Kansas receivers have been simply dreadful during the past two seasons. The Jayhawks pass-catchers have averaged 5.7 receptions and 74.8 receiving yards per game in 24 games over the past two years. During the same span Baylor's receivers have averaged 20.6 receptions and 333.2 receiving yards per game in 26 outings.
Thus, Charlie Weis made a change heading into 2014, hiring former Washington and Cal receivers coach Eric Kiesau to coach KU's receivers. The veteran coach, who has tutored NFL standouts DeSean Jackson and Keenan Allen during his 14-year career, took some time to chat with ESPN.com about his plans for the Jayhawks receivers, Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell and his growth as a coach.
Heading into this new job what did you want to instill in your guys initially?
The first thing you want to do is try to change the culture and really get them embedded into how to work hard. I can teach them a lot of things, routes, releases, the offense but the actual work ethic it takes to go behind that is what is really important to me.
Looking at the production, or lack thereof from the receivers, how did you approach that with them in your initial meetings?
The big thing is to try not to look too far in the past and try to come up with a clean slate and give them a fresh and new perspective. I think so many people get caught up in the end result, but I think you have to understand the process it takes to get there. When I talk about work ethic, grinding every day and learning the offense it’s also the small steps it takes to become a complete wide receiver and the end result of getting the production you’re talking about.
How have they responded thus far?
Through spring they improved, they definitely got better. We still have a long way to go, I’m not ready to stand on the table and say we’re ready to be an elite group. We have a good group, good guys and they work hard. There’s some talent in there, I just have to continue to kind of bring it out of them and get guys to believe in themselves. Because that’s the second part, once you do start producing and do start catching some balls you start to gain some confidence and believe you can do it and that will translate into Saturday.
How is the leadership at the position? Do you feel like there’s one guy to turn to?
The first guy who comes to mind is Nick Harwell. He hasn’t played a snap of Big 12 football yet but his presence on the team and watching him around the guys, his personality is very contagious and he has the work ethic. When guys see him work and he’s working hard, they want to follow him.
How does he compare to other guys you’ve been around? He seems like he has the potential to change games.
He’s a very, very good receiver. The thing he has that nobody in our group has, is production at the college level. It was at another school but he’s caught 80 balls in a season so he knows what it takes to be successful. To compare him to other players is difficult because every guy is unique and different in their own right. (Harwell had 97 receptions for 1,425 yards and nine touchdowns for Miami (Ohio) in 2011)
What impresses you the most, is it his work ethic or does something else stand out?
His work ethic and his competitive nature. He has a competitive fire about him that, I think, is what makes him great, makes him do good things. It’s that inner drive. I’ve told the guys all along, I can teach you a lot of things but work ethic, trust and that competitive nature comes from within and is kind of where you’re from.
What intrigues you most about the group as a whole?
They’re all just different players. It’s a very unique group where you have a guy like Rod Coleman, long, lean and can run but still very raw at the position; then you have Nick, your seasoned, veteran guy at the Division I level; then you have Tony Pierson, who is a hybrid between the things he did last year and how we’re going to use him. As he gets more comfortable with it, he’ll get better and grow as well. He brings speed and athleticism we’re going to need. One guy who made big strides in the spring was Justin McCay, a big strong physical kid, not necessarily a burner but a big kid who can catch the ball and go up a get a red zone type of guy.
How has the new NCAA rule being able to interact with your players helped you?
It’s been good, really good. Getting some meeting time and classroom time with them has been invaluable. It think it’s just enough, they got it right with the amount of time we have. It’s not too long where kids are getting burned out and not too short, you can still get some work done.
How would you say your coaching style has changed from early in your career until now?
Experiences as a young coach have kind of shaped me to where I am now. I’m much more of a teacher, I take a lot of time to teach the schemes and not necessarily trying to yell and motivate like you used to. Now you’re more of a teacher to get the guys to learn the concepts and master the concepts, I’m taking more of a teaching approach. A lot of guys can yell and scream but if they don’t listen to you, it doesn’t matter. You have to be able to be compassionate and care about them as a person and that can translate into ways to teach them on the field. It makes you a great teacher and communicator because when it’s all said and done, they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care about them.