(Editor's note: I do have a copy of the telephone interview with Bob Davis available. Normally I would post it but the quality isn't good enough that I want to do that. If you'd like to hear it, simply email me.
This interview took place on Monday afternoon, November 2, 2015.)
Well, Bob, first things first, let's talk about those Kansas City Royals. They're World Series Champions. Given the economics of MLB, it's something that I thought I would never see in my lifetime. You know a lot of the people over there, the broadcasters, front office people, some of the players. I have to imagine you're pretty thrilled for just about everybody over there. It's been an amazing experience over the past two years. How much did you enjoy this year just as a fan?
Well, a lot! It was great to follow the team all year, and of course the postseason run was absolutely fabulous. We got going into the postseason last year - we won 11 games each season and this year 11 was the perfect number because you didn't have a wild card game. They've had great success - obviously a lot of people worked hard, led by Dayton Moore and his staff to acquire talent and to build up the farm system and get some good international signings and free agents and put a group together that just fit. Apparently the team chemistry was outstanding. It was a group effort. There were a lot of games that were come-from-behind but those games made it even more fun.
Watching "hometown" players like Alex Gordon hit dramatic home runs in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 1 - that was definitely a big highlight of this year's World Series - I don't want to put you too much on the spot, but could you talk about some of your favorite Royals players, either currently or historically, that you've seen?
Well, certainly of this group, Alex would be right up there at the top of a Royal-filled career. And hopefully it will stay that way. Obviously he has an opportunity to pursue free agency. We'll see how that develops here in the next few weeks. It's hard to imagine him in any other uniform other than that of the Royals. It was great that he got that big home run. Of course he had a season where he was out of the lineup for a few weeks with the groin injury, but he came back and played very well and provided his usual leadership. Of the younger group of guys that came up through the farm system, like Moustakas and Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez, that's just a unique group. I've been around them a little bit when they came to the major leagues. And Sam, broadcasting for the Double-A team a few years ago was around those guys a lot, as well as some of the pitchers that have come through there, like Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy. And certainly Hochevar has been around a little while as a Royal guy all the way. That makes it fun when you have the homegrown talent. But you sprinkle in a couple of great trades. You get Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar in one deal, and then of course the deal that got James Shields that helped them turn it around last year, but also brought Wade Davis to the ballclub - those were very important moves as well.
These guys seem like they really have fun playing the game. I mean, I hear people comment all the time that they look like a bunch of kids out there running around. And that's gotta be a big factor, I would think, in just how well they're able to play together, you know, in all the close games that you mentioned. That's gotta have something to do with it, right? They just love playing together, they love playing baseball.
Well yeah, that's for sure. Of course some of the guys I mentioned played together in the minor leagues, and of course had won together in the minor leagues. Hosmer was a key guy in a Texas League champion team in Northwest Arkansas. They won in Omaha. They won down in the lower levels of class-A ball. So, not only did they develop together, they won together, and that's pretty important, because then you get the winning attitude that you don't just go out there and expect to lose, you go out there and expect to win, and that's pretty characteristic of this team.
What did you think of the announcement that the Jayhawks and Pittsburg State would push back their game a day to avoid the potential Game 7 conflict?
Yeah, I thought it was a good idea. But of course now that's not going to happen. But I thought it was a good thing to plan because everybody would want to see both things. And that wouldn't be very possible. So that was a good idea that they could accommodate, as long at Pittsburg State was agreeable and I'm sure they were, because it's a short trip for them and they don't have to plan travel in advance like you do a longer road trip. So, I'm glad it worked out the way it did and we'll have the basketball game Wednesday night.
Well, let's look ahead to basketball! Now that the schedule has turned to November, we both know that means KU basketball is ready for another season. Among other things, Bill Self is on the record saying he'd like to see Perry Ellis play at an All-American level this year. What are you looking for out of this upcoming edition of KU basketball?
It's going to be an interesting team. Also it's a very talented team. But a little different twist in that not only is it a talented team, but it's a veteran team. And you don't see that a lot nowadays with the elite programs because with the guys that are either one-and-done or two year players or whatever. But that'll be - let's see, three seniors and four juniors, as I count them up quickly - in what could be the rotation. But that's going to have a lot of experience as well as talent. Of course they've got some good, exciting young freshmen I think they'll be mixing in there. But I like the idea of having good, talented players that have a lot of experience.
Speaking of talented incoming freshmen, Coach Self seems to have assembled a championship-caliber club even if Cheick Diallo isn't cleared anytime soon by the NCAA. And if he's not cleared, should that change our expectations for Kansas this season?
