In the world of college athletics, and especially football, building a program that has been in the doldrums for several years may well be the most difficult task for a new coach.
Perhaps nobody knows that better, and understands it more, than David Beaty.
Three years into constructing, or reconstructing, a Kansas Jayhawk program that six years before hed been ranked among the nation’s top 25, but had headed into the depths of darkness under Turner Gill and Charlie Weis, Beaty is still trying to build those blocks to establish a foundation for a successful KU team.
Beaty, who has posted just three wins in three seasons — with just one win in the tough Big 12 Conference — sees the 2018 season as a watershed moment for his future in the program.
“Unless you’re fortunate to take over a program that has won, building a program in college football may be the biggest challenge a football coach can face,” Beaty said Thursday during an exclusive interview with The Telegram at The Golf Club at Southwind prior to a KU Alumni Association luncheon. “In the first year, you sometimes look back and wonder how you even get a play called. In the second year, you try to close the gap and become a little more competitive. In the third year, you’re learning how to win games and then close it out.”
It is now Year 4, and what’s next for Beaty and the Jayhawks?
“You’re not only getting over the hump but instead of waiting for something to happen, you go out and make it happen,” Beaty said of what he expects this fall. “If you’ve built the program right, that’s what you can expect.”
When he became the head coach prior to the 2015 campaign, the Jayhawks were woefully short on scholarship players, with just 64 on the roster when he took command. The NCAA allows 85 over a four-year period.
“Getting to where you can start winning comes from leadership, and we’ve got a large number of seniors this year who’ve been with us all four years,” Beaty said. “We only had seven last year, and that’s about the smallest class I’ve ever been associated with. It’s hard to replace players when the rules don’t permit you to do so after a player either leaves, is dismissed or has a medical situation that prevents him from playing. You just don’t replace that kind of attrition.”
Beaty, a native of Garland, Texas, said he has rejuvenated a few high school programs with losing records, but the college challenge has been much tougher.
“The numbers always tell the story when you’ve taken over programs that have struggled,” Beaty said. “The circumstances are different, but the biggest thing as far as numbers are would be 85/25. The 85 total scholarships and the 25 you’re allowed to sign each year. That first year (at KU) we lost 25 seniors.”
Forced to bring in freshmen and some junior college transfers, Beaty had to insert talented but young players into the starting lineup, and it proved to be a big obstacle to early success.
“We feel like we’ve recruited good players, who are good individuals and can be leaders and successful,” Beaty said, “but they’re young and they don’t have that density of a physical body. The body is not ready. If you have any attrition, or you have medical situations who can’t play, the deficit (of players) keeps going. Your goal is to retain them and graduate them over a four, five-year period. Once you accomplish that, you’ve put yourself in better position to be successful.”
Beaty describes his current group of players as experienced, but a group that hasn’t enjoyed success.
“We’ve got the most experience returning in the Big 12 and we have a lot of production on both sides of the ball,” Beaty said. “They know what it takes, but now you’ve got to go out and execute. And remember, we’re in the Big 12 and that is another part of the bigger challenge.”
That translates into a murderer’s row type of schedule, with just three non-conference games — Sept. 1 and 15 at home against Nicholls State and Rutgers, respectively, and a Sept. 8 road game at Central Michigan — before diving into the brutal Big 12 round robin slate.
This year, that slate provides road games at Baylor, West Virginia, Texas Tech, Kansas State and Oklahoma with home tests against Oklahoma State, TCU, Iowa State and Texas.
With a new athletic director hire coming in the near future, Beaty likely realizes that the fourth year of his program building is now front and center.
“You play everybody in the conference, and that means most teams you’re facing are bowl-caliber,” Beaty said.