Clint Bowen’s first two games as the interim head coach at Kansas haven’t sparked a change that can be seen in the Jayhawks win column.
But the win column is about the only place Bowen’s impact is going unnoticed.
The Jayhawks have the look and feel of a different team under Bowen, who replaced Charlie Weis on Sept. 28. Last Saturday’s close loss to Oklahoma State, 27-20, was the best performance of the season, as the offense finally found some success while the defense continued to play well enough to keep KU within striking distance.
Make no mistake, players seem more engaged and invested in the program under Bowen.
“When you want to play for a guy and you dedicate yourself to a guy it makes it all easier,” tight end Jimmay Mundine said. “Everybody was always looking over their shoulder and worried about things. Now you have more of a clear picture what you’re going to get from your head coach.”
From running sprints with the team to encouraging the Jayhawks to be themselves, Bowen has started to change the culture in the program while also looking to instill discipline and toughness.
“We’ve just opened the doors and avenues to them to be who they are and let their personality show,” Bowen said. “We’re a very disciplined operation; we always work hard to do the right thing, but we have fun doing it. They understand they will be held responsible for their actions but at the same time treated fairly.”
The final score of Bowen's first game didn’t look like a sign of change, as West Virginia hammered KU, 33-14, with the Jayhawks punted 14 times in the blowout road defeat. But a moment in the loss left a lasting impression on his players. Even as KU was struggling against the Mountaineers, Bowen’s positive attitude and passion did not go unnoticed.
“Us seeing his passion when we were down and out rubbed off on us,” Mundine said. “The biggest difference [under Bowen] is his enthusiasm and passion for the game.”
The positive signs continued the following week against OSU. The Jayhawks went toe-to-toe with the then-No. 16-ranked Cowboys before a Tyreek Hill kickoff return helped OSU escape with a win. The loss was a disappointment, but Bowen was still encouraged by what he saw. With the game in doubt heading into the fourth quarter, the Jayhawks players held a hype circle, jumping around together as a team, a sign Bowen’s enthusiasm was definitely rubbing off.
“They did that on their own,” Bowen said. “That was encouraging because we’ve had to preach [that] from the beginning, we’ve had to do things to force them to come together more, to be together more, to talk to each other more, to understand this is a complete team situation. That’s the only way to be successful in football.
“To see them do that unprompted, in a player only deal, was pretty good.”
Mundine says it’s a much different atmosphere under Bowen. The togetherness he has preached has always been a goal -- it’s just become more attainable in since the change at the top of the program. Now KU heads into the second half of the season together instead of surrounded by uncertainty.
“It’s something we were always trying to do but it was difficult with the position we were in,” Mundine said. “Now it’s a little easier with a guy everyone on the team feels like respects us.”