rise of cross-state rival Kansas State and the creation of the Big 12.

Even as second-year coach Mark Mangino and recently hired athletic director Lew Perkins try to move the program forward, here's a look at how the football team fell in such disarray.

Mason's departure

Credit for the success of the 1995 team – as well as the 1992 team that became the first at the school to go to a bowl since 1981 – can go almost entirely to Mason.

Using a no-nonsense approach that was big on discipline, organization, unity and, most of all, toughness, Mason led the school through one of his strongest eras as they had four winning seasons, two bowl victories and even a triumph over Kansas State during a five-year stretch from 1991 to 1995.

Despite his success, former players, coaches and school officials cite the way Mason left the school as one of the reasons for the football program's swift demise.

Weeks before the Aloha Bowl victory over UCLA in 1995, Mason – after annually appearing on other school's wish lists – decided to take the head coaching job at Georgia. Kansas allowed Mason to stay with the team through the bowl game.

The night before the Aloha Bowl, Mason changed his mind and Kansas was more than willing to have him back. Perhaps it shouldn't have.

Top recruits who had orally committed to play for Mason and Kansas when it was seemingly one of the up-and-coming programs in the country, left for other schools once Mason said he was headed to Georgia and the school wasn't quick to replace him.

Players on the team were left wondering how committed Mason was to them when he returned. "That next year (in 1996), we were kind of questioning whether coach wanted to be there," former Kansas tight end Tom Moore said. "A lot of the kids that had committed to KU changed their mind."

Mason did not return repeated phone calls for this story.

The Jayhawks finished 4-7 in 1996. Mason left after the season to take the head coaching job at Minnesota. And for the second straight off-season, few blue-chip prospects came to Lawrence.

Terry Allen's hiring

The decision, it seems now, should have been so simple.

Current Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione – the guru who has orchestrated turnarounds at New Mexico and TCU – was eager to return to his native Kansas and to take over the Jayhawks' program.

Instead, after interviewing Franchione, then-athletic director Bob Frederick opted to hire Terry Allen to replace Mason. Allen had amassed a 75-26 career coaching record. But he'd done it at Division I-AA Northern Iowa.

"Glen was hard on the players, and I thought it was important that we had somebody that was a little bit more caring," Frederick said.

And, it must be noted, someone who may not have been so quick to leave.

Frederick admitted it became troublesome to constantly have his football coach being mentioned for other jobs.

"The thing that was a problem for me and a lot of our supporters was that every December, he somehow got his name involved in job searches," Frederick said. "That was an important factor to me."

Frederick also said that Allen reminded him of a young Roy Williams, the kind of coach that would succeed once given his big break.

Eventually, though, former players and coaches said Allen's easygoing personality became one of his biggest downfalls.

Disappearance of discipline

Under Mason, assistant coaches were fined if they weren't at work by 6:30 a.m.

Under Mason, players were prevented from going out on Thursday nights during the football season.

Under Mason, players were forced to live at Jayhawker Towers throughout their career to build unity. Things were different under Allen.

Keith Loneker, one of Mason's top recruits who played three years in the NFL, was stunned to see the state of the program when he returned to Lawrence after his pro career.

"When Terry was here, I can remember pulling into a bar at 2 a.m. on Friday morning (of game week) and seeing three of his offensive linemen walking out smoking cigarettes," Loneker said.

Moore, who spent one season as an assistant under Allen after his playing days were over, was equally dismayed.

"Things were relatively unorganized," he said. "(Allen) tried to play the nice-guy role. The problem was that he didn't have anyone behind him that was a tough guy. With Mason, if you didn't respect what he said, you weren't around. But part of that was because, if he kicked someone off the team, there was another player there to replace him. Terry didn't have that."

Former players and coaches cite one example that seemed to sum up the Allen era. Former quarterback Mario Kinsey, who already had been suspended for a game in connection with the theft of another student's purse, was suspended again when he failed to go to practice.

This time, however, the suspension lasted just one quarter. Allen, now an associate head coach at Iowa State, won't run from the criticism of his tenure.

"You can't change the past," he said. "You learn from your mistakes. At the time you think you're doing the right thing and you never look back.

"If I ever get the chance to become a head coach again, I'll remember the lessons I learned there."

Bad recruiting

As a defensive back with the New York Jets last year, Andrew Davison said he got used to being hazed - and not because he was a rookie.

"Everyone always made fun of me because I played for Kansas," Davison said by phone from Dallas, where he's undergoing physicals in hopes of signing with the Cowboys. "They kept talking about how our team never has any good players."

Not that that was far from the truth during Allen's tenure. Only two players that Allen recruited during his five years in Lawrence became NFL draft picks. Mason, meanwhile, had 15 players drafted from his nine recruiting classes.

Some say a lack of effort was the reason Allen's staff missed out on many of the country's top prospects. During his one season on Allen's staff, Moore was charged with breaking down recruiting film.

Often times he identified high school standouts that appeared to be of Division I caliber.

"I'd put together highlight films of kids I though we should recruit and, before long, they just kind of fell off our board," said Moore. "To be very honest, it seemed like they settled for the second-tier players. Sometimes, if they heard a kid was looking at Nebraska or Miami, they stopped recruiting him."

