LAWRENCE — Kansas football fans have heard this explanation often over the last decade, with Jeff Long the most recent Jayhawk figure to tie the program’s in-season struggles to the relative infancy of a rebuilding effort.
This isn’t, however, simply the same old song and dance, the KU athletic director emphasizes.
"I know you’ve heard that before here at Kansas, but trust me, we’re a year-and-a-half into this thing," said Long, speaking Wednesday during a "Hawk Talk" radio interview. "We finally put the resources to our coaches and our staff. ... It just simply takes time."
The payoff, in all likelihood, won’t come in this shortened season.
KU (0-3, 0-2 Big 12) enters its 11 a.m. Saturday matchup at West Virginia (2-1, 1-1) ranked last in the conference in a slew of categories — scoring offense (14.7 points per game), scoring defense (44 points allowed per game), total offense (296 yards per game), passing offense (146.7 passing yards per game), rushing defense (227.7 rushing yards allowed per game), sacks recorded (three), sacks allowed (15), third-down conversion rate (23.1%), opponent third-down conversion rate (53.2%) and turnover margin (minus-4), just to name a few.
The Jayhawks are a 22.5-point underdogs to the Mountaineers.
"We knew that we are rebuilding. We are building a program," Long said. "And so the people that get anxious, I know they’re anxious. We want to win every game. I want to win every game. Those young people on our team want to win every game. Coach (Les) Miles believes they’re going to win every game. But this is a process."
Call it delayed gratification for KU, which has drastically changed its approach in recruiting.
Miles’ predecessors, Charlie Weis and David Beaty, too often went the quick-fix route in that realm, with both packing their final recruiting classes with junior college transfers — the vast majority of those players didn’t pan out, with attrition, academic ineligibility and the nature of their two- or three-year stints ravaging the program’s scholarship numbers.
Of the allotted total of 85, Miles had roughly 70 scholarship players after the completion of his first recruiting class, but that number was weighted toward upperclassmen, many former junior college transfers acquired under Beaty, who took at least 17 junior college transfers in his final recruiting class.
Long said he and Miles spoke recently about their commitment to building through prep players. Miles’ Class of 2020, his second haul with KU, was composed entirely of high school prospects, and his upcoming class currently has 20 oral commits, all high school players.
"He’s done that really in his first two classes, and I applaud him," Long said. "We have good, young talent. And the team, you know, it’s a team. It’s a big team. Those coaches have the challenge to blend those upperclassmen with those younger players that are coming in and are talented and blending that team together. ... I think you’re going to see us get better as we go through the season."
Dave Shumate, director of player personnel for the Jayhawk football program, praised Long for devoting the necessary resources to recruiting and analyst positions — KU stood 10th in the Big 12 in support staff spending when Miles took over, explained Shumate; he said they now rank fourth in that figure.
"The Kansas fans know, we know, it’s been 10 to 12 years since you’ve really had any success," Shumate said. "Everybody else that’s kind of been here has gone the juco route. We feel like you’ve got to have transfers here and there to fill the gaps, but for the most part, 90, 95 percent of your team has to be from the high school ranks. We just feel that comes from a developmental standpoint — physical, mental and even from a culture standpoint."
Shumate cited young, Miles-recruited players such as defensive lineman DaJon Terry (redshirt freshman), cornerback Karon Prunty (freshman), wide receiver Lawrence Arnold (freshman) and safety Kenny Logan (sophomore) as talented faces of the process the program is undertaking — those four players have combined to see the field for around 480 snaps this season, he noted.
"So we’re playing a bunch of young kids," Shumate continued. "Again, not an excuse, but we are building it through the high school ranks, so we continue to ask people to be patient. We’re going to get there. It’s just we’ve got to start somewhere."
Long, who from his July 2018 hiring expressed his intention to "break the cycle" of ineptitude surrounding the university’s football program, stressed Wednesday that his line of thinking shouldn’t be interpreted for indifference toward the current team’s struggles.
"I’m not an excuse maker. Bottom line is we’ve got to win games," Long said. "But when you are recruiting and then developing the young men that you have, when you don’t have a spring practice and you don’t have a summer — now everybody had the same (COVID-19 restrictions), but we needed that more than most because we’re building our way out of it. ...
"I am not down on this team. I am not down on our program. I am as excited as we were when we hired Les Miles. It is building the foundation to reap the rewards of the building (of) that foundation as we move forward. Again, wish it was happening today, but it will happen soon."
Until that day comes?
"I know this: These guys are going to fight their hearts out," Long said. "So stay with us everyone."
Miles to miss WVU contest
Miles, recovering from COVID-19, feels "healthy and strong" and has received clearance to travel but will not make the trip to Morgantown, W.Va. Tight ends coach/recruiting coordinator Joshua Eargle will serve as acting head coach against the Mountaineers.
"While my 10-day isolation window was completed (Friday) morning, there is too much still unknown about this virus for me to feel 100 percent confident that I won’t transmit it to someone who comes into close contact with me on the team charter, hotel or at the game Saturday," Miles said in a statement. "As we continue to work our way through this pandemic, nothing is more important than the health and safety of our players, coaches and staff that make up this great team. As the head coach, it is up to me to set the right example for our student-athletes, and that is what I am doing with this decision by not traveling with the team."
Miles, 66, said he has only experienced mild symptoms to this point. He added that he expects to rejoin the team in-person Sunday.
"This was a difficult thing for me to communicate with (the players), but we have had to make a lot of tough decisions throughout this pandemic and I feel that this is the best decision for the health and safety of our players and staff," Miles said. "As a head coach, I always want to put my players in position to play with confidence and I feel that by making this decision I am doing that."