Well it probably won't. Because, expectations for a program like Kansas are pretty much the same every year. Obviously he's a heckuva talent and they hope to have him available here relatively soon. But I think that whoever's on that roster when the season actually starts, those same expectations will be there.
Okay. Talk a little bit about the Champions Classic, the event that brings KU, Michigan State, Kentucky, and Duke together every winter. Seems like it's a great event not only for college basketball but for the four teams involved.
Well it really is. Those four programs have been so solid over the years, and we've seen some great games - now KU, remember, caught a Kentucky team last year - but we've seen some great games in that event. The win over Duke a couple of years ago, they had a great game with Michigan State - so that's a great way to kick off the season. It's not quite the first game, but it's right after the regular-season opener with Northern Colorado. But it's a real highlight in the early-season college basketball schedule nationally.
Yeah, definitely. I know I look forward to it every year - it's almost like an exhibition, you get to see these great teams early in the season, and just kinda see how far you have to go until March. Speaking of great teams, Wichita State is returning a bunch of guys this year. Think back a little bit for us - how did the Shockers beat Kansas last year, and if they were to meet up again this March, who do you think would have an edge?
Well, it would be interesting to have happen. Certainly Wichita was very strong last year. They were playing well and they certainly deserved the victory. Perry Ellis was not 100% but tried to play, and did some things in that game, but I tell ya, Wichita State on that day was the better team and they've had a tremendous run the last three years and have established themselves as a legitimate national program. And I'm sure with the guards that they have back from last year - VanVleet, Baker - they just have great players, and they'll be the odds on favorite to win the Missouri Valley and I think they'll have a chance to make another deep run in March.
How do you think they would stack up against Kansas?
Well, I dunno, let's see how the season progresses. Wichita's got some newer players that I don't really know anything about outside of their veteran guys. They'll have some new guys to fit in there. So, let's let them play for three or four months and maybe we'll have the opportunity to find out.
Okay, you got it! What's your favorite Big 12 basketball venue to visit?
Allen Fieldhouse! Or do you mean away from home?
Well, yeah, away from home, yeah.
Well, I don't know if I really have a favorite... Hilton Coliseum is a great place to play. It's always electric that day. Oklahoma now under Lon Kruger has revived their program, and that's gonna be an exciting place. Staying in Oklahoma, old Gallagher-Iba Arena is a unique venue. We'll see a new venue this year in Fort Worth for TCU. Every time the Jayhawks go on the road, it seems like the opponent has their biggest crowd of the year. It'll be a huge crowd down in Austin, Texas. And West Virginia, now, they're kind of establishing themselves as a permanent member of this league, and it's a wild, involved, frantic crowd when you go to Morgantown. So there's a lot of interesting places to visit. It's just a tough basketball conference - the Big 12 is tough in all sports. Any time you go on the road - they say the toughest thing in college basketball is winning on the road in your own conference, and I sure think that will be the case this year.
Will you be joining the basketball team in Hawaii over Thanksgiving or are you gonna stay in Lawrence for the K-State game?
I'll be doing both.
Yeah, I'll go back and forth. I'll make it out to Hawaii and then get back, wrap up football and... yeah, it's gonna be a busy week. I hope I have time for turkey!
I'm sure you'll find some, somewhere! Let's see - the last time we spoke with you, we talked about, speaking of football, the tough schedule that Coach Beaty and the Jayhawks have, and that wins would be difficult to come by this year. You see and talk to Coach every week, I think. With the season more than half over at this point, he's still saying all the right things to "the media," but how do you think he's really handling the season the way it's unfolded so far?
Well he doesn't like losing, certainly, but they're picking up some smaller victories along the way. They're still having good competition in practice, although they're getting very thin at some of the positions. They're playing a lot of young players. They started two freshman offensive tackles the other day against Oklahoma. They're now playing a freshman quarterback. But the good part about that is, these guys are being thrown into it but they're getting a lot of early experience that they otherwise wouldn't have had. Maybe that will speed the development a little bit. But it's all about players. You can coach them as well as you can, but you've got to get some players. The numbers are down, and hopefully a couple more recruiting classes will help that situation. But it's a slow process - it is a process, but it takes a little time.
Speaking of some of those young players, Coach Beaty certainly seems to have found something in freshman QB Ryan Willis. He's got the big arm, he seems poised, he looks like he's having fun out there playing the game no matter what the score is. Just kind of talk a little bit about Ryan and what you've seen out of him, and how that bodes for Kansas in the next couple of years.
Well he's got a chance to be a real good quarterback. Obviously, he needs to be protected by the offensive line. But he hangs in there. He's got a great throwing arm, great touch. He looks the part, he's 6'4" about 210, 212, somewhere in that range. So I think as he develops, he's playing under fire right now, but he's hanging in there, he shows poise, and I think he's got a chance to be a real good player down the road.
