LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Ben Heeney woke up Sunday morning to a phone full of missed calls and text messages. One of them had come from Kansas assistant George Mataskis, and the linebacker had slept right through it.
“I finally woke up to one of my teammates giving me a call,” Heeney said. “He asked if I had seen anything and said no. He said Coach Weis got fired and Bowen’s our head coach now. I thought, ‘Wow, this is crazy.’ Then I got on my phone and Twitter and saw everything.”
It wasn’t until a team meeting on Sunday afternoon that athletic director Sheahon Zenger informed the players that Charlie Weis had been dismissed four games into his third season leading the Jayhawks. Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen had been elevated to interim coach.
“He said it was something he had been working on for a while,” Heeney recalled Wednesday, the first day that players were available to the media after the coaching change. “He had full trust in Coach Bowen and thought he was going to be the guy for us right now.”
Running back Corey Avery, a freshman who had been recruited to Kansas by Weis, said players had different emotional reactions to the change. Some of them were disappointed, others grateful for the opportunity that Weis gave them. Some were ready to move on.
“I wish I could have been around longer, get to know Weis better,” Avery said. “I haven’t been here that long. I was glad I got to play under his coaching as long as I did.”
Still, the entire process has become second-nature for some of the Jayhawks.
“It hasn’t been my first change,” said offensive lineman Pat Lewandowski, who began his career when Turner Gill was the coach. “Going through it before, you know not everything is permanent.”
When Bowen was introduced as the interim coach in that meeting Sunday, the team erupted.
“It was pretty amped up,” defensive tackle Keon Stowers said. “When they announced Coach Bowen it was the loudest I’ve heard a meeting, as far as clapping. Applause went on for half a minute into about a minute. He was very emotional. You could see it on his face.”
Bowen is one of the Jayhawks’ native sons. He grew up in Lawrence, played for the program in the 1990s, returned as an assistant under Mark Mangino and again a few years ago.
“He’s a guy who has been such a big part of Jayhawk football, to see how excited he is has really trickled down to us.” Lewandowski said. We’re all excited for him and are excited for the rest of the season to see what he can do. Hopefully we help him prove himself as a coach.”
The coaching change resulted in a trickle-down effect of other changes.
Lewandowski said practice has been different, that the mentality and attitude have changed. He said those changes have come directly from Bowen and how he likes to run things.
“He’s about business, but he likes to have fun whole he’s doing it,” Lewandowski said. “He likes to bring a lot of energy and a lot of excitement.”
Heeney said that Bowen was even running sprints with the team during practice. Some graduate assistants may do one or two to relive their glory days, but Bowen ran all of them with the team.
Shepherd said the team runs out of the locker room together to go to practice. Once they hit the field, they run from station to station with a sense of urgency.
Perhaps there is one. The Jayhawks (2-2) visit West Virginia on Saturday, the first game of what could be described as an eight-game audition for Bowen for the head coaching job.
“I was excited about it,” defensive back JaCorey Shepherd said of the change. “I was excited to see what Coach Bowen had to bring to the table as a head coach. I know what he brings from being on the defensive side of the ball.”
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