Not Convinced About Turner

By Jason Whitlock
Updated: December 13, 2009

KANSAS CITY — Turner Gill supporters won’t like this column primarily because I have the misfortune of being the one high-profile columnist who religiously follows Mid-American Conference football.

As a black member of the media, I know what I’m expected to do today — shout that Gill’s hiring as Kansas’ new football coach is a bold step for college football mankind, a terrific hire by Lew Perkins and the culmination of Martin Luther King’s dream.

The problem is, unlike most of Gill’s prominent supporters in the media, I’ve actually watched his Buffalo Bulls play numerous times. Never once have I been impressed.

Not even on the night when Gill’s Bulls ended my then-12th-ranked Ball State Cardinals’ Cinderella season with a shocking 42-24 victory in the 2008 MAC championship game.

That victory — the product of Ball State’s five-turnover, sleepwalk performance and questionable officiating — turned Gill into Charles Barkley’s favorite candidate to replace Tommy Tuberville at Auburn and the darling of the black press.

No one cared that Ball State dominated the game (30 first downs to 18, 503 yards to 301) and the contest turned on three fluke plays in the third quarter.

With Ball State leading 17-14, the refs robbed Ball State running back Quale Lewis of a 9-yard TD run, marking him out at the 1 despite replay angles that clearly showed Lewis breaking the goal line.

Two plays later, Ball State quarterback Nate Davis fumbled the ball while diving into the end zone, and the Bulls scooped up the ball and raced 90-plus yards for a go-ahead TD.

On Ball State’s next possession, the Cardinals quickly drove to the Buffalo 15, when Davis inexplicably fumbled again, and the Bulls scored on another long fumble return.

My Cards never recovered.

Look, I’m not a still-bitter fan. I’m an informed one. Most of the people championing Gill as college football’s Tony Dungy just haven’t seen his teams play.

I have. It’s not pretty.

In 2008, he won the MAC East with a 5-3 record in a year when the MAC’s four best teams all played in the West.

It was the equivalent of winning the Big 12 North in 2009, the difference being Nebraska won the North with a Bo Pelini-crafted defense.

That’s what’s missing when I’ve watched the Bulls. I’ve never seen a strategic advantage. I never got a sense the Bulls did anything special on offense, defense or special teams.

A year ago, Gill was in the right place when Ball State melted down and the benefactor of Charles Barkley’s tantrum when Auburn hired Gene Chizik, a white coach who got a prime SEC job after one 2-10 season at Iowa State.

OK, so this has been a long-winded ramble to say that Turner Gill is going to have to win me over. I’m not dancing on rooftops. I’m disappointed Perkins didn’t land Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh.

I’m surprised Perkins didn’t hire East Carolina’s Skip Holtz. I’m shocked Houston’s Kevin Sumlin didn’t enthusiastically pursue the Kansas job.

Gill is a reach. His overall record is 20-30. He does have Dungy’s quiet charisma and overpowering integrity. Uh, but Dungy made his football reputation by playing the NFL’s best Cover 2 defense — the Tampa 2.

When Dungy led the Colts to the Super Bowl title, his Cover 2 defense carried Peyton Manning’s sputtering offense throughout the playoffs.

Dungy had a strategic advantage. And let’s not forget that Gill’s coaching mentor, Tom Osborne, cultivated and developed a deadly, perfect-for-Nebraska option attack out of the I formation.

Father Tom was a great offensive mind.

Gill is a great human being. He allegedly won over Perkins by assembling commitments from some of the top assistant coaches in college football, including offensive coordinator Chuck Long and defensive coordinator Carl Torbush.

Long had a fabulous run as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma. He flopped as a head coach at San Diego State. Torbush, the current defensive coordinator at Mississippi State, has a sparkling reputation as a defensive guru, earned while working for Mack Brown at North Carolina. A terrible rash of injuries and impatience undermined Torbush’s three-year run as successor to Mack Brown at UNC.

Two other former head coaches are expected to be on Gill’s first staff at Kansas.

So it appears Gill can certainly recruit qualified coaches. Maybe he’ll be a combination of Mack Brown and Tom Osborne.

A top recruiter who can attract big-time prospects and assistant coaches and a high-character leader and motivator who can heal the wounds Mark Mangino left with players and boosters might be the proper mix for Kansas.

I’ll give Gill two years before offering a strong opinion.