FRISCO — Texas coach Tom Herman will make his debut at Big 12 media days on Tuesday. Had things gone differently last November in Lawrence, Kan., he likely would be coaching at LSU, not Texas.
Still to this day, it’s unfathomable to most Longhorns fans: Kansas 24, Texas 21 in overtime.
The only other Jayhawks’ win over Texas in series history came in 1938.
“It felt great,” Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. said. “It was a good win for our coaches, our program and the university itself.”
Jayhawks offensive tackle Hakeem Adeniji summed it up in one word on Monday. “Vindication.”
It was Kansas coach David Beaty’s first conference win in two years and it snapped a 19-game Big 12 losing streak. Beaty’s overall record at Kansas now stands at 2-22.
Of course, UT fans know what happened the following day back home. School officials made the decision to fire Charlie Strong with one game remaining in the 2016 season. The Longhorns finished the year with a 5-7 record. Strong, who was removed one week later after the season-ending loss at home to TCU, took his 16-21 mark at Texas — and $9.4 million buyout — to South Florida.
Some UT administrators privately concede that had Texas finished 6-6 last season, Strong would still be the coach. UT President Gregory L. Fenves desperately wanted to keep him.
“The difficultly of playing our league,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said, “this is not Snow White and the seven dwarfs.”
It’s hard to imagine how the direction of two programs can change because of one meaningless regular-season game. Yet that’s exactly what happened.
The Longhorns came to the realization they had to make a move or risk missing out on Herman, who was wrapping up his second successful season at Houston and was entertaining LSU overtures. Cost be damned.
And the Jayhawks realized they might have a future with Beaty, a Garland native with deep Texas high school coaching ties.
Kansas is and may forever be a basketball school. But the football program went 12-1 under Mark Mangino in 2007 and played in the Orange Bowl. That was before two ill-fitting seasons under Turner Gill (5-19) and the wretched Charlie Weis experience.
Texas fans surely remember watching Weis trudge off the field long before the final gun against UT in 2014. The Longhorns won 23-0. He was fired the next morning after going 6-22; assistant coach Clint Bowen handled the Jayhawks’ final eight games.
Texas got one Kansas coach fired. Turnabout was fair play for the Jayhawks.
This offseason Kansas announced a $300-million capital campaign to spruce up the facilities. Recruiting interest has picked up considerably. Kansas will have 39 Texans on its roster this season and only 23 from its home state.
“Our guys continued to keep their energy and their belief when I’m not sure many people thought they would have that,” Beaty said. “To me, it was the validation that our team needed and that as a coach you prayed that we could break through.”
Nov. 19, 2016 started out on a terrific note for the visitors. On the first play from scrimmage, UT’s Jacorey Warrick shook off a tackler and went 75 yards for a touchdown. After only 16 seconds, Texas had the lead.
“You’re never going to win or lose a game based on the first play,” said Kansas linebacker Joe Dineen, who was injured and watched from the sideline. “Literally the worst thing that could have happened happened. But no one felt like, ‘Oh, here we go again.’ OK, you hit us. It’s time to hit back.”
Kansas tied it up on a 55-yard interception return for a touchdown. But Texas’ D’Onta Foreman scored twice and the Longhorns built a 21-10 lead. Everything turned in the fourth quarter, though. Khalil Herbert capped an 80-yard drive with a 1-yard scoring plunge and Kansas tied it up with a 36-yard field goal with 7 seconds left on a drive aided by Jeffrey McCulloch’s targeting penalty.
“As I called our team up, I’ll never forget the look and the energy they possessed,” Beaty said. “I don’t know that I’ve ever felt more confident in my career. I never even thought we could lose that game at that point.”
By then, day had turned into a chilly night in Lawrence. Texas athletic director Mike Perrin had a grim look while standing on the sideline in a heavy burnt orange jacket and baseball cap. Other UT administrators stood in shocked silence.
In overtime, UT’s Shane Buechele threw an interception over the middle. Then Kansas’ Ke’aun Kinner ran for 2, 5, 12, 1 and 2 yards before Matthew Wyman banged in an easy 25-yard field goal for the win. Rock chalk, pandemonium.
Afterward, Strong’s wife held back tears. Perrin looked away from reporters. The coach knew. Everybody knew. “When you had the blown opportunities we had,” Strong said in his four-minute press conference, “it’s hard to win a football game.”
Now Strong will try to win more games at South Florida. Herman will try to win big at Texas.
And Kansas is a program finding its way, hoping to win more than just two games in any given year.
“We learned how to finish a game, what it looks like to finish a game and how it feels to finish a game,” Armstrong said. “Now we just want to do that again and again this year.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.