With a long anticipated press release from the Kansas athletic department Sunday afternoon, the Turner Gill era ended in Lawrence Kansas. It was an era that began due to a internal investigation of one of the most successful coaches in Kansas history, Mark Mangino. It was an era that began reluctantly but optimistically for most of the Kansas fanbase. And it was an era that absolutely had to end after a two season slide that has Kansas at one of the lowest points in recent memory.
When Sheahon Zenger was hired after Lew Perkins unceremonious exit he was looking at an athletic department that was falling short in a lot of areas and an athletic department that had some cleaning up to do. One area that everyone expected Zenger to keep a close eye was on the football program. Given his background and the importance of football in today's athletic landscape it only made sense. But not many would have expected this decision would need to be made so quickly.
Turner Gill had a five year $2 million per year guaranteed contract with Kansas. That isn't chump change and for Zenger to raise that sort of donor commitment under the circumstances appeared to be a difficult task and really no one wanted to have to make that call to begin with.
Year one under Gill was a disaster from the opening game loss to North Dakota State, but late in the season Kansas seemed to show improvement and Gill and his staff landed one of the better recruiting classes in Kansas history. Heading into year two the expectations were low and everyone expected Gill would get a year three barring an absolute disaster.
That is exactly what happened. After two early season wins and a bevvy of optimism that perhaps Kansas could field a competitive product, Kansas fell and they fell hard. Just as they had in Gill's first year, the Jayhawks looked disorganized, overmatched and outcoached from start to finish in the Big 12. The Jayhawks were losing games by a record margin and giving up yardage at a higher clip than anyone in the country.
Even the supposed improvement slowly faded. The early season offensive success slowly dissipated and Kansas was once again near the bottom in offensive production. Special teams improvement took a sharp turn late and Kansas was just another team when it was all said and done. How to you build on two years of regression? How do you turn the corner and make things better when hope seems lost? The answer was pretty clear, you have to start over.
All Gill needed to do in order to retain his post was compete and show that he had a young team moving in a direction that the program and the fans could be proud of. To the West Bill Snyder was resurrecting Kansas State for a second time and to the North Paul Rhoades was taking a less talented team and overachieving as he has done every year since his arrival in Ames. There was never any sign that Gill had that type of ability in him.
For Kansas and Gill it is a bittersweet separation. The best thing that could have happened to Kansas is to have Gill succeed. Kansas was coming off a very successful stretch under Mangino and Gill succeeding would have helped cement a turning tide in a critical time. And by all accounts Gill is a great person and a great mentor for young men. He would have been the model of success while doing things the right way and running a standup program. Unfortunately he just couldn't get it done in the coaching department.
Player reaction has been mixed. Jayhawk players seem sad to see Turner Gill the man go, but anyone who has followed the Kansas program knows that Kansas football needed to move on from Gill and there really wasn't another option.
Too many missed opportunities and too many opportunities that never even materialized. It's a business based on wins, losses and optimism for the future. For Kansas there weren't enough wins, too many losses and the way those losses occurred diminished all optimism for the future. Now the Jayhawks start over and Sheahon Zenger has his first opportunity to make a mark on the University of Kansas.