This is Mike with Rock Chalk Talk, and I’m catching up with Bob Davis, the former voice of the Kansas Jayhawks.
Bob, it’s good to talk to you again! It's been about 5 months or so since your final call for KU, that tough loss to Villanova back in the Elite 8. How has retirement been treating you, what have you been up to?
Oh, I’ve been on the road a lot, visiting various places around the country and around the state of Kansas, played with our grandchildren quite a bit, so it’s been a kind of a laid back time.
Good deal! While we're on the subject of basketball, let's wrap up the basketball season. Bill Self is losing an incredible group of guys, Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden, Brannen Greene, Cheick Diallo. Just kind of talk about last season in general and what you'll remember most about last year's team.
Winning another conference championship, certainly! It’s almost – it’s very habit forming, but it’s not easy to do, to win 12 in a row, that’s a pretty remarkable feat. And then to win the conference tournament and get to the Elite 8. They lost a tough game to the eventual national champion in ‘Nova, they really had a great team and they were hot at the right time. It was another great year; whenever you lose in the tournament, it stings and I’ve always maintained they all hurt. I think that Elite 8 loss is as tough as any of them. So you start over, get some new guys in, got some guys coming back, and they’re gonna be ready to write another chapter this year.
So, speaking of getting some new guys in, Brian Hanni will be taking over in the booth for you. This is a guy who is a Kansas native, went to KU, he’s been doing football and basketball for Texas Tech the past couple of years. Have you had a chance to talk to Brian since he came back to Lawrence, or do you have any advice for him?
No, he doesn’t need any advice from me; I’ve not talked to him. Actually, he just did basketball at Texas Tech, he was not their football announcer. But he’s done a lot of college basketball, he’s a KU guy, from Topeka, which of course is just down the Turnpike. So he’s in familiar territory. He was working at the station here in Lawrence for several years before he went to Lubbock.
Right. We're less than three weeks away from the first football game, and David Beaty is in the middle of fall camp with a fresh group of recruits. Despite the 0-12 record last year, how impressed are you with Beaty and the talent that he seems to be bringing into Lawrence?
I’ve always liked David, he was here a couple of times on earlier staffs. Obviously it’s different when you’re the head coach, but he brings a lot of energy and excitement. But this is a tough rebuilding job; they all are, but particularly in football where it is such a numbers game. But they’re building up their numbers slowly but surely, and getting more depth. They need depth and they need talent. It comes down to recruiting. He’s got a staff that seems to be pretty adept at that. I don’t really believe there’s a quick fix in football, like the fact that there is in basketball but the numbers are so much different. You get a couple of big-time recruits to turn a basketball program, but in football you need more than just one or two guys.
I think they’re heading in the right direction from all I can tell, but 0-12 last year, there’s no place to go but up hopefully. And so we’ll know here in a couple three weeks and start getting an idea of how things shake out. I don’t know if they’ve made a decision yet on the starting quarterback. But they’ve got a couple of good candidates, guys with some experience. But the big thing is the offensive line, the defensive line, not only the starters, but to build up some quality depth.
The Jayhawks were close to a few conference wins last year - TCU and Texas Tech specifically. What are some conference games that you're looking forward to? What opponents are you excited to see how well KU matches up against this fall?
Well, any of them – there’s a couple of really good teams in the league. I think there’s some balance. Obviously Kansas was at the bottom of the league last year, but you know a couple years ago they beat West Virginia. When things break right, you have a chance to win and I do think they will be better, I just don’t know how that translates to the number of victories at this point. I think they’ll compete hard. You’ve gotta have the depth, because it’s such a grind, 12 games against quality opponents all the time, particularly when you get to conference play. Hopefully there’s enough youth and exuberance on this team to keep them hanging in there as they make this process work.
So overall, what would you say you are looking for out of the football team this year?
I don’t know that I can put a number on it, but you want to see improvement, obviously you’d like to see them put some in the victory column. When you go winless that really stings. Hopefully they can get some games this year. But be competitive. That sounds like a cliché, but have some games that even when you don’t win, you’re competitive for four quarters. That was not the case in some games last year. They had some games where they were competitive and came up short, but they had some other games that got pretty ugly early. They need to turn that around. Be competitive first and then start worrying about how many games you can win. Just go a week at a time, get these guys some experience, get in another recruiting class after this, and keep building on that.
So, over at RockChalkTalk, we're running a bracket to determine the greatest Kansas football player of All-Time. There’s been all kinds of great talent over the decades; I know it's a bit of a tall order, but if you could just talk about some of the great players that you've personally seen or maybe some specific plays that really stand out to you in your time in the booth?
