Turner Gill knows what it means to be successful.
Gill was a three-year starter at Nebraska, leading the team to a 28-2 record in his time there, along with three Big 8 championships to boot.
Gill then played professional baseball and quarterbacked for the CFL for a while before returning to the college ranks to coach at his alma mater. Eventually he landed the head coaching job at Buffalo, and in his four years there significantly improved the program, leading them to their first MAC championship and first bowl win in half a century.
That performance at Buffalo landed him the head coaching gig at Kansas, replacing Mark Mangino after the 2009 season. When he took the job, he made it clear right away that his goal was to bring Kansas a winning tradition.
“Our purpose of this program is to bring this program to a point where we will sustain a winning football tradition year after year,” Gill said in his opening press conference.
In his first season with the Jayhawks the team went 3-9, but the season was highlighted by a marquee 28-25 win over No. 15 Georgia Tech. While the team struggled most of the season, there were still positive signs. Gill’s system was implemented, his change of attitude talk was creating a buzz, and Gill still firmly believed that they were making steady progress.
“I want to say our fans about why they should be excited about next season,” Gill said at the end of last season. “One we understand our team better as a staff. We will have better speed. We will have better depth. Our staff knows how to build a winning program ... I have brought people in on our staff who know how to build a winning program.”
Going into the 2011 season hopes were high for the Jayhawks, as they looked to build on Gill’s first season.
However, the team has struggled.
They started off the year with a pair of close wins against sub-par competition, McNeese State and Northern Illinois.
From there the team has quickly fallen off losing by an average of 32.6 points a game in their five-game stretch.
To make matters worse the last of these losses was a 51-21 drubbing from rival Kansas State last weekend, where the Jayhawks were embarrassed and clearly out-manned.
This kind of loss has seemed to be a theme in the Kansas season thus far. There are numerous moments in which the team just looks plain terrible and few bright spots to show that the team is continuing to improve.
Which brought up the question after the game on Saturday of whether Kansas is really getting better this year, and Gill was honest.
“I think today maybe we took a little step back as far as improving,” Gill said. “I think there are some things there. A lot of things that are coming to the surface is our inexperience. There’s a little bit of a temporary setback. It’s one football game and you get ready to go for the next one.”
Gill’s assessment that the Jayhawks are moving backward in terms of progress, or are at least stagnant in improvement, have brought up numerous questions about the future of Gill’s job in Lawrence from the fans and the media.
Gill’s career prospects didn’t sound much better out of the mouth of Kansas Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger, who said Gill’s progress is being monitored on “week-by week basis.” Zenger went on to say that he would not make a final decision until the end of the season.
Gill and his players will not give up though; they will continue to play hard the rest of the way. If the Jayhawks can manage to win one or two more games, they will buy their coach one more season to really put in to action the principals that he wanted to instill. Their first opportunity to turn the season around will come Saturday against Texas, in which a win will give him something to stand upon.
But Gill knows what needs to be done, and knows what the consequences will be if he does not get the Big 12 win he needs.
“That’s life; that’s football,” Gill said. “You have to have the mindset that you have to improve. We have five more opportunities to do that, and we’re fortunate right now that we have those. There’s going to come a time where you don’t have those opportunities anymore, but that’s what it’s about.”