By Jonathan Harvick
The Big 12 Media days began at the Ford Center at the Star Monday. The conference led off with a word from the commissioner, Bob Bowlsby, who touched on everything from the Championship game this year, to the safety of the game, Big 12 Expansion, and even the new Remote Replay Command Center.
TCU, Kansas, Tech, Iowa State and Oklahoma make up the teams who came out Monday, and while for the most part, the day as a whole was a success, some stood out among the rest. Starting with Coach Gary Patterson who took the stage at 10:05; right out of the gate he was asked about former Aggie, Kenny Hill, and every question regarding Hill garnered the same response, we have to do a better job getting Kenny some help, and we have to play to his strengths. Going into the second year of playing and practicing with the same offensive squad, Coach P is hoping to get a lot more consistency out of Kenny Hill and more familiarity with his unit after losing only one WR from last year.
Coach P, also disappointed in the defense, spent a while talking about improvements that were made to the other side of the ball, singling out Travin Howard returning from injury and what kind of an impact he can make. He also added, “It’s hard to play in this league and play consistent when your best players on the inside are 260, 270 pounds. So we went out and got four guys that are in the 300-pound range.” After giving up the most rushing yards since his first season, he knew that had to make some changes, and changes they made. The only thing left for them is to see how they manage in 2017.
Kansas’ Coach Beaty was up next and it went about as you’d expect. The bar is still rather low for the Jayhawks and the focus on growing strong young men who can contribute off the gridiron is just as important as that on the field. The main topic of conversation for the Kansas, however, was the addition of Doug Meacham from TCU. An energetic coach whose passion is “infectious,” Beaty described. Beaty is a great role model for the kids to be around and a coach who’s work speaks for itself, building one of the most explosive offenses in a conference known for its offense. Needless to say, Kansas is thrilled to have Meacham at the helm this season.
Third up, wedged right in the middle, was Coach Kingsbury. When they tell you, “what’s the worst that could happen” or “just imagine the worst possible scenario and compare it to that” they rarely expect the worst to actually happen. Kliff Kingsbury’s press conference was not a pleasant one, to understate it. The media did not pull their punches and asked the questions rather bluntly, “why is your defense so bad,” “what are you going to do to fix it,” and “why can’t you recruit a group of guys that can keep an offense under 30?” He managed through it, taking full responsibility, and when we broke into small sessions it kept on piling on, and he kept on with the same answers, even acknowledging that his seat is getting pretty hot.
Iowa State’s head coach Matt Campbell answered one main question, and that was the transition of former QB Joel Lanning to linebacker. Coach Campbell simply said, he’s too good to keep on the sideline, and he clearly has the confidence that he can make plays on the other side. After that, Matt Campbell’s answered four more questions and wrapped up the shortest conference of the day.
Lastly, and most anticipated, freshman coach Lincoln Riley took the stage. I could go on about several things that were brought up in his interview, but what stood out the most was the handling of the transition. He came out and in his opening statement addressed how seamless and gracious the change was. “It’s been probably best described as a whirlwind since June the 7th. Tough to describe… still a little bit like a dream.” It was a unique situation, to say the least, but Bob Stoops made it as easy as possible for the University and everyone involved. In situations like this, there’s usually an interim and/or a large-scale interview for new staff. In this case, Bob Stoops knew Riley wanted to be HC, the University wanted him to be HC and Stoops was ready to make Riley HC. The last thing any party involved wanted to do was derail the program by destroying relationships and the program itself, and the whole process from start to finish was handled with grace.
The most notable thing Riley brought up in his opening statement had to be his comments on the first meeting he had with his players. He acknowledged that his student athletes didn’t commit to play for him, and that “they signed up to play for a different head coach. I wasn’t the guy that came in and recruited them and I don’t feel like they should have to accept me just because now I’m the head coach.” In this day in age when students’ transfer rights can be a nightmare, while coaches can come and go as they please, this notion that “they shouldn’t have to accept the HC after a big change” is a rarely held belief amongst anyone other than student athletes. Ultimately, it’s a refreshing change of pace to see a head coach with such a progressive attitude towards student-athletes rights, specifically regarding transfers, and he is fully prepared to earn their commitment.