LAWRENCE, Kan. — David Beaty inherited a football program in disarray when he arrived at Kansas, years of losing having left the Jayhawks short on scholarship players and long on fan apathy.
Not enough has changed over the past three-plus seasons.
So after a loss to Iowa State on Saturday in which the Jayhawks looked unprepared and uninspired, Beaty was let go with three games left in another disappointing season. The school announced the news in a statement Sunday, and athletic director Jeff Long planned a news conference later in the evening.
“After a thorough evaluation of the program, I believe that new leadership is necessary for our football team to move forward and compete at the highest level of the Big 12,” Long said. “I know that Coach Beaty cares deeply about his players, and I respect that. The student-athletes on this team have continued to play hard and I am confident they will do that for the rest of the season.”
Beaty, who is 6-39 with just two Big 12 wins, will coach the remainder of the season beginning with Saturday’s rivalry game at Kansas State. He will paid $3 million in six installments under terms of his contract, which was extended two years through 2021 in late 2016.
Long said he informed Beaty of his decision Sunday, though word began leaking late Saturday that the coach was on his way out. The AD then addressed the football team.
“The search for a new head coach will begin immediately,” Long said.
Beaty arrived at Kansas as a nondescript wide receivers coach from Texas A&M who had stints as the offensive coordinator of the Jayhawks and Rice but had never been a college head coach. The program he inherited was in shambles following the failed tenure of Turner Gill and the abject failure of Charlie Weis, but with an abundance of energy and positivity he began to slowly improve things.
Some of the Jayhawks’ best players, including freshman running back Pooka Williams, were lured to Lawrence despite the losing, and the roster itself is in much better shape.
But Beaty’s success on the recruiting path didn’t translate into enough wins.
Beaty won two games in Year 2 and one last season, and watched as then-AD Sheahon Zenger — the man who had hired him — was fired largely because of the football program’s struggles.
Long said upon his hiring this past summer he would spend the season evaluating the entirety of the program, and hired longtime administrator Mike Vollmar to help. And while Long routinely declined to address Beaty’s future, it became clear from week one that the coach’s job was in peril.
The Jayhawks opened the season with an overtime loss to lower-level Nichols State.
They rebounded to beat Central Michigan and Rutgers, but they lost four more noncompetitive games and Beaty decided to fire offensive coordinator Doug Meacham and take the job upon himself. Kansas upset TCU just over a week ago, but the rare Big 12 win hardly did anything to stir up the fanbase.
The announced crowd against Iowa State on Saturday was 15,543, and more than half were wearing Cyclones red. The embarrassing turnout combined with the poor performance may have been what ultimately sealed Beaty’s fate.
“It’s kind of disappointing,” said linebacker Joe Dineen Jr., a Lawrence native whose parents both graduated from Kansas. “When we come out here in Memorial Stadium and there’s more Iowa State fans than KU fans, I think that’s — to put it bluntly — that’s bull. It’s a home game, and we have one more home game left. I have one more game left in my career here and it’s not good.”
Beaty owned the team’s struggles afterward.
“We weren’t able to put enough points on the board, which like I said, that falls squarely on me. That’s unfortunate for our team,” he said. “I should have done a better job.”
Kansas has often been labeled a “basketball school,” and rightly so given the Jayhawks’ streak of 14 consecutive Big 12 titles. But while gridiron success has been fleeting, Mark Mangino proved as recently as the 2007 season that it is possible. Kansas went 12-1 and won the Orange Bowl that year.
That’s how many games the Jayhawks have won the past six seasons combined.
There have already been some potential coaches bandied about, including former Oklahoma State and LSU coach Les Miles and current North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren, a Kansas native who coached high school football in the Kansas City area and later served on Mangino’s staff.
Regardless, the next coach will take over a program at a crossroads. The roster is better-stocked than when Beaty came onboard, but a massive talent gap still exists. Fan apathy is at historically low levels. And the school is a year into a five-year, $350 million fundraising effort begun by Zenger that was supposed to earmark more than $300 million for much-needed renovations to Memorial Stadium.
There is a new indoor practice facility already under construction, though Long has said he is “reassessing” the rest of the fundraising plan. He explained in mid-September that he preferred to get the football program on solid footing before undertaking any major renovations.
The first step will be hiring a new coach.