LAWRENCE, Kan. — During a practice shortly after he was appointed interim coach at Kansas, Clint Bowen lined up next to his players on the sideline and took off at the first whistle.
He was running sprints with them. And not just one or two players, all of them.
It was the first of many instances in which Bowen has tried to build a rapport between himself and the players.
“We can relate to him,” said running back Tony Pierson, a senior now on his third head coach. “He played ball. He’s from Lawrence, [Kansas]. He brings a lot of energy to this team.”
Bowen was born and raised just down the street from Kansas’ campus. He played for the Jayhawks before beginning his career as a KU assistant in 2000. The defensive-minded coach has never worked in the pros, instead working brief stints at Western Kentucky and North Texas before returning to Kansas two years ago.
Now, Bowen has what he’s long considered his dream job. And the youthful exuberance the 44-year-old coach has brought to the position has been infectious.
“I feel like we have a way of operating that’s proven successful,” Bowen said. “I’ve seen the blueprint before here. I’ve been a part of turnarounds for many other people’s sacrifices, but I’ve been fortunate to be part of a turnaround in the Glen Mason era, in the Mark Mangino era, I feel like we have the stamp of how it works at Kansas.
“I don’t feel any pressure because I believe that it works,” he said. “All I know I have to do is work hard and do it the right way and it’s going to be OK.”
Things sure seem to be headed in the right direction.
The Jayhawks (2-4) were waxed at West Virginia earlier this month, but that game occurred just a few days after Bowen took over. Given a full week to prepare for No. 15 Oklahoma State last Saturday, the Jayhawks nearly pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season.
The game was tied late in the fourth quarter before the Cowboys returned a kickoff for a go-ahead touchdown. Kansas still had a chance for a drive to tie it, but quarterback Michael Cummings was intercepted in the waning minutes to seal the 27-20 defeat.
The fact that Kansas was in it until the bitter end spoke volumes of Bowen.
“He brings a whole exciting feel to the energy of the team,” senior safety Cassius Sendish said. “It’s just fun.”
Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger has said he will conduct a nationwide search for the next head coach, and Bowen will be a candidate. That means he has six more games to audition for the job, beginning Saturday at Texas Tech.
Just maybe, that nationwide search will lead right back home.
“We have guys that sit in the front row in team meetings that have put so much into this program and haven’t had the rewards that they deserve,” Bowen said. “My focus is on getting those guys the best chances for success, and at the end of the day, Dr. Zenger will make the best choice for Kansas football.
“And I have complete faith that whatever he decides is going to be the best choice for Kansas football, and we’re all going to be onboard with that.”
— Kansas Football (@KU_Football) October 13, 2014