KU football personnel will dictate approach on offense, new OC Mike DeBord says

Matt Galloway
Topeka Capital-Journal
Mike DeBord, who previously served as offensive coordinator at Tennessee, Michigan and Indiana, was introduced Wednesday as Kansas football's new play caller.

LAWRENCE — Les Miles’ hiring of Mike DeBord was apparently an event the former viewed as a long time coming, with the Kansas football head coach saying Wednesday that he’s “been chasing” the Jayhawks’ new offensive coordinator for “about four years.”

As DeBord explained, that pursuit wasn’t a one-way endeavor.

“It’s not only him wanting me; I’ve always wanted to work for him,” said DeBord, speaking at an introductory news conference. “So it’s not like I’m not playing Mr. Hard Guy or Tough Guy here (by) not getting caught. I wanted to work for him. It just was kind of the timing of everything. The timing was right, and I couldn’t be happier.”

Now comes the hard part.

DeBord, whose past offensive coordinator stops include Tennessee, Indiana and Michigan (twice), inherits a KU offense that last season finished 126th out of 127 eligible FBS in total offense (259.2 yards per game). The Jayhawks were also 123rd in points per game (15.8) and dead-last in sacks allowed per contest (5.2).

DeBord said that after initially speaking with Miles about the opening — former offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon left on Jan. 27 to accept that same role with Middle Tennessee State — the first thing he did was open his laptop and pull up film from last year’s winless campaign. Perhaps surprisingly, DeBord indicated he didn’t feel KU was that far off from fielding an effective offense.

“I told the offensive coaches and the full staff (Wednesday), you know, when you go through a season and you’re not happy with it you think sometimes you’re a long way off and you’re not. With the naked eye, you’re not,” DeBord said. “I saw a group that, with some things to change up technique-wise or to change up some scheme things, we’re going to get this done, I have no doubt in my mind.”

Shortly after his hiring was announced Tuesday night, DeBord made it a point to speak with Jalon Daniels, who finished last season as KU’s starting quarterback. The 6-foot, 203-pounder completed 50% of his passes for 718 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions as a true freshman, also rushing for three scores. 

“I was already jumping for joy, (but) that kid had me even more excited, just to listen to him,” said DeBord, 64. “That’s what youth does to you. Youth excites you. Youth pushes you harder, pushes you stronger, more.”

As the roster is currently constructed, next year's Jayhawk offense will have at its disposal 39 returning underclassmen and 10 incoming true freshmen, including four-star wide receiver Quaydarius Davis, who finalized his commitment Wednesday. The 6-foot, 193-pounder is slotted at No. 142 nationally among all members of the Class of 2021 at the 247Sports' composite rankings.

DeBord said he isn't worried about the Jayhawks' youth-heavy numbers.

"They’ll play,” DeBord said. “All we want to do is we want to play great football technique-wise, scheme-wise and effort-wise. We’re going to get that, and a lot of times young guys, they’re easier to get going that way than older guys are. So I’m not really concerned at all.”

Miles didn’t take questions at Wednesday’s news conference.

DeBord said he isn’t keen on second-guessing coaching but added the Jayhawk offense will take a “different” approach to the quarterback position moving forward, with an emphasis on progression-based decision making over those made through pre-snap reads. That, DeBord argued, will enable the team's signal callers to play faster and with more confidence.

As for what one can expect the KU offense to look like next season? That's to-be-determined, with DeBord saying it will be shaped by both personnel and based on what  clicks during the spring football session.

“In all the offenses I’ve coordinated, we never had a set offense. We never did. We don’t have one right now here. We’re not going to have that,” DeBord said. “What we’re going to do is we’re going to take our time as coaches, we’re going to talk about the players, talk about their strengths, what they can do, and get to know them. And then we’re going to build that system. ...

“I’ve never, ever had the same offense from one year to the other. Never. It changes. Your players change, schemes change on defense that you have to go against, all that changes. If you don’t change you’re going to be left behind.”

The Jayhawks will enter the 2021 campaign on a 13-game losing streak, with the team's last victory a 37-34 decision over Texas Tech on Oct. 26, 2019 in Lawrence.

“What I love about Les is, he hasn’t panicked here. He hasn’t panicked,” DeBord said. “Some people would panic and all of a sudden go, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got to go get a full class of junior college kids’ or whatever. He hasn’t done that. He’s staying the course. ...

“You’re going to take some lumps. You’re going to get hit in the head a couple times. That’s OK. Stay the course and you’ll finish the way you want to finish.”

KANSAS 2021 COMMITMENTS

High school

Name, hometown;Pos.;Ht.;Wt.

D'Marion Alexander, China Spring, Texas;OLB;6-5;215

Mason Brotherton, Mena, Ark.;TE;6-4;242

O.J. Burroughs Jr., Savannah, Ga.;S;5-10;167

Cam'Ron Dabney, Gainesville, Ga.;CB;5-10;175

x-Quaydarius Davis, Dallas;WR;6-0;193

Tommy Dunn Jr., Garland, Texas;DT;6-3;277

Ben Easters, Brownsburg, Ind.;QB;6-3;05

Jayson Gilliom, Duwanee, Ga.;S;6-2;190

x-Conrad Hawley, Peculiar, Mo.;QB;6-6;220

Devin Neal, Lawrence;RB;5-11;208

Majik Rector, Dallas, Texas;WR;5-9;161

Corey Robinson II, Roswell, Ga.;OT;6-5;275

Kelan Robinson, Grand Prairie, Texas;WR;6-2;183

x-Tanaka Scott, Mobile, Ala.;WR;6-4;190

Andrew Simpson, Norwalk, Calif.;LB;6-1;220

Trey Staley, Snellville, Ga.;LB;6-2;200

De'Kedrick Sterns, Austin, Texas;OT;6-4;272

x-Edwin White, Mobile, Ala.;S;6-0;196

Devonte Wilson, Quincy, Fla.;CB;6-3;192

DJ Withers, Little Rock, Ark.;DE;6-4;245

Larson Workman, Ganado, Texas;OT;6-5;270

James Wright, Sumter, S.C.;S;6-1;195

Transfer

Name, previous school;Pos.;Ht.;Wt.

x-Colin Grunhard, Notre Dame;OT;6-0;290

x-Kevin Terry, Texas Tech;WR;6-1;190

x-Signed Wednesday