I am pleased to again bring you Bob Davis, long-time KU broadcaster, 13-time Kansas Sportscaster of the Year recipient, and Kansas Association of Broadcasters Hall of Famer. This is the second time I've had the opportunity to speak with Bob - you can check out the previous interview here.
(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. Also, if you know of a really good call recording app for Android, let me know, as apparently I need a better one.)
Alright, I'm here with Bob Davis, the voice of the Kansas Jayhawks, and Bob, the 2015 football season is upon us. From what we've seen so far, it looks like KU fans finally have reasons to be optimistic about the direction and future of the football program. The season might be a little rough anyway in the win/loss category. Can you just talk a little about David Beaty and his staff?
Well, David Beaty was on staff before, he was on the Mark Mangino staff and he worked for Turner Gill for a year, so he's been here and knows the territory. And of course he saw the football team reach great heights, winning the Orange Bowl victory and so on. But he's put a lot of energy, he's hired a coaching staff that is as energetic as he is. They've worked hard. They face the task of trying to beef up their numbers. And they lost some really good players even though it wasn't a great season record-wise last year, they lost some NFL draft picks. So there are holes to fill and things to do, but I tell ya, these guys have been working hard, and they've been all around the state telling the story. So I think, from an energy standpoint, it looks really good.
Well, they definitely have a tough schedule in front of them coming up for their first season. What do you expect to see out of the Jayhawks this year, what do you want to see out of the Jayhawks this year?
Well I think what you want to see is great effort. And that sounds like a cliché, but it's certainly part of it. You can't just go through the motions; you've got to go out and really compete. I think they have some guys that will certainly attempt to do that. Now, the numbers thing will play a little in this - there are not a lot of guys with major college experience. But, that can be good or bad. These coaches can coach to the way they want to play, and hopefully they can have a little good fortune on their side. But it will be a tough challenge. Anytime you're playing in a conference like the Big 12, a "Power-5" conference, it's tough. Also, there are three non-conference opponents that are gonna be a test as well. South Dakota State was in the FCS playoffs last year, Memphis had a 10-win season, Rutgers is an up and coming team in the Big 10 and that's a game on the road, so, it's not a soft schedule by any stretch.
Definitely not. You just mentioned the thin numbers - the scholarship numbers are way down, there's lots of new faces, there's dozens of walk-ons. Does that make your preparation before the season more difficult? Can you give us an idea of what you do to prepare yourself in the weeks leading up to the season?
I mean, anytime you have a team that's got a big turnover, and that's the case, there are a handful of guys who were here and who played a role in the last couple of years - but a lot of new names and lot of young players. So yeah, that all goes into it. But I think every time you start a football season it's a numbers game, and you've got to get into that and find out who's who and who plays where and so on. It's a lot different than basketball, where you know, where eight or ten guys might be the prominent role players. But you've got offense, defense, special teams, that's just part of it, and you deal with that every week.
What was your first season of broadcasting KU football? Do you have any idea how long you'd like to keep doing this?
1984 was my first. I've looked for an expiration date - I don't think one is on tap. But, it's been a great run, I've enjoyed the whole thing, we've had a lot of great experiences, a lot of high moments certainly. A couple of national championships in basketball are highlights, and the eight final four appearances. I'll never forget the 2008 Orange Bowl and what a great, great time that was. So there's been a lot of high spots. But you don't have any control over how the games come out, so I really love that, as hopefully an entertaining reporter.
Talk about the Oklahoma game in 1984. It was one of the biggest upsets in program history, and goes to show that "any given Saturday" you never know what you might see.
That's exactly right. Danny Bradley (OU quarterback) was hurt and didn't play, and their (backup) guy became an NFL Hall-of-Famer played (Troy Aikman) but he was not an option quarterback. KU got an early touchdown and got some momentum going. They didn't warm up on the field prior to the game; they were in the new Schaffer Hall (Auditorium) indoor facility. And because they were there, they got over there and just kinda showed up at the last minute. So, a lot of things happened. That was the second year for Mike Gottfried as coach. And it was a really fun, exciting ballgame, and certainly an early highlight for us covering KU football.