Our next opponent, the Texas Longhorns, they've certainly had their struggles this year, but they also pretty much dominated Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl to pick up a big win in their rivalry game there. The Jayhawks have struggled in road games for basically the past six years. Do you have any idea why, is there something you can point to?
Well, for one thing, you're playing really good teams, and it's always tough to win on the road. And this will be a tough circumstance - not only to go on the road, but to play at 7 PM at night. You don't do that much anymore. Most of the games are at 11 AM or 2:30 or maybe even 6 PM, but this will be a 7 PM game.
Texas is kinda hard for me to figure. They get the win that they had over Oklahoma, and then the other day they lose at Iowa State. Nothing against Iowa State, but people expected Texas to win that game but that was a big win for the Cyclones. But, you've got an opportunity every week, you've got nothing to lose, just go out there and play as hard as you can and see what happens. Kansas, in the history of the Big 12, has had some pretty good games at times against Texas, primarily in Lawrence. It's always interesting to go to Austin and play in that stadium that seats about 100,000.
Try and paint us a picture of how KU goes down to Austin and comes home with their first win of 2015.
Well, you've got to play really an almost perfect game. You've got to get some turnovers. You've gotta manage the game well. YOU can't turn it over. You just have to keep the mistakes to a minimum. Try to avoid penalties. There are a lot of things you can do. Of course, the other team is out there on the field as well. We'll see how that all works out. Hopefully they can win some of those little battles and you know they played a great comparative game this year against Texas Tech - they got some stops on defense; if they can do that, they have a chance to hang in that ballgame.
What's your favorite Big 12 football stadium to visit?
Hmm. I dunno if I really have a favorite one. Favorite to me really comes down to the type of press box they have and how the working conditions are. If that's the criteria, certainly Texas Tech would be one of my favorites. The new stadium at Waco for the Baylor Bears is a very nice setup as well, like our situation is in Memorial Stadium in Lawrence. The new stadium at Kanas State has a good view of the ballgame. You know, I like to have a good view and a good place to work, and those places would all qualify.
There ya go. Let's switch gears here a little bit and talk about Sheahon Zenger. It's hard to believe he's been on the job for almost five years. Under his tenure, the softball and volleyball programs have reached new highs, baseball has been more competitive, and I think even sports like soccer, golf, tennis, track and field, swimming and diving - all of those are seeing more success. What can you tell us about Dr. Zenger and how his leadership has affected KU Athletics in general?
Well, he's a real positive guy. He's a football guy. A sports guy. But also an academician. He's "Dr." Zenger. I've known him since he was in high school - his dad was a college professor. So he understands the relationship between academia and athletics. And he understands the role of athletics. Certainly one of his priorities now is to get football up and running, and hopefully the hiring of David Beaty and this current staff will help in that regard. But he also is interested in the other sports, and I think you can point at almost all of the programs right now as having a good year of success. Certainly volleyball is something that's jumped into the forefront this year with their great start. There was a women's track and field national championship not too long ago - a lot of good things in some of the other sports. You mentioned softball, and baseball, and some of the others. He's concerned about the student-athlete, the relationship they have and the opportunities they have as a college athlete. I think he really sees the whole picture. He was a college athlete himself, he's a native Kansan, so he certainly understands where he is and what's important to people at KU.
Speaking of that volleyball team, have you managed to catch any of the matches this fall? Coach Bechard really has that program rolling, and he's got a core of sophomores that get a lot of playing time, and it just seems poised to keep going for the next couple of years.
Yeah, my wife and I are season ticket holders and we enjoy going to the matches. She never misses, or rarely misses. I miss if I'm out of town for football or basketball or something, but yeah, we really enjoy it. I think it's a great sport, and they're really playing at a high level.
Well, that's mostly all I had for you this afternoon, Bob. But once again, we'd like to end with a couple of "fun" questions again real quick, if you would like to indulge us.
What was your first W-2 job?
Uh. Probably working in a clothing store, back in Topeka in the ‘60s.
What's your favorite TV show of all-time?
Favorite tv show of all time....
Could be a current show, could be an old show...
Um. Maybe the Wild Wild West.
Alright. Last question: Will you be heading over to Kansas City tomorrow for the World Series parade and festivities?
No, I've got football stuff to do tomorrow, it's David Beaty's press conference day and all of that, but I'll probably watch it on television. 30 years ago, when they had the victory for that, I had the broadcast on KMBZ in Kansas City. So, it'll be kinda reminiscent of that. It'll be the same parade route.
Well, enjoy the broadcast! Thanks for your time this afternoon, I really appreciate it.