Ah, to be young again. Back in the fall of 2009, Lady Gaga was topping the charts, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was tearing up the box office, and the Old Navy in Lawrence hadn't closed yet, so I could still reliably buy clothes for myself. Additionally, the recent past, the present, and the future of KU football all looked bright. The Jayhawks had just won bowl games in back-to-back years. They were 5-0 and ranked #17 in the nation. And there was no reason to believe any of it would stop any time soon.
And then disaster struck. Amid accusations of improper treatment of players by Coach Mangino, the '09 season finished with seven consecutive losses. Mangino was given a ticket on the next train out of town....although his ride was probably pretty comfy, cushioned by the millions and millions of dollars from his buyout. I've heard it's actually fairly comfortable, if you stack them right.
Since then, the football program has been a dumpster fire. We don't need to rehash the grisly statistics, we all know them....let's just say KU football has reached embarrassing lows, just six years after reaching the highest of the highs.
So how did we get from where we were to where we are? Among other little factors, there have been four big coaching decisions, the key turning points of this time frame: Firing Mangino; hiring Turner Gill; firing Gill; and hiring Charlie Weis.
Let's say you're Marty McFly for a day, and you've got the keys to the DeLorean. You can go back to any point in the last five years and alter the Kansas football program in some way-- but only ONE way. There's no time to do anything else, like invent the modern version of skateboarding, or introduce rock 'n' roll to a bunch of high school kids (including Chuck Berry's cousin MARVIN! MARVIN BERRY!) Like Marty trying to get his parents to fall in love at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance, you only have one shot. You can only change one coaching decision from the recent past to try and put KU football back on the right track.
You could choose not to fire Mangino. I'm torn on this one. On one hand, some of the accusations against him were pretty ugly. On the other hand.....Orange Bowl. Overall winning record. 3-1 record in bowls. I dunno. He definitely lost control of the team during the losing streak in '09, but was that due to the swirling allegations, or had he already lost their respect? I suppose, in the end, Mangino probably had to go. But I'd listen to arguments here.
You could choose not to hire Turner Gill. There was some decent interest in the KU job at this juncture. Two seasons removed from an Orange Bowl victory, much-improved facilities, and a decent recruiting class awaited the potential applicants. And some of the names that were being floated around during this search reflected the promise that this job held. Jim Harbaugh, Brian Kelly, Kevin Sumlin, and Houston Nutt, among others. But in the end, it was the first man interviewed, Turner Gill, who got the job. We'll come back to this one.
You could choose not to fire Gill. Personally, I have never talked to anybody who would select this option, but I know they're out there lurking in comment sections around the interwebs. Maybe Gill deserved a better chance. Maybe two years wasn't enough time. Maybe it really was a cool move to take the last names off the back of the jerseys. You'd have a hard time convincing me of any of that, though. I don't care how good his win-loss record before and after his time at Kansas is.
You could choose not to hire Charlie Weis. After two years of the Turner Gill Experience, there was a notable decline in the quality of names that were realistic hires at this point. After former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach dropped out, Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn was probably the biggest name left among the likely candidates....until Charlie Weis seemingly came out of nowhere. At the time, I LOVED the hire. I didn't necessarily think that we would be back in the high life immediately the next season or anything-- but I thought that if nothing else, at least there would be some buzz around the program again. Hiring a coach who has won Super Bowls and held the head job at one of the most pressure-filled institutions in the country is a tad more exciting than hiring Wisconsin's offensive coordinator, or the head coach from Northern Effing Illinois. Admittedly, this is a shaky rationale, but whatever. I'm not ready to bail on Charlie just yet.
However, even the biggest drinkers of the Charlie Weis Kool-Aid (while we're on the subject, Weis has almost the exact build of the Kool-Aid Man, and I can't be the only one who's made that comparison) would have to concede that his tenure has been a major, major disappointment thus far. There has been virtually no improvement in two full seasons (plus two games).
And so here we stand, asking the fan base who they would want the theoretical new head coach to be, or what they would go back in recent history to change.
So. If I'm the one going back in time to undo one decision, I'm choosing to not hire Turner Gill. That was KU's chance to strike while the iron was semi-hot, and keep the program moving forward. I'm not saying we were guaranteed to get Harbaugh or anything like that, but I feel there were better candidates out there than Gill. At that point, there was only seven games of negative momentum-- a scenario that feels like a lifetime ago. If Kansas makes a better hire right then, maybe that half-season of disappointment doesn't spiral into 4 1/2 seasons and counting.
Or maybe I'd return to 2014 to find that Biff Tannen has used his gambling winnings from a stolen sports almanac to turn Lawrence into a grim dystopia. As long as the Jayhawks were winning more than two games a season, it might be worth it.