KU coordinator starts with blank canvas
By Rustin Dodd
By Rustin Dodd
LAWRENCE -- John Reagan ambled through a mass of bodies, pacing confidently between two stretching lines on Kansas' east practice field. It was Saturday afternoon, minutes into the Jayhawks' second practice of preseason camp, and the sound of Florida Georgia Line's "Cruise" pulsated from a sideline sound system.
"We got mojo today!" Reagan yelled, his voice booming over the music.
Reagan, the first-year offensive coordinator, was prepping for another day of offensive installation. He is here at Kansas, his former home, to fix an offense that has amounted to dead weight for the past two years. He is here to install a no-huddle spread offense, to break in a new starter at quarterback -- and yes, to return some offensive mojo to Memorial Stadium.
"He gives us clearly the best chance of winning," KU coach Charlie Weis says. "I believe in what John's doing."
Put another way: Reagan gives the Jayhawks a better chance than Weis, who served as his own offensive coordinator over the past two seasons.
For Kansas, the roots of an offensive reboot began last November, as the Jayhawks' offense was limping through a 3-9 season. Weis admits now that his pro-style system was a poor fit for the Big 12, where spread offenses are king. It was also a poor fit for Kansas, where the Jayhawks often lack four-star recruits on the offensive line or at receiver.
The Jayhawks averaged just 15.3 points, ranking 118th nationally in scoring offense, and Weis scoured for a solution. He needed a fresh offensive mind, someone who could run a spread offense, and he found an intriguing answer in Reagan, a former KU offensive line coach under Mark Mangino.
Reagan, who spent the past three seasons as the Rice offensive coordinator, had personal motivations for coming back to Kansas; two children from a previous marriage remained in Lawrence while he moved on to Rice. Even now, Reagan says, the chance to reunite with his young kids was the strongest selling point.
"I never hid behind the fact," Reagan says. "The No. 1 thing behind me coming back here was the fact my kids still lived here."
Still, he remembers that first phone conversation with Weis. Here was Weis, a former NFL offensive coordinator with four Super Bowl rings, and he was asking for help from a lifetime college assistant with three years experience as a coordinator.
From the beginning, Weis made it clear to Reagan that he would get free rein to install his no-huddle, spread scheme. Weis would be available for consultation, but he wouldn't call plays. He wouldn't dictate game plans. He wouldn't even spend much time with the offensive staff.
"If I hire him and then I'm in there all the time," Weis says, "then I'm defeating the whole purpose. Then everyone says, 'Well, Weis can't help himself.' OK, that's why I hired the guy."
To this point, Reagan says, Weis has remained true to his promise.
"I'm not really surprised," Reagan says. "I think everybody else might be. But I'm really not."
There are other signs that Reagan is the one guiding the offense and sketching together the blueprints for a schematic overhaul. In the spring, Reagan made it clear that he preferred a quarterback who could dazzle with his feet. A few weeks later, sophomore Montell Cozart, an athletic dual-threat QB from Bishop Miege, was publicly announced as the starter, ahead of incumbent Jake Heaps.
"The quarterback position has not been productive," Weis says. "But part of the reason it hasn't been productive is because all those other positions haven't been productive. So what bails you out in those situations? What bails you out is a guy who has some athleticism."
On Saturday afternoon, Kansas stepped onto the practice field and provided the latest glimpse of the new scheme. With the pace quick and efficient, Cozart ran through a series with one running back, three wide receivers and a tight end set out wide. It was a formation reminiscent of Kansas' moments of glory last decade, when quarterback Todd Reesing ran a traditional college spread system under offensive coordinator Ed Warinner.
Reagan was an offensive assistant in those days, and he saw first-hand how an offense can be successful at Kansas. For now, though, he's making it clear. This is not a return to the old ways.
"I don't think we're going back to anything," Reagan says. "I mean that sincerely."
During his days at Rice, Reagan ran a similar spread attack, but he often put a premium on the running game. For a coach with roots in option football, Reagan has a deep appreciation for a productive running attack. That means there should be plenty of running opportunities for senior running back Brandon Bourbon and Cozart.
"The misnomer is that spread equals throwing the ball," Kansas defensive coordinator Clint Bowen says. "The good spread teams are still in the 50-50, 60-40 range with run-pass."
Weis puts it this way: "John likes to run the hell out of the ball."
The way Reagan sees it, engineering a successful offense is about creating mismatches and exploiting weaknesses in the defense. At Kansas, you don't have a wealth of four-star playmakers or an excess of talent. So you have to find creative ways to be productive. Even after four years ago, Reagan seems to understand that better than most.
"No matter where you're at, there's a formula that you have to put together to make it all work," Reagan says. "I think the experience of being here and understanding the dynamics of Kansas certainly helps."