Speaking of underdogs, Ben Heeney has really been impressing for Oakland in NFL preseason games. He certainly seems to have the motor an NFL linebacker needs. Can you tell us a little about Ben and just how much fun it was watching him play defense the last couple years?
Oh, what a player. Even though the team didn't have great success, Ben Heeney was a super player. I was interested to see where he'd go in the NFL and he shows up with the Oakland Raiders. That might be just a super spot for him. It's not very close to home, obviously, but boy he brings such ability and relentlessness at the linebacker spot. It's gonna be fun to follow him.
We've got some guys on the Denver Broncos to keep track of, we've got Darrell Stuckey with the Chargers, so there's some Jayhawks on the AFC West and we'll be able to see those guys quite a bit this year.
Let's go ahead and get to Saturday's game against South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits are coming off of a very strong season last year and are still looking for their first-ever win over an FBS team. Can you preview them for us and what KU fans can expect to see from their opponents on Saturday?
Well they've got a program that's well established. Their head coach, this is his 19th year as the head coach, Coach Stiegelmeier. So he's got things established. I've been looking at their roster; they've got as you'd expect a lot of players from the Dakotas, and Minnesota, and Iowa, and Nebraska. But they've got kids from Arizona, California, Florida on their team, it's been kind of an interesting recruiting strategy. But I think that happens when you get a coaching staff that's in style and been there a long time and they have their system going. And right there, they have to battle the likes of North Dakota State, a repeat champion at their level, and so two of their losses last year were to North Dakota State. They also had a quality game with Missouri. So, well, this is a team that you just have to prepare for because they're gonna be pretty solid.
Finish this thought for me: Kansas beats South Dakota State if...
Well I think they have a great chance, I don't know that there are any sure things. But if they can avoid some mistakes, avoid first game penalties, and that kind of stuff, and be fundamentally sound - there's another cliché for you - but do that, don't turn the ball over, they'll have a great chance to get a victory. But it certainly doesn't figure to be easy.
Since it's always basketball season in Lawrence, let's switch gears. Were you able to catch any of the World University Games? If so, what were your impressions of the guys?
Boy, I thought that was a great achievement considering the fact they were without some guys that will be in their rotation this year. But they had a couple of guys come from other programs, and there was just, I thought, a great victory. We saw Mason play well, we saw Selden play well, and some other guys also. What a great thing to build team chemistry and to come away with gold medals, that's an experience those kids will remember the rest of their lives. I think that gives maybe a little of a jump start as you look ahead to October and practice coming and the start of a new season. But I think that was just a great experience for those kids, and it's always fun to win, and to win on the international stage is even more special.
Definitely! Coach Self looks to have assembled a Top 10, maybe even a Top 5 team regardless of whether or not incoming recruit Cheick Diallo is cleared by the NCAA. Last time we spoke, you mentioned that you always look forward to basketball season, but this coming season seems to have the makings of being really special, doesn't it?
Well we've had some special ones, we've had several Final Four trips, and some other teams that were certainly good enough to do that. That's a long time - you start practicing in the first of October and you go all the way to the first of April - so that's a long, long run, and you have to have a couple of things: you gotta be a really good team and you gotta have a little good fortune. But when those things come together, special things can happen, and we've seen that.
Speaking of really special seasons, I believe you broadcast Royals games for 17 years. Are you still a big Royals fan? How much fun and how amazing was the postseason run last year?
Oh yeah, I'm a big fan. Of course I still know some of the players and some of the broadcasters and people in the front office. It's been great. Last year was just electric and that wild card game was a game for the ages. And now here they are 30 games over .500 with about 30 games to go, and there are a lot of exciting times. And there again, you gotta be playing well at the right time, and it looks like they will have a playoff spot unless something weird happens. Playing well in postseason and get hot like they did last year, and that makes it really special. They were just so, so close to winning it all, and it will be interesting this year as well.
