KU football players weigh in on ideal attributes of next head coach
LAWRENCE — When remarking on the traits they say make an ideal head coach, college football players often describe an individual capable of serving as a father figure.
That attribute takes on special meaning for Kansas linebacker Nick Channel.
“Me personally, I like a really disciplined head coach (who) doesn’t let a lot of stuff slide,” said Channel, a redshirt junior with three years of eligibility remaining. “I also like a coach that motivates people just by talking (and) somebody that’s strict. Really what I like is just a coach to tell you what to do, expect you to do it, and when you don’t do it he gets on you. That’s really the kind of coaching I like.”
Channel can credit his upbringing for that preference. A Wichita native, he spent his formative years under the direct instruction of his father. A former track and field athlete at KU and Wichita State, David Channel knew the commitment needed to make it at the collegiate level ... and he didn’t shy away from instilling that relentless work ethic in his son, then still just a tyke.
“My whole elementary and pee-wee football years, my dad was my coach. And he was always really hard one me,” said Nick Channel, who went on to star at Kapuan and earn a nod from The Topeka Capital-Journal as an All-Class 5A first-team performer in 2017. “So I like a lot of the characteristics that my dad had when he was coaching me.”
Channel is just one of several KU players who, amid the program’s ongoing “thorough national search” for its next head coach, have painted a picture of the qualities they believe make someone a good fit for that role.
And while those opinions varied, some common themes have emerged.
Remarks made by running back Daniel Hishaw Jr., for example, mirrored much of what Channel had to say, with the second-year Jayhawk indicating that the best head coaches adopt a parental-type role and aren’t afraid to show tough love when necessary.
“I just like a coach that just coaches their players hard, that connects with all their players, (is) able to talk to their players," said Hishaw Jr., a sophomore with four years of eligibility remaining. "Whenever we can go in there and talk, we can talk with no hard feelings and just know at the end of the day, when he coaches you, he’s just trying to make you better. ...
“I love the fearless (mentality), you know what I’m saying? A coach that can always connect with their players. And Coach (Emmett) Jones kind of reminds me of that. He has a lot of those attributes and a lot of the stuff that we like. He almost reminds me of my dad when I was little. He just coaches us hard."
Another common thread throughout the players’ responses? Jones himself.
Named the Jayhawks’ interim head coach on March 11 following a grassroots campaign from more than a dozen players via social media, Jones was earlier this month named a candidate for the permanent opening, with new athletic director Travis Goff saying the former wide receivers coach has done an “outstanding job” overseeing the team’s spring practice slate.
Describing his perfect head coach, offensive lineman Earl Bostick explained he wants someone who personifies leadership. Then, unprompted, Bostick continued with this observation: "Just like how Coach Jones is."
“Almost like a father figure too, just making sure each of their players (are) good, making sure they have all they need and stuff like that,” said Bostick, a redshirt senior with two years of eligibility remaining. “And then just being a coach at the same time, too — making sure (a player) gets his technique right, making sure ... everyone is right and on the same page and moving forward to the future.”
Fellow offensive lineman Armaj Adams-Reed, a sophomore with four years of eligibility remaining, said he appreciates head coaches that make themselves available to players “at any time.” Defensive tackle DaJon Terry, meanwhile, described a good fit as someone able to blend compassion, energy and honesty.
"Like, he ain't going to sugarcoat nothing with you. A coach that just keeps it straightforward. He just gives it to you how it is,” said Terry, a redshirt sophomore with four years of eligibility remaining. “That's what I like: A person that's straightforward.”
Asked whether Jones fits that profile, Terry responded: “Perfectly.”
Regardless of what direction KU goes in this search, Jones figures to be an important part of the program’s immediate — and perhaps long-term — future. Channel directly credited Jones for keeping the team together through these tumultuous last two months, a period that began with the March 8 buyout of the remaining three years on then-head coach Les Miles’ contract.
“Nobody knows what’s going on, and (Jones) doesn’t know, but he says just to keep moving, stick together,” Channel said, “and just keep working toward our goal for this fall.”
It appears Jones has coached his players up well on that particular subject matter.
“We just have to stay together," said defensive lineman Caleb Sampson, a senior with two years of eligibility remaining. "We’ve been going through a lot ever since the COVID season, so we all came together and said we’re going to stick together through whatever happens. Whatever coach comes in, whatever is thrown at us, we’re going to stay together and stay the course.”