Kansas: Inside Slant

Tough end to the season, but the future looks bright with new head coach Turner Gill. Here's what's happening, inside.

INSIDE SLANT

Kansas was not able to snag a head coach from the ranks of the BCS conferences, but in hiring Turner Gill, it found a coach who knows the Big 12 landscape.

Actually, the Big Eight, too.

Gill was a standout quarterback for Nebraska who annually dogged the Jayhawks from 1980-83, finishing as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy his senior season. Later, Gill served as an assistant for Nebraska from 1992-2004, a period in which the Huskers claimed three national titles.

He must now make the transition from the MAC to the Big 12. The move could be made easier by his high-profile coordinators. With Chuck Long (offense) and Carl Torbush (defense), the Jayhawks brought in assistants with head coaching experience.

In four years at Buffalo, Gill was named the MAC Coach of the Year in 2007 and 2008, though the Bulls failed to reach the postseason this season when they finished 5-7. The bowl appearance in 2008 was the first for Buffalo and came after they captured the MAC.

"Turner Gill is a winner," said Kansas athletic director Lew Perkins. "His accomplishments at Buffalo speak for themselves. But more than that, everyone I talked to about him, starting with Tom Osborne, had the highest praise for Turner as a coach and as a person."

Gill takes over for Mark Mangino, who went 50-48 over eight seasons and guided Kansas to three bowl wins. Trouble developed this season when Mangino was accused of abusing players, a charged that led to an internal review by the athletic department.

The allegations came with the Jayhawks mired in a losing streak that grew to seven games by season's end and left them out of a bowl at 5-7. The last-place finish in the North Division was supremely disappointing considering Kansas, with several productive and veteran skill players, was picked by many to win the North.

Mangino offered no comment after he reached a settlement with KU, which was obliged to pay as much as $6.6 million in buyout money if it failed to prove cause for the coach's firing.

Already, one of those playmakers, record-breaking wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe, has announced he will skip his senior season and apply for the NFL Draft. That leaves Gill with inexperience on both sides of the ball, as well as returnees who were largely ineffective in conference play.

NOTES, QUOTES

GAME OF THE YEAR: Kansas 41, Iowa State 36 -- The victory pushed Kansas to 5-0, although the close call was an indicator that the Jayhawks might struggle in Big 12 play. The Cyclones could have gone ahead with a minute remaining, but they overthrew a wide-open receiver in the end zone. The win was followed by seven consecutive defeats, as well as controversy regarding the behavior of eighth-year coach Mark Mangino.

PLAYERS OF THE YEAR:
WR Dezmon Briscoe -- The junior became the eighth player in Big 12 history to record 3,000 receiving yards, bumping his career total to 3,240 with 242 yards on 14 receptions against Missouri.

SS Darrell Stuckey -- He was the undisputed leader of the defense and a tackler who often made big plays, even though the Jayhawks often struggled to make stops. Stuckey closed his career with a game-high 15 tackles in the Missouri defeat.

QB Todd Reesing -- He struggled down the stretch, finishing 0-7 as a starter after beginning his career 11-0 and eventually engineering an Orange Bowl win to cap his sophomore season in 2007. Reesing still led the Big 12 with 3,616 yards passing after throwing for 498 yards against Missouri.

FAST FORWARD: New coach Turner Gill, taking over for Mark Mangino, inherits a more favorable Big 12 schedule, although proven leadership will be lacking following the departure of key seniors, as well as the move of junior WR Dezmon Briscoe to the NFL.

RECRUITING TRAIL: The typical goal of any new coach is to hold together the recruiting class left behind by the former coach, and Turner Gill inherited 16 committed players. Gill's name recognition and his familiarity with the Big 12 recruiting turf should allow him to get off to a fast start in recruiting.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Turner Gill is a winner. His accomplishments at Buffalo speak for themselves. But more than that, everyone I talked to about him, starting with Tom Osborne, had the highest praise for Turner as a coach and as a person." -- KU director of athletics Lew Perkins.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2010:
RB Toben Opurum -- The true freshman was effective as a power rusher before his season ended with an injury suffered in the Nov. 21 loss at Texas. Opurum still became the fourth freshman to lead Kansas in rushing.

C Jeremiah Hatch -- Moved to center this season but also has experience at tackle and will be a versatile linemen with experience as the Jayhawks try to establish continuity up front.

PRO PROSPECTS:
WR Kerry Meier -- Converted into a wide receiver when Todd Reesing took over as the starting quarterback in 2007, Meier made the most of the move by becoming one of the most productive threats in KU history. With great hands and knowledge of coverage, Meier will be an intriguing possibility for NFL scouts because of his 6-4 frame.

SS Darrell Stuckey -- Intuitive skills, coupled with his sure tackling, will get Stuckey some looks from NFL scouts. He is a leader who performs well in the classroom and is also connected with many community projects.

QB Todd Reesing -- Lacks the size, at just 5-10, to draw any attention from the NFL, but is a gutsy competitor who played with limited mobility in 2009 because of a groin strain. Perhaps the CFL is a possibility.

WR Dezmon Briscoe -- The junior was one of the best receivers in the country in 2009. He caught 84 passes for 1,337 yards and nine touchdowns.

ROSTER REPORT:
--RB Jake Sharp disclosed after the season finale against Missouri that he played with a fractured fibula for much of the season. He missed two games, then played through the injury, which depleted his speed.

--QB Todd Reesing acknowledged a strained groin early in the conference schedule, and Kansas coach Mark Mangino said after the Missouri game that the senior's throwing delivery had been affected by his injury.

--RB Toben Opurum missed the last game of the season with an injury suffered the previous week at Texas. He watched the Missouri game on crutches.


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