Draft is Proof That KU is Much Better

Seeing a KU football team finish the season below .500 last fall was nothing new. I've seen far, far more losing Jayhawk squads than winning ones.

It really stunk seeing them get off to a 5-0 start last fall, only to see the wheels come flying off. In retrospect, the end result was more the rule than the exception, though.

There was a monumentally huge difference, though, between this past 5-7 squad and all those other 5-6 and 4-7 teams that played their way to the bottom of the Big 8/12 and into Kansas Football obscurity.

Find me another sub-.500 Jayhawks team that could claim three NFL draft choices.

One, sure. KU almost always had at least one stud who managed to stand out, despite the staggering amount of mediocrity surrounding them. You know what they say about broken clocks.

Occasionally, those bad KU teams would have two young men drafted.

But three? Never three.

Defensive back Darrell Stuckey was the first to be selected. He was generally considered KU's best NFL prospect in the draft, and that was borne out in the fourth round when he was chosen by San Diego.

Wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe entered the draft after his junior year, KU's first early entry since Charles Gordon came out after the 2005 season.

Wide receiver Kerry Meier was selected by the Falcons in round five. It wouldn't have been possible to script a more bittersweet week for Meier. Within eight days, he will have witnessed his older brothers death, realized his own dream of playing in the National Football League and then attending his brother's funeral.

There's no doubt that last year's Kansas team underachieved, and looking in the rear-view mirror, we know why. But when Mark Mangino was hired, I said regardless of the circumstances of his departure, he'd leave Kansas Football better than he found it. I stand by that statement, and that brings me to my point.

You can talk about coaching 'em up all you want, but when it comes to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stepping up to the mike and calling your name, it's the young man who's done all the heavy lifting.

NFL draft picks have to be freakishly blessed, athletically, and possess a passion and strength of character that enables them to play football at a level most of us can't fathom.

It wasn't all that long ago that guys like Meier, Stuckey and Briscoe – hard-working, selfless, fiery guys who were so physically blessed – didn't attend Kansas. Hell, certain past KU coaches didn't even try to recruit them, ceding them as soon as they heard bigger football schools were starting to take an interest.

But these guys did choose KU. They believed enough in the coach, in the program and in the University to play football in Lawrence.

Sure, last season was frustrating. I think we're all in agreement: the Jayhawks should've won more than five lousy games.

A little bit of that frustration dropped away late last week, though, when Stuckey, Meier and Briscoe all got phone calls.

I'm excited for all three of them. They're solid young men as well as outstanding football players who all stand a good chance of making and contributing to their new teams.

But I'm just as excited for the Kansas football program. Three draft picks despite a lackluster 5-7 season is a sign that things are significantly better than they were back in 2002.

Even better, it seems that for the first time in a long time, an outgoing KU coach left the program with more than just a little bit of talent in the cupboard.

Some have already compared rookie KU head coach Turner Gill to coaching disaster Terry Allen. Sorry, but I just don't see it. Just because a coach is a good guy doesn't mean he's a lousy coach. Tom Osborne caught a lot of heat for being a good guy, too. He was too religious, too Tony Robbins, too deliberate, too cheesy. Well, looking back, that all worked out pretty good for Dr. Tom and Nebraska.

Terry Allen was a lousy coach not because he was a good guy but rather because he was a lousy coach. He had no experience at the BCS-level and absolutely no concept of what a Big 12 football player was supposed to look like.

The same can't be said for Gill. Gill has recruited and coached BCS-caliber talent. He's got rings. It's rash and irresponsible for the Allen comparisons to start before he's ever coached a game in Memorial Stadium. Gameball never recruited and retained anything near the talent Gill has walked into. I'm not saying Kansas has Big 12 championship-caliber talent, but I'm willing to bet the ranch that no one in Gill's defensive backfield will be mistaken for Zach Dyer anytime soon, either.

The law firm of Briscoe, Stuckey and Meier stand as icons of how much better KU's talent level has become. They're symbolic of the firm foundation the program sits on.

Now it falls to Gill to make the most of it. If he doesn't, it won't be because Kansas can't land good players. It will be because Turner Gill can't land good players and isn't cut out for the job.

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