In my era, obviously there’s been some good players, several guys playing in the NFL right now, Chris Harris and Aqib Talib, and some others like that who have been pro bowlers and have been on championship teams. I think the guys that have been really good like that have been guys who came to Kansas somewhat under the radar, maybe not great ballyhooed recruits but developed and got better and better and then earned a spot in the NFL and where they are now.
I’ve seen some great players. Just pound for pound, how could you not talk about Todd Reesing, and what he brought to KU football while he was here? Or some of the receivers like Briscoe or Kerry Meier that he threw to. Those guys were really good players. Football maybe is the ultimate team game – they’re all team games, but you can have a great quarterback but if you can’t protect him, it doesn’t matter. So we’ve had a handful of really good players, some guys that have gone on and done well at the professional level. And you kind of lean on that right now, to show it can be done here at Kansas. It’s great to have some of those guys come back right now, like to the Spring Game and things like that and help the current players and give them a little feel for the history.
Yeah, I definitely remember that game at Arrowhead, the Reesing to Meier game in the snow there.
Ha ha, me too!
The call you had, it was just so emotional –
Yeah, that was a good one!
It was just so much fun, I’ll never forget it.
Ok, so, Big 12 expansion is once again a hot topic. I don't suppose we could get you to comment on your thoughts as to whether or not the conference should consider adding schools?
Well, I don’t know what the political aspects of that are or how they are with the broadcast partners, so you’ve got to proceed cautiously with that. It seems to be - the flavor of the month is pro-expansion right now. I don’t know if that means two or four, I assume it probably means two, getting the 10 up to 12, and then maybe going back to divisions. There’s lots of money to be had with the broadcast rights involved there. But I think they need to proceed with caution. Be sure you get two or whatever it is, two or four good members that bring something – a big fan base, lots of TV sets, are competitive.
People early on thought West Virginia was kind of an odd addition, but I tell ya, they fit in really pretty well. It’s a state university, they’re very competitive in all sports, and I’ve talked to their guys, they still are tickled to be in this conference. So you’ve gotta find somebody that fits in and is competitive can bring a passionate fanbase like the one in Morgantown. So I think that has worked out pretty well. So we’ll see what happens now.
You hear all these names of possible schools, and I have no clue as to who would be leading that race. Brigham Young has a national fanbase, very strong in football traditionally. I don’t know where Houston would stand, being another Texas school. Obviously they fit in the footprint of the conference. But there’s some other teams, other schools, that we’ve heard about, you know, like Cincinnati or Memphis or fill-in-the-name of the school. I think it is a great sign that a lot of teams would like to be in this conference.
Well let's change gears real quick - the volleyball program just received its highest ever preseason ranking. I know you're a big fan, I've seen you at the games; how excited are you for KU volleyball this year?
Oh, sky high! The girls were over the other night delivering our season tickets. Boy, Ray Bechard has just done a tremendous job here with the program and all of his assistant coaches. What a fabulous run last year, to go out there to California and beat USC and get to the Final Four. All four teams at the Final Four were from the Central Time Zone, and KU only lost to the top two teams, Nebraska and Texas.
That’s a heckuva year, and they return a couple of All-Americans and All-Conference performers. They look like they’ll be very strong again, but it’ll be different, once you – I think Bill Self can testify to this – you prove that you’re a big-time, well known, you go to a Final Four and that stuff, nobody looks past you anymore, not that they did before, but suddenly you’re the one everybody is gunning for. So it will be interesting to see how they react to being in that position. I think they’ll be fine; they’ve got good players and good coaching. And then the Horejsi Center, not a big building, it’s a little over 2,000 I think, but boy it’s a tough place for visitors to come in and play. And that’s something on their side as well.
Definitely! Well Bob, I think that’s about all I had for you this afternoon. As you know, we like to end these interviews with a fun question or two, so if you will indulge me again - I know you won't pick just one, but will you tell us where a couple of your favorite places in Lawrence are to eat?
I’ve got a lot of places – I don’t want to give anybody a free commercial, but there’s place in town that has a Thursday night chicken fried steak special that I like a lot. There are several places that I go to. This is a good town if you like eating out. We’re kinda stocking up on new chicken places.
And, what’s your favorite uniform combination for the football team?
We’ve had so many different ones, I’m just a traditionalist I guess, I love the blue shirt, and the white pants, with the red trim and the numbers that you can read. We’ve had some where it’s been very difficult to see the numbers from the press box and the stands, so I like it when you can identify players and make the crimson and blue pretty prominent.
Alright Bob, well thanks for your time this afternoon, I really appreciate it. Thanks!
(Editor's note: I do have a copy of this 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 Friday afternoon, August 19, 2016. The transcription has been edited for readability.)