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Beware The Interim Coach

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Clint Bowen has replaced Charlie Weis-- for the time being. Now the evaluation process begins.

Cooper Neill

Charlie Weis is out, defensive coordinator Clint Bowen is in, and for the first time since 2001, when Tom Hayes replaced Terry Allen for the final three games of the season (going 1-2 with a -88 point differential), the KU football program has an interim coach.

Here's why I'm not a big fan of interim coaches, and why I've gone on the record saying that I would've liked to see Charlie keep his job until the end of the season:  It's too easy to manipulate the narrative of an interim coach's performance after the fact.  If the team shows any hint of success, the story becomes how the players rallied around their new coach and finally started playing to their potential, once Fired Coach X was out of the picture.  If the interim coach struggles, there is a litany of built-in excuses just ready to be recited.  He didn't have enough time to prepare.  The players were shocked by the sudden firing of the previous coach and weren't ready to play.  His system couldn't be installed properly.  The players were recruited to play a different kind of system.  The quality of players wasn't high enough, and that is the fault of the coach who recruited them.  And so on.  The waters can become muddied pretty quick when you're trying to properly gauge what kind of effect the interim coach had.

This line of reasoning, in which the outcome drives the thought process retroactively, ignores the possibility that maybe this team was going to turn it around anyway.  Weis only got four games with this year's team, and while they were an ugly four games, the bottom line is that KU was 2-2.  Did we really expect to be much better than that at this point?  Yeah, it would've been cool to give Duke a battle, and Texas was ripe to be upset this year....but if we would've been told before the year that KU would be 3-1 or 4-0 after four games, the vast majority of us would've been doing cartwheels.  If Weis really only had until the end of September to turn this thing around, then Zenger might as well have just fired him after last season.

It also discounts the possibility of the fool's gold known as Small Sample Size.  (Admittedly, giving Bowen eight games, rather than three or four, helps quite a bit.)  For a recent example of this scenario, one must only look down the road to Kansas City, when Romeo Crennel parlayed three decent games in the Chiefs' interim role in 2011 into a permanent job.....and a 2-14 crapfest the next season.  Bowen, like Crennel (and virtually every interim coach in the history of mid-season coaching changes), was part of the same coaching staff that oversaw the brutal performance that led to the head guy getting axed, and that has to count for something.

Now, having said all that, am I saying that Clint Bowen is absolutely not going to be the answer?  Not necessarily.  He's definitely bringing some positives to the table.  Being a local guy for virtually his entire life, his love of Lawrence and the University of Kansas is legitimate -- it's not the grandstanding of a newly hired coach who is just spouting off the standard buzzwords to appease the media while he goes home and sees how long it takes him count to 12,500,000.

All I'm saying is let's be careful with our evaluation of Bowen's work over the next two months.  In the event that KU makes some major strides and/or wins some games, there's certainly nothing wrong with a little (or in the event of multiple conference wins, maybe a lot) of excitement-- but our thinking needs to be prospective, not retrospective.  I'm hoping that Zenger and the deep-pocketed boosters who will be helping to cut the next check feel the same way when they're making the permanent head coach decision.