Davison said he became so frustrated with losing – Allen was 20-33 in four-plus seasons – that he approached a KU assistant about their recruiting tactics.

"When I asked him why we weren't going after (high school) All-Americans, he said they didn't think they'd be able to get them," Davison said. "I was like, 'It doesn't hurt to try.' Quincy Morgan told me himself that he wanted to come to Kansas. And I know for a fact that Darren Sproles did, too.

"Instead we were going after a bunch of Division II players."

Sproles, who won a high school state championship at Olathe North, is now considered a Heisman Trophy candidate at Kansas State.

Once again, Allen doesn't dispute his critics.

"I can't use the 'It's tough to recruit at Kansas' excuse, because it's not," Allen said. "We just didn't hit on enough good ones. You can't change the past. At the time I thought I was doing the right thing."

Creation of Big 12 and rise of Kansas State

In the last two months, two high school standouts from the Sunflower State – linemen Todd Haselhorst (Olathe East) and Scott Haverkamp (Silver Lake) – have made oral commitments to sign with Kansas.

And get this: Both were offered scholarships by Kansas State.

"All the people that say we can't do what Kansas State has done and that KU is just a basketball school ... they make me sick," said Hill, who played his final game for Kansas in 2001. "If football players will go to Manhattan, Kansas, when there's nothing there, then there's no reason why they wouldn't come to Lawrence.

"All it takes is a football coach who wants to work hard and recruit good players, and people will come to KU instead of Manhattan."

Perhaps it's not that easy.

The rise of Kansas State, which gives them a big edge on the limited number of Division I prospects that state produces, is only part of the problem for Kansas.

The creation of the Big 12 in 1996 is another.

The turmoil that surrounded Mason's departure couldn't have come at a worse time for Kansas – as the addition of four Texas schools only meant more seemingly guaranteed losses.

In fact, Kansas is 2-12 against Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor since they joined the conference. Kansas is 12-44 in all Big 12 games.

"When we were the Big Eight, you only had seven conference games, so you had four non-conference games," said Frederick, the school's A.D. during 1987-2001. "You could qualify for a bowl by beating just two teams in the conference."

Kansas State does all that and more. It is 43-13 in the Big 12 since it was created, including 10-4 against the Texas schools, and has been to a bowl game in all seven seasons.

Lack of administration support

As he made his way to Memorial Stadium for the Northwestern game last weekend, Loneker saw something that was disturbing – yet hardly surprising.

"We're driving down the street and we're seeing cops giving people tickets because they're parked too close to the curb on game day," Loneker said. "You won't see that in Manhattan. They just don't get it. They're worried about the wrong things here."

Frustration with athletic administrators and other school officials – from the chancellor to the campus police – dates all the way back to the Mason era.

Those close to Mason during his time at Kansas said he often voiced his displeasure over Kansas' subpar facilities and the low salaries that were allotted to his assistants.

"Glen was always upset," said one of Mason's former assistants, who asked not to be identified. "The department had no plan, no vision. Everything was reactive instead of proactive. In the end I just think he threw his hands up."

Only in recent years has KU shown signs that it is ready to make more of a financial commitment to football.

In 2001, Frederick signed off on six-figure salaries for Hayes and Rip Scherer, the defensive and offensive coordinators during Allen's final season. Frederick also helped spearhead the fundraising for the Anderson Strength and Conditioning Center, an $8 million, 42,000-square foot structure that's now considered one of the top weight facilities in all of college athletics.

Although he alienated people with a personality that many labeled "phony" during his 20-month stay in Lawrence, Al Bohl – who followed Frederick – helped the football program.

The five-year contract he awarded current coach Mark Mangino two years ago was for about $600,000 per year, roughly twice what Allen made. Bohl also allotted $1 million for Mangino to use on his assistants.

Salaries weren't the only problem.

In his first year on the job, Mangino was stunned to find the poor conditions of the practice fields, locker room and football offices. The low point came when he entered a room on campus with a potential recruit only to find water dripping from a ceiling into a bucket.

Most of those problems have been addressed.

"We've come a long way in so many areas," Mangino said. He grins.

"It's a lot more fun to come to work here now than it was a year ago."

And a lot more fun for fans at games.

Bohl's biggest accomplishment may be lifting the ban on alcohol at Memorial Stadium, which allowed for more festive tailgating activities.

Imagine that, fun at a college football game. Lawrence hasn't seen that since 1995. One of the men in charge of creating that type of atmosphere says the work must begin in earnest.

"We've got to start thinking about football year-round," Perkins said. "We should start talking about next year today."

•

Comment from the judge, Gene Duffey: Excellent in-depth analysis of what happened to Kansas football, everything from hiring the wrong coach to police foolishly issuing parking tickets at games. The writer attempted to interview all parties involved, even if Mason wouldn't cooperate. Frederick talked about why he hired Allen and Allen admitted his mistakes. Good input from former players.

• Second place: Bruce Feldman, ESPN The Magazine
• Third place: Ron Higgins, Memphis Commercial Appeal
• Honorable mention: John Canzano, The Oregonian; Josh Robbins, Orlando Sentinel; Adam Thompson, Denver Post