Believe in Gill

I still believe in Turner Gill. Let me repeat that with gusto in case you didn't read it correctly. I still believe with my heart, mind and spirit in Gill, and believe he will turn this struggling KU program around.

I just hope the new KU athletic director gives Turner Gill at least three years to do it.

It was really unrealistic to think Gill would turn the program around in his first year after Mark Mangino's Jayhawks went 5-7 last season, losing their last seven games. I was one of those people before the season that thought Gill could win in 2010, but looking back, that wasn't the right call.

Just look at KU history. Only twice in school annals has a new coach come in after the departed coach had a losing season and posted a winning record. It happened first in 1902 when head coach Arthur Curtis led Kansas to a 6-2 record after John Outland went 3-5-2 in his lone season as head coach in 1901.

Then, it wasn't until 1975 when new coach Bud Moore led Kansas to a 7-5 record and a berth in the Sun Bowl after Don Fambrough was fired the previous season after going 4-7 and losing the last six games. But that ‘75 team had talent, make that major talent that Fambrough and his staff recruited to Mount Oread. In all, 16 players from that team became NFL draft picks, including future NFL star Nolan Cromwell, who led the KU turnaround after Moore converted him to quarterback from safety.

KU's success in 1975 was certainly an anomaly.

"To have a disappointing season the year before and have a new coaching staff come in, I'm not sure that happens very often when a  new coach comes and somebody has a real good season," three-time All-Big Eight safety Kurt Knoff (1973-75) told me in a 2000 interview. "It usually takes teams two or three years to do that."

Even Dean Smith, who became the winningest coach in NCAA Division I men's basketball history before Bob Knight broke his record in 2007, didn't win from day one. Smith's North Carolina Tar Heels went 8-9 his first year in 1961-62, and Smith was hanged in effigy on the Chapel Hill campus after a disappointing loss to Wake Forest in 1965. Smith, though, next led UNC to nine wins in the final 11 games that season, the start of a legendary career that saw him win 889 games and reach 11 Final Fours and win two national titles.

No, I'm certainly not saying Gill is going to be football's version of Dean Smith. But KU fans need to be patient. Mangino left Gill with some talent, but look who the Jayhawks lost — Todd Reesing, the best quarterback in Kansas history, Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier, the two most productive receivers in school history, Darrell Stuckey, one of the best safeties in KU annals, and Jake Sharp, the No 10 leading rusher in school history.

Even with Reesing last year, KU lost its last seven games.

"Fans" who are calling for Gill's firing after just six games are completely off base. Sure, losing to Baylor and K-State by a combined 114-14 score is unacceptable. And sure, KU is not a very good team right now and isn't cutting the grade when it comes to pass rush, tackling, speed and overall execution.

But these are all correctable areas with practice, effort, and recruiting. It isn't going to happen overnight, although I do believe the players can instantly pick up their energy level a notch or two and finish with four or five victories this season.

Much of the blame has been centered on Gill and redshirt freshman quarterback Jordan Webb, who's turned in two subpar performances against Baylor and K-State. But look at Webb's overall numbers. He's still completed 99 of 167 passes for 59.3 percent through six games. At that pace, he would finish the year No. 7 in school history for highest completion percentage for a season.

Yes, Webb has been making mistakes, but remember this is his first season of major college football. He will get better. KU fans have been spoiled the last three years with Reesing. Rare is the KU quarterback who has achieved great success as a freshman. (Reesing didn't even make his mark until his sophomore season.) Just four players in Kansas history have led the team in passing his freshman season. 

Frank Seurer was one of those freshmen, the man who held the school record for career passing yards, completions and attempts before Reesing shattered his marks. But after arriving at KU in 1980 with great hype after a celebrated prep career at Edison High in Huntington Beach, Calif, Seurer completed just 64 of 146 passes for 43.8 percent his freshman year. Seurer, though, improved remarkably the next three years and became one of the best quarterbacks this school has ever seen.

KU fans need to give Webb a chance. They need to give Gill a chance, too. He has a great pedigree playing and coaching under legendary former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne. Gill achieved the highest success as a player (he led Nebraska to three straight Orange Bowls, was an All-America second-team selection and a Heisman Trophy finalist) and as an assistant coach (he was on the coaching staff of three national championship teams at Nebraska). And as head coach of Buffalo, Gill turned around one of the worst programs in college football.

There's no reason Gill can't eventually turn around the KU program with the great resources and facilities at Mount Oread, his recruiting ability, and his seasoned coaching staff.

No KU fans, Gill isn't the second coming of Terry Allen, who was fired after five seasons at Kansas and posting a 20-33 record. While Allen achieved great success as head coach at Division I-AA Northern Iowa, he wasn't cut out to be a Division I head coach. His teams lacked discipline, one player even fell asleep on the bench during a game. Heck, Allen didn't even recruit former Olathe North High superstar running back Darren Sproles because he thought the 5-6 speedster was too small. Sproles, who dearly wanted to come to KU, became one of the greatest running backs in K-State history and is now making his mark in the NFL.

Gill is a nice guy like Allen, but on a different level as a disciplinarian and a coach. You can be a nice guy and still win. Just look at what Osborne did at Nebraska. Just look at what Bill Snyder did at K-State.

Gill is coaching the right way, and I think in time, it will also be the winning way.

Call me an eternal optimist, but I still believe.

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