Turner Gill's positive energy campaign in his first season with the Kansas football team remains in full swing.
At the end of spring practice, Gill and his assistants held individual meetings with the players to assess progress and to further the relationship-building that is central to his coaching philosophy.
“The players are excited and said they enjoyed the environment,'' Gill said by phone from Lawrence, Kan. “They said they had fun.''
That word was difficult to find in the KU football dictionary when taskmaster Mark Mangino was in charge. Even when the Jayhawks started winning, personal enjoyment ranked low on the priority list.
Mangino was fired after KU lost its final seven games last season. That followed a 5-0 start and a No. 17 national ranking. The veteran coach and his wife, according to the Lawrence Journal-World, recently moved to Naples, Fla.
If you're looking for inside comparisons between Gill's work and the Mangino way, don't bother.
“We didn't go there,'' Gill said. “If anybody started talking about things in the past, we stopped the conversation. And I told all of our coaches the same thing.
“We're moving on. That's how we teach these young men about life and football. We've started that process.''
I like that a lot.
Here's hoping that same attitude is in place on Nov. 13 in Lincoln. That's when Gill brings the Jayhawks to Memorial Stadium.
If you slog through Husker Internet message boards long enough, you're bound to find a thread asking “Are we supposed to hate Turner Gill now that he's a Jayhawk?''
Tom Osborne doesn't. Neither should you.
“I always will wish Turner well and will always want the best for him,'' said Nebraska's athletic director who coached Gill and was a groomsman in Gill's wedding.
Yet when the ball is kicked off, Osborne hopes Gill's team gets a knot on its head.
“It's like if you're in a boxing match with your brother,'' Osborne said. “You care about your brother, but you're still going to try to win.
“Sometimes I think fans have a harder time understanding that opposing coaches and opposing players can still be friends.''
Osborne got caught in a difficult place when he fired Bill Callahan in 2007. Strong sentiment emerged for Gill to return to Lincoln from his miracle work at Buffalo and take over.
Yet with the NU defense in shambles, Osborne hired defensive guru Bo Pelini instead of his former star quarterback.
“Like I said at the time, I had to do what I thought was best for this program,'' Osborne said. “In a way, I was glad for Turner to do his own deal. If I had hired him, some people would have said I did it just because he's a former player and a good friend.
“This way, he's his own person. He got the job on his own merits. I felt very strongly that Turner would get a good opportunity.''
How good the situation is at Kansas remains to be seen. The Sporting News just ranked KU 31st in its preseason poll despite the team having lost nearly every player that handled the football on offense from last season.
For Gill, being positive doesn't equate to Pollyannaism coming out of spring practice.
“We're just trying to put pieces in place to have a very good football team,'' he said. “It isn't going to happen overnight, and it isn't going to happen in one year.
“I have an idea of what we have is probably the best way to state it. Now, we use what we know to start the process.''
Gill said he hasn't seen any flak or criticism from Husker fans “come across my desk.'' His Nebraska ties clearly came to mind when considering the Kansas job.
“Sure it was there,'' said Gill, who still talks with Osborne at least once a month. “But this was about finding a good place for our family to be.
“We loved Buffalo. It was a great place. It wasn't like we were trying to run out of there.''
Yet with one daughter (Jordan) already in school at KU and with Gill's wife (Gayle) originally from Kearney, Neb., a move to the Midwest made sense — regardless of the proximity to Nebraska and the Big 12 North Division.
Not everything has been rosy for Gill in his first six months. He's still living alone until Gayle and his youngest daughter, Margaux, finish the school year in Buffalo for three more weeks.
“But, hey,'' Gill said, “I've still got my name on the door. So that's a good thing.''
Positive to the end.
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