Clint Bowen and his then future wife Kristie were on a date at a Lawrence ice cream shop. The two were getting to know each other, when Kristie asked Clint what his future plans were, without blinking he said that he was going to be the head football coach at Kansas.
A self fulfilling prophecy is there ever was one, Bowen realized that you can in fact live your own dream. 20 years after making that bold declaration, he was announced as the program’s head coach, albeit on an interim basis, replacing the departed Charlie Weis, who was fired a day after Kansas’ 23-0 loss to Texas. Bowen was fired up, passionate and emotional, as his life has become a whirlwind that he must get his footing in, as his team prepares for a game at West Virginia this Saturday.
“It’s sunk in by now. Obviously, yesterday morning when (athletic director) Dr. (Sheahon) Zenger first contacted me and I had a meeting with him and he explained the situation to me, from that minute on all of us, Dr. Zenger and everyone involved, we’re ready to move forward and get going and get these players on board and get everything rolling again,” Bowen said. “So I don’t know if it had time to sink in, it just came down to this is what we have to get done and let’s go to work.”
Bowen addressed the media for the first time as the program’s leader, Monday morning and his task will be difficult, but he wasn’t about to let that get in the way of the fact that many people within the program and higher up in Kansas Athletics believes that the season can not only be saved, but that bigger things will return to the program.
For Bowen, it’s not only a promise, but it is his mission to fix the program that has shaped his life, from the days of sneaking into Memorial Stadium as a child to watch Kansas football games, to his days as a player and his days as a coach, rising through the ranks, starting as a graduate assistant 20 years ago. Fact is, nobody has more invested or has more to gain that Bowen.
“As you guys know KU football and the University of Kansas has given me so much of my life personally,” Bowen said. “I’ve never known a day of my life that I wasn’t a KU football fan. I grew up a Lawrence Guy. I grew up coming to KU football games so to be standing here today is truly one of the greatest honors I’ve ever had in my life. I’m prepared for this job. I’m prepared to take this thing for the next nine weeks and do the best job that I possibly can to give these players the opportunity for success that they’ve worked for and that they deserve to have.”
Bowen begins with a 2-2 team that has suffered through a nightmare of an existence, since the witch hunt that led to the dismissal of former coach Mark Mangino on the heels of some of the program’s greatest high. What followed were some of its greatest lows.
Since starting the 2009 season 5-0, following a victory over Iowa State, the Jayhawks have gone just 11-48 since with many losses reaching a humiliating level unmatched in college football. Bowen’s mission is to right the ship and begin the turnaround of his program and he feels he knows just how to get that done.
“Every day we’re going to try and create an edge that gives us a chance and gives these players a chance to win, that’s what this is about. In our way, we’re going to invigorate the KU family again. Former players, anyone that hears this, we want them back. They are welcome at our practices, they’re welcome in this facility. We want to see those people. The people that helped KU become what KU is as such a great place, we appreciate that and we want to show that we appreciate it and things are going to be open for those people,” Bowen said.
“The former players mean everything to us and the people that have paved the way. I told our guys yesterday, this building, this locker room, everything that we have here that’s so great right now, someone else sacrificed to get us here. I’ve been a part of a lot of those people and a lot of them came before me. We look to inspire our fans. Inspire them by the way we play and the way we represent ourselves and we’ll go from there.”
As for what will comes next, that will be up to athletics director Sheahon Zenger, who will conduct a very through and detailed search for the program’s next head coach. He will solicit the input of people he has becomes close with since taking command of the department, as well as people invested in the program and its welfare from former players to key figures.
Make no mistake though, Bowen, who will be in that discussion will have every opportunity to make his case and in many ways, will get the best opportunity with the eight game audition that will follow and no one for a second will doubt where his heart is and where it will always be when talking Kansas football, something that was evident many years before he got the opportunity to live his dream and for once, the future looks as bright as it has for Kansas football in a very long time.
“Anyone that would consider this a stepping stone job is an idiot,” Bowen said. “This is a destination job. I’ve heard people say that before and I always defend it. I told the players last night, if I can get my years right, but about 20 years ago one of the first dates with my wife at what used to be the ice cream shop on 23rd street there, I was a GA at the time and trying to impress her a little bit and she said, ‘What are you going to be in life?’ or whatever that question is and I said, ‘Well I’m going to be the head football coach at Kansas.’”
“Yeah, anyone that knows anything about Kansas, talking to coaches in this business, people understand that this is a sleeping giant of a program. You have an unbelievable community, you have an unbelievable university, you’ve got all the resources available to have a successful football program, all the support from the administration. People that know football, they know that this is an unbelievable job.”