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December 14, 2009So how do the current players feel about new coach Turner Gill? Quarterback Kale Pick used the word, "exciting," six times in 20 seconds. Some players spoke of Gill's energetic and upbeat approach to coaching. Others talked about the amazing turnaround Gill orchestrated in Buffalo.
But what had the players most excited - even ones that found success under Mangino - was the idea that all the preconceived notions from the previous coaching have been erased.
"It is going to be a brand new start for people," Lubbock Smith said.
One player who feels he has been given a second chance is senior Angus Quigley, who has never been able to turn his high potential into playing time on Saturdays. He'll get one more year to prove his worth to Gill.
Quigley had been granted a sixth year of eligibility because of an injury before the 2005 season that wiped out his redshirt freshman year. Quigley already had his sixth year of eligibility secured, the only question was if he wanted to use it.
If Mangino had stayed, Quigley said he didn't want to be back. Gill's reputation as a positive and inspirational leader though has made Quigley give Kansas another look.
"It is not going to be the same old thing where we had guys being talked down to for no reason," Quigley said. "I felt that I didn't want to be apart of that if that coaching staff was going to be here."
Quigley and other players said there are a slew of other talented guys on the team that found themselves in Mangino's doghouse for various reasons and never got an opportunity to showcase their talents. Multiple players said guys like Greg Brown and Olaitan Oguntodu could be surprise players next year if given the chance.
"I think a lot of what Mangino did was he went with the players that were good but also could trust them on the field," Toben Opurum said. "People who made mistakes in the past, he felt that he couldn't trust them on the field if he couldn't trust them off the field. With the new head coach, everybody is getting another chance."
Added Quigley: "Once you get in the doghouse, it is tough to get out, but we all now have a clean slate."
Towards the end of the season, maybe more so than any other year in the Mangino era, there were a high number of players wanting to transfer out of the program. The hiring of Gill seems to have quieted those murmurs.
"There was a lot of talk of guys who were dead serious that they weren't coming back," Quigley said. "We had guys who quit and are still going to school like Vernon Brooks and Travis Stephens. They even want to come back now and they could help us."
Gill is also known for his deep religious faith. Cornerback Chris Harris, who is one of the leaders of the Kansas chapter of the FCA, said it would be beneficial to players on the team to finally develop a relationship with the head coach that went beyond football.
"That's definitely important to know that your coach stands for something and he believes in it," Harris said. "The majority of this team does have a strong faith, and you want your leader to have a strong faith so that is what we want."
During the week, former Buffalo players have given their testimonials to the media about their admiration for Gill. One former Buffalo player emailed offensive lineman Brad Thorson to give him a preview of what to expect from Gill.
I just wanted to say you guys over at KU, you're getting a great football coach. Keep your worries minimal. I know that this transition doesn't come off good parting terms with your previous head coach, and I know change can be a scary thing - not really knowing what you're really getting. But same was the case when I was a freshman back in 2005 and Coach Gill was just as new to me as he is going to be to you. But in those four years, he has transformed everything we do here at Buffalo: the way we carry ourselves, how we view the game of football and how we view ourselves as football players.
If he has taught us anything here at UB, it's to believe; to believe in ourselves, to believe in this program and to believe in each other. His philosophy and style will always be to treat each one of you guys as people first and players second. He's going to help you use football as a catalyst to better yourselves and your life right now and after football. Keep your minds and hearts open with everything he has to offer.
I'll leave you guys with one last thought from our mission statement. UB stands for `You Believe'. Each letter of the word BELIEVE stood for what this program was going to be about. The letter `B' was for believe, in each other and in things not yet seen. We believe and it's taken us to great things as players, as a team, as a program and as a community.
Good luck to each and every one of you."
Thorson forwarded the email to other players on the team. Whether Gill is a successful coach or not remains to be seen, but so far the players have bought in.
"Just what the Buffalo players are saying, that he's a players' coach, which is something that we haven't had really," Harris said. "That will be a big key because we'll be able to trust our coach a lot more. It's definitely nice to have a players' coach around, being able to build a relationship with him. It's so much nicer to have a players' coach because you build trust in your coach and you want to go out there (on the field) and fight for him. It helps out a lot."
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