Think they have a pretty good chance to get back to the World Series this year then?
Well, probably. You're gonna have to win two series, but if they play like they have during the season they certainly will. Starting pitching is so important and hopefully Johnny Cueto will be ready to go in the Postseason if they're fortunate enough to be there. Yordano Ventura and Edinson Volquez and if the bullpen stays good and avoid major injuries - a lot of things - one thing about it, you get into the playoffs, those are teams that have all done something to get there. So, last year was pretty incredible to win that wild card game and then sweep the Angels, the team that had the best record in the American League, and then sweep the Orioles, in the American League Championship Series. One thing - if they can have the best record, which they do right now in the American League, they would have home field advantage in those series, and that certainly doesn't hurt to play in Kaufman Stadium.
If definitely does not; it could only help them, I would think. They have such a great homefield advantage there.
I'd like to go ahead and ask you about your thoughts on college athletics as a whole. Since you've been broadcasting KU events, the economics of the game has changed considerably - they're giving players a stipend now, there's talk of unionization, naming right for video games - can you just kind of talk about the changes that have come to college athletics recently and give some thoughts.
Well, those that love college athletics, love college athletics. But if you're realistic, it's big business. The likes of TV dollars and lots of things on the line, there's still something special about college athletics. Pro sports are fun too, but there's so much loyalty people have to their alma mater, or even a school they didn't go to, and I think those loyalties make college sports what it is. I like all the college sports; of course I cover football and basketball primarily, but college baseball and volleyball and track and field and soccer and softball, it's a full athletic program, and it gives a lot of kids an opportunity to go to college. And if they don't waste that opportunity - not every kid that, by a long shot, that's participating in college sports is gonna be a professional athlete - but the college opportunity and so on and the dividends it can pay down the road can be pretty special.
Fans, sportswriters, etc are always bringing up conference realignment. Even though it's been fairly quiet for the Big 12 since the last big wave in 2012, can you give us your take on how it's affected KU either positively, negatively, or otherwise?
Well, there certainly were some changes. I like the Big 12, even though there's been maybe a little criticism about not having a football championship game. But I like the round-robin schedules we have in the sports. It's like the old Big 8, you play everybody every year and double round-robin in basketball. I think that's terrific. Obviously the realignment certainly stopped some long-running rivalries like Kansas and Missouri, which was one of the longest rivalries in the country. KU and Nebraska also had a long run. You hate to see that happen because they're geographic rivals, but I guess that's the reality of today, and we still have a real good conference and good rivalries in that conference, but it took a little while to get used to that.
So do you think the Big 12 pretty solid the way it is now, or are there more changes coming?
Who knows? It seems to be solid. The commissioner seems to be doing a good job. But I think you have to keep your eyes open and see what changes might be on the horizon and be ahead of the curve, as they say. Right now, the TV money is good, a lot of good things are happening. But never say never, the only constant is change, probably. So we'll stay tuned for that, but right now we'll enjoy the ballgames.
Yep! Alright, Bob, well let me ask you two more quick questions and we'll let you go. For our last two questions, we like to have a little fun - so if you'd indulge us a little bit, when you were a kid, what was your favorite dinosaur?
I don't know if I knew much about the dinosaurs - maybe the big one with the long neck? That was at all the Sinclair gas stations. That's the one I was most aware of...
There ya go, so like, a brontosaurus or something.
And finally, in your opinion, is a hot dog a sandwich?
I think a hot dog is a hot dog. You know? It's so unique, it's in a hot dog bun, and it's got its own shape, and you put mustard on it. I think ham makes a ham sandwich, or roast beef or something like that, I think a hot dog is a hot dog.
Alright, that's perfect.
Alright Bob, thanks so much for joining us again, it's definitely a pleasure speaking with you. We hope you a good call on Saturday, and hopefully the Jayhawks will start the football season off on the right foot. We'd definitely love to see a packed house out there to welcome Coach Beaty back to Lawrence.
You bet. Ok, Mike!
Ok, thanks Bob!