Short Nerd Chief

Jayhawk Nation, like a (dysfunctional) family

Posted by Fred on April 4, 2008

In a previous post, I referred to Roy Williams as Benedict Williams, mostly in jest. many non-Jayhawks, however, wonder why the KU faithful won’t Let It Go. One of the Mikes (the short, skinny one, I think) made that point on ESPN Radio this morning.  ESPN’s Pat Forde is bemused by the whole thing:

But not this time. And there are plenty of Kansas fans who stopped cheering for Ol’ Roy five years ago.

In 2003, when he left the job he said three years earlier he’d never leave, the flak flew. Kansas fans have a rather lofty image of themselves — except where Carolina is involved. Dean Smith was a Kansas native and graduate who went to Carolina, became a legend and never went back. Roy was supposed to be their Dean, in reverse.

And then he dumped them.

The Times-Dispatch’s Bob Lipper manages to both chastise Kansans for not Letting It Go and condescendingly call the whole state a bunch of clueless hicks, all in the course of a single paragraph:

Got all that? Think it’s the stuff of recrimination and melodrama? Because there are folks in the land of Dorothy and Toto who somehow feel forever jilted because their guy became another school’s guy. Said folks choose to make a dust storm out of a prairie wind. And there’s usually someone with a note pad or minicam to keep fanning it.

I don’t bear Coach Williams any particular animus, but there is a bit of (perverted) logic to the way KU faithful feel toward the man.  Jayhawk Nation functions in a way like a really big, not particularly well-behaved, family.  There are a whole lot of reasons for this, some of which even make sense. Lawrence is a liberal island in a conservative sea, a place that steadfastly resists change in its own particularly uniform view of non-conformity.  That’s true of a lot of college towns, particularly ones in red states, and Kansas’ governor notwithstanding, it is a red state.

In addition, KU basketball fans feel a bit beleaguered. Despite having played basketball for over a century, despite having employed the inventor of basketball as its first coach, the team has but two NCAA titles to show for it, and one of those was the sixth-seeded Danny and the Miracles team of 1988.  This feeling is compounded by the historic pitifulness of the football team, although that may be changing under the current regime (or 2007 may just have been a quirk of Big 12 scheduling). For whatever reason, the team and its supporters have a family-like dynamic.

As everyone knows, being a part of a family can be good (warm hugs and turkey dinners) or bad (think the flying food scene in American Beauty). When Larry Brown hightailed it out of town just ahead of the NCAA sheriff, it was bad times.  Roy came in and acted like a good dad, making it good times.  Then he skipped town with the floozy in the Carolina Blue dress from the bar, and it was bad times again.

There are really two dysfunctional family dynamics going on here, depending on which of Roy’s sins offends you more:

1. The Jilted Lover

For some, it was Roy’s lying and skipping town that offend.  Williams and UNC flirted in 2000, but he expressed a commitment to the program and his players in telling Dean Smith no.  He said he wanted to stay at KU until he retired.  He said he felt an obligation to the kids.  Jayhawk Nation understood the draw UNC had for him, and respected his decision.  Had he left then, most would have been disappointed but supportive.  After all, he built a nice program and certainly stayed longer than Coach Brown did.

But only three years later, he ran out of town anyway.  He did so weeks after expressing his devotion to the program yet again. He did so days after cussing out a reporter for asking him about it, even though he had almost certainly accepted the offer at that point.  For some fans, this was his mortal sin — not that he went to UNC, but that he was dishonest about his plans.  This is what all coaches do, of course, but this is a family, not a basketball team, remember?  These fans are like lovers who had begun to think Roy was different, only do discover he was just like every other cheating cad.  And like jilted lovers, they won’t forgive him until they find another.  they’re working on their trust issues with Bill Self, but they’re not there yet.

2. The Bitter First Wife

For other fans, it’s not the lying or the leaving. It’s that in fifteen years, Williams built a great regular season basketball team that underachieved in March.  He could get the Jayhawks to the promised land, but couldn’t open the pearly gates. They were the first wives, supporting the husband while he went to college, waiting tables at night while he got his MBA, watching the kids while he ran a series of almost successful businesses.  Then the cheating cad dumped the first wife for his bottled blonde trophy wife from Chapel Hill and…

Almost immediately won a title at UNC in 2005.  Now he’s in prime position to win another one in 2008.  He underachieved in Lawrence for a decade and a half, dumped the first wife for an airhead with a boob job, then won two titles in five years.  The bitter ex-wife has two choices — revenge or acceptance.  Beating the Heels tomorrow night would take care of the former.  Moving on with Coach Self is harder, but would fit the latter.

Once a family starts down the spiral of dysfunction, most emerge one of three ways — counseling, closure or a material change in circumstances.  Family therapy seems unlikely.  Beating UNC or watching Roy fall on his face would provide closure. A successful program under Bill Self that doesn’t underachieve would provide a change in circumstances.  It makes KU fans sound crazy, but there it is – dysfunctional families very rarely just get over it.


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