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59 Days Until Kansas Football: Meeting the New Coaching Staff

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A couple old faces remain on a diverse new staff

Nicholls State v Kansas Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Earlier this offseason, we took looked at where former Jayhawks’ football assistant coaches from the David Beaty era landed after leaving the program. But it’s time we stop looking in the past. It’s time to embrace the present and future.

When it comes to coaches, the present features a diverse, hodgepodge group of assistants from a wide range of backgrounds. The conglomerate includes longtime veterans, upstart energy guys and recruiting specialists. Let’s take a look at their credentials and backgrounds.

Les Koenning, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks

Koenning wasn’t Les Miles’ first choice to be KU’s offensive coordinator. That honor belongs to Chip Lindsey, whose pedigree includes coaching San Francisco 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens at Southern Mississippi and coordinating a high-powered offense under Gus Malzahn at Auburn. He bailed on the KU position, understandably so, when he was offered the head coaching job at Troy.

Enter Koenning, a 60-year old Texas graduate who’s been coaching in the college ranks since 1981 (save for 2007, when he was with the Miami Dolphins). He’s been an offensive coordinator seven different times before, including four stints at Power 5 programs. Arguably his biggest accomplishment was his two season stint at UAB, which produced the following accolades, per kuathletics.com:

Quarterback A.J. Erdely set the UAB record for rushing touchdowns in a season by a quarterback with 13 and freshman running back Spencer Brown set the freshman school record for rushing yards with 1,329 yards and was named C-USA Freshman of the Year.

D.J. Eliot, defensive coordinator/outside linebackers

A Power 5 defensive coordinator since 2013, Eliot is one of the aforementioned high-energy guys on the staff. Early returns indicate he’s had some success on the recruiting trail, but as far as predicting what happens on the field it’s fair to say there could be cautious optimism. Colorado, where he coached the last two seasons, was 70th in the nation in scoring defense last year and was 52nd in total defense. In 2017, the Buffs were 76th in scoring defense and 108th in total defense. There was improvement, so that’s good to see. Can he improve KU’s defense after it lost Joe Dineen and Daniel Wise? Well, it’s hard to say.

Mike Ekeler, special teams coordinator/inside linebackers

Ekeler was a graduate assistant under Miles for three years at LSU, including for the Tigers’ 2007 national championship campaign. His work as a linebackers coach for several seasons at Georgia is highlighted in his official KU biography, specifically his work with three NFL draft picks (including current Chicago Bear Leonard Floyd). Additionally, he coached two-time All-American Lavonte David at Nebraska.

If this name sounds familiar in the Sunflower State, it’s probably because of where he played his college ball. Ekeler played for Kansas State from 1991-94.

Jeff Hecklinski, recruiting coordinator/tight ends

Hecklinski hasn’t coached in FBS since 2016 when he spent a year at Illinois, and from 2011-14 he was an assistant at Michigan under Brady Hoke. In fact, he was a longtime assistant under Hoke, coaching with Captain Claps for most of his tenure at Ball State, both of his years at San Diego State and then for four years at Michigan. We know that early recruiting success doesn’t mean much of anything until the kids officially sign way later on, but it does say something positive about Hecklinski’s recruiting that through July 2 Kansas has the 30th-ranked class in the nation (second in the Big 12) for the class of 2020 per 247Sports.

Tony Hull, running backs

Speaking of recruiting, Tony Hull returns to the Jayhawks as one of two holdovers from the Beaty era. Hull is largely responsible for the Louisianamls, the influx of excellent athletes from his home state of Louisiana that have infused talent into the KU roster over the past several years. The notable names include Pooka Williams, Corione Harris and Mike Lee; not a bad crop. Plus, as was mentioned in the former assistants piece, the Jayhawk running backs have been the offense’s best unit for several years now.

Emmett Jones, wide receivers

Wide receivers may be his area of coaching expertise, but Jones’ recruiting prowess is his biggest asset. He was the driving force behind four-star defensive end Steven Parker flipping from Texas Tech to Kansas after the Red Raiders fired Kliff Kingsbury. Jones previously coach at (and is an alumnus of) Texas Tech. 247 has Parker as the seventh-best recruit to ever commit to KU, by the way. His only collegiate coaching experience before Kansas was Tech, with stints at a handful of high schools in Texas predating that.

Luke Meadows, offensive line

Shane Jackson of the Lawrence Journal-World wrote about Meadows this week, specifically why he stuck around Lawrence after Chip Lindsey left town. He’s never been a P5 coach before, with previous roles at three G5 schools, South Dakota State of the FCS (twice when you count student assistant jobs) and a junior college.

Clint Bowen, safeties

It’s the year 2300. Civilization as we know it has been altered permanently by nuclear war. Earth is unrecognizable to 21st-century humans. And Clint Bowen is still an assistant for KU football.

Jokes aside, Bowen has been with Kansas as a coach for most of his adult life and, in general, has done a fine job in his various roles. He’s passionate about the program, he’s willing to coach plenty of different position groups and he’s got strong local recruiting ties. He was a safe retention pick for Miles off the previous staff.

Kwahn Drake, defensive running game coordinator/defensive line

Drake comes to Kansas from Colorado, where he was on D.J. Eliot’s staff last season. Another motivational, energetic coach, he’s also got ties to Louisiana, from his time as a player at Nicholls to jobs at two high schools in New Orleans. When the season starts KU will be the fifth school Drake has coached at in five years; Tulane, Memphis, Eastern Illinois, Colorado, Kansas.

Chevis Jackson, defensive backs

Jackson was a player for the 2007 LSU national title team and spent 2015 as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, so he goes way back with Miles. He’s also got strong recruiting chops, including being named the MAC recruiter of the year by 247Sports in 2017. Only 33 years old, Jackson said in an interview with KU radio play-by-play man Brian Hanni that he wants to turn Kansas into the “DBU” of the Big 12.

The analysts

There are eight individuals listed as either a consultant, analyst or quality control staff by the athletic department. A couple names stand out on that list. One is Joshua Eargle, an offensive analyst who was previously the offensive coordinator at Austin Peay. Last season Austin Peay led the Ohio Valley Conference in rushing yards and set several program records offensively, continuing one of the most remarkable turnarounds in college sports (the Governors went 1-45 from 2013-16, including 0-22 from 2015-16, then won eight games in 2017. They won just five games last year, however).

Another intriguing name is Brent Dearmon, who comes from Bethel University, an NAIA school in Tennessee (not to be confused with Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas). Last season Bethel went 10-0 and averaged 55 points per game (with 540.3 yards per game), the highest scoring output at any level of college football in the country. He was previously an analyst at Auburn as well. If you’re hopeful that the Jayhawks will be running a more modern offense than what Miles has been criticized for in the past, you may be hoping that Dearmon, who’s famous for his RPO usage (he literally wrote a book on them), is listened to in coaches meetings.