Washburn is on a roll in football, but one of the toughest games of the year falls on Saturday.
Not just because Fort Hays State is undefeated and ranked No. 8, but also because its coach, Chris Brown, was a longtime assistant for WU under Craig Schurig.
The expiration date has elapsed on clandestine concerns.
Brown is in his seventh season with the Tigers, so he has no connections to any players on the Ichabods roster, no immediate insight into classified intel, no real threat to steal signals. An assistant, Cooper Harris, is far enough removed too, in his sixth season at Hays. Another assistant, Steven Dudley, played for the Ichabods and is a 2013 WU graduate.
Still, each knows the Washburn program and the tendencies Schurig draws from.
“The awkward part is the pregame and postgame, because they’re your best friends,’’ said Schurig, the dean of MIAA coaches in his 16th season at WU. “You realize what they did here. They helped us establish the program with all the hard work they put in.
“Now you see all their hard work at Hays. They’re good. They’ve built a program out at Hays, which is difficult to do, and they’re to be commended for it. But it’s hard because they’re guys you grew up in the profession with.’’
Brown’s squads the past two years tied the Fort Hays State record for wins (eight) in a season. Now that mark appears in jeopardy.
That makes the bird at Al’s Chickenette a little tastier, the beer at so many Hays establishments a little colder and the drive home from a lengthy MIAA road trip more tolerable.
This week, the Tigers leave the driving to the Ichabods, who have won four straight since taking Northwest Missouri deep into the fourth quarter of a Sept. 7 defeat. Yet WU remains out of the rankings at 5-1.
Schurig recalls two factors he stressed to Brown about the FHSU job.
One, was to approach the job as a long-term commitment, simply because a quick fix was not going to be possible because of a postseason drought that extended to 20 years before Brown, a western Kansas native of Liberal, took the Tigers to a bowl in 2015.
Two, was to get assurances from the FHSU administration that it was committed to football.
“You’ve got to be able to bring in out-of-state players. You’re not going to build an MIAA competitor on western Kansas kids alone,’’ said Schurig, who has scoured the Great Plains as far back as his days as a Pittsburg State assistant.
“Now, those kids can be a good foundation for you, along with kids from all over the country, but the athletic department has to support that with funding. You have to go places to recruit. Some programs try to recruit off a video and the phone, but that’s rolling the dice and you’re going to be right about 10 percent of the time.’’
Proof of the Tigers’ turnaround has again materialized this season.
They lost a star rusher, Shaquille Cooper, but are in the thick of the MIAA race.
“They’re good, or better, because other positions are better,’’ Schurig said. “That’s the mark of a good program. They weren’t just relying on the one kid. You could see they were trending up. Over the last three to four years, Hays has been one of the most tough, physical teams we play.’’
Hats off then to Brown, one of two former WU assistants under Schurig now guiding an MIAA rival. The other is Rob Robinson at Northeastern State.
“It’s a compliment to our program, and our entire athletic program, when other places look at guys you have to change the course of what they’re doing,’’ Schurig said.
“You take pride in that. Whether it is Rob or Chris, their ambition and their abilities to be a head coach, you could see it was there.’’
Contact Kevin Haskin at email@example.com or @KevinHaskin on Twitter.