Don't call Lew Perkins a football king -- at two schools. That's what happens when you're responsible for building two top 20 programs that are challenging for BCS bowls this week.
"That's what my friends are calling me," Kansas athletic director said. "I'm not a football mogul."
|Thanks to Perkins' patience, Randy Edsall has done well at Connecticut. (US Presswire)|
It was Perkins, 62, who built the football infrastructure around the programs at both No. 8 Kansas and No. 16 Connecticut. Kansas (8-0) is off to its best start in a century. Perkins' former school, UConn (7-1), is in first place in the Big East, seven years after moving up to I-A and in the AP poll for the first time.
It was Perkins' decision that UConn should have a I-A football program that someday might rival basketball, where both the men and women have national programs. After 13 years at UConn, Perkins came to Kansas in 2003 with many of the same visions for football. Part of that overhaul most certainly meant doing away with coach Mark Mangino at that point.
New ADs, especially those as proactive and powerful as Perkins, aren't brought in to have patience with a coach who had a .320 winning percentage at that point.
Except that Perkins and Mangino developed a relationship. They were neighbors, buds even. Mangino kept the football program modestly successful (two bowls in the last four seasons) until breaking out in 2007.
Still, there was speculation that this was going to be a do-or-die year for Mangino. Randy Edsall was under pressure himself coming off consecutive losing seasons. A former Jacksonville Jaguars, Boston College and Syracuse assistant, Edsall was picked by Perkins in 1999 specifically to lead UConn to the next level. During that time, UConn has built a $50 million training center and 40,000-seat Rentschler Field.
"We had some issues if we were going to be able to go I-A," Perkins said. "The fact that he was a former Big East player himself helped. I thought he had the toughness to get them where they are."
Both schools had to embrace big-time football whether they liked it or not. UConn was transitioning from a regional to a national university in the 1990s. Perkins didn't think it could be done with lower-level I-AA football (Yankee Conference).
"I felt like if we didn't do anything it might jeopardize the other sports," Perkins said. "Now they're positioned as good as anybody."
Eight years ago, UConn was still in that Yankee Conference. Four years ago it was a I-A independent. After defeating South Florida on Saturday it moved into first place in the Big East, becoming the second-fastest program to move from I-AA and into the AP poll.
Kansas hasn't won 10 games since 1995 and even then the Jayhawks landed in the Aloha Bowl. Football just wasn't a priority at basketball-crazy Kansas until Perkins arrived. He upgraded facilities and ruffled some Jayhawk feathers by instituting a season ticket renewal plan in basketball.
"When they made the jump from Big Eight to Big 12 (1996), I don't think they were ready to make the move," Perkins said. "They didn't do any preparation. We tried to do it in a very short period of time. We've had a lot of catching up to do."
Part of Perkins' revenue savvy had to do with Mangino's last contract extension. He was bumped up to $1.5 million per year by Perkins. Did Mangino deserve it? Doesn't matter. In a way, the salary made Kansas seem big time in football.
Why does that matter? Because football still drives the economic bus. It's important that football is successful at both schools because that's what defines major-college status. Kansas played football but hasn't been to a major bowl since 1969. UConn was in I-AA. None of it compared to getting a bowl check from the Big East each year. And generating some of those checks yourself.
Add UConn and Kansas to the list of basketball schools that have elevated their football profile.
"I get a little upset when people say you can't have a good basketball team and good football team," Perkins said. "Look at Ohio State and Florida. When I came here I wanted to be an AD of an athletic department, not just one sport."
On the field, neither UConn nor Kansas has a break out star. They are both consistent in all areas. The only All-American between the two programs might be Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib. UConn has benefited from, well, luck at times. A video review upheld an out-of-bounds ruling on a potential game-winning touchdown. The infamous missed fair catch signal against Louisville was the difference earlier this month.
There are few defenses faster than South Florida. UConn basketball coach Jim Calhoun casually mentioned to Edsall that he was hoping for rain last week. It did just that in the first quarter of UConn's 22-15 upset last.
Leis on Bourbon Street? The haka dance in the Big Easy? Poi on Poydras?
Get used to it. The reality of Hawaii playing in a BCS bowl is at hand. The Warriors moved up three spots this week in the BCS standings to No. 14, two away from automatically qualifying for a BCS bowl at No. 12. It will happen only if Hawaii wins its remaining games against Fresno State, Nevada, Boise State and Washington.
The likely landing place would be the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, most likely against an SEC team.
"We've had our chances against those type of teams," coach June Jones said. "When and if that happens we'll prove we can play with them."
True, Jones' teams have beaten the likes of Alabama, Michigan State and Arizona State through the years. The irony is how Hawaii got to its lofty spot this season. The Warriors have played two I-AA teams (Charleston Southern, Northern Colorado) and no ranked teams.
Last year at this time, Fiesta Bowl-bound Boise State was at the same No. 14 spot having knocked off 10-game winner Oregon State.
The answers come down to this: Who else are you going to put up there? Hawaii is one of five remaining undefeated teams. Last year at this time there were 17 unbeaten or one-loss teams. This season there are only 10 such teams at this point.
To illustrate the lack of quality teams, consider that Boise State had an average computer rank of 14 after three weeks of the BCS standings in 2006. Hawaii shows up in only one BCS computer's top 25 this week (Pete Wolfe) and thus doesn't have an average computer rank.
That's a symptom of parity.
For the rest of the national notes read Dennis Dodd's blog: Dodds and Ends