As new Kansas basketball coach Bill Self stepped off a jet Sunday at Lawrence Municipal Airport, Jayhawks chancellor Robert Hemenway was the first to greet him.
“Occasionally,” Hemenway said as he walked out the glass door to the runway, “we do things right around here.”
Self, who spent the last three seasons at Illinois, will officially become the eighth full-time head coach in KU history when he’s introduced at a news conference at 1 p.m. CDT on Monday. Self replaces Roy Williams, who resigned last week to take over at North Carolina.
A former Kansas assistant under Larry Brown, Self has agreed to a five-year contract that sources said will pay him about $1.1 million annually. Self made about $900,000 per year at Illinois. Kansas will have to pay the Illini $500,000 to buy out Self’s contract, which ran through the 2007-08 season.
Shortly after deboarding the jet in Lawrence, Self found his way into the airport foyer. There, he politely declined to comment about his decision to accept the Kansas job.
“I’m usually not this difficult to work with, but I’ve been told I’m off limits to you guys,” Self told a reporter. “We’ll be able to talk tomorrow.”
It was this same airport where Williams stood exactly one week ago.
Self walked to the door of the hotel lobby carrying a small personal bag and a larger duffel. Self’s kids carried luggage for their dad, and Roberts brought two of his own. When they entered the building, Jennings said, “You guys wanna go for a ride?”
“Let’s go for a ride,” he said.
The group headed toward the plane, passing under a sign that read, “Welcome Big 10 fans.” Inside, a pilot – who coincidentally had flown Self from Illinois to Tulsa – said, “He’s gone, isn’t he?”
As the plane cranked up and prepared to climb right, carrying Self to his dream job, the pilot had one final task. He had to ask the tower for permission to leave.
“You’re cleared to Lawrence as filed,” the tower replied. “Climb and maintain to 3,000.”
With that, the clocks reading 12:54 p.m., Bill Self was gone.
Eighty minutes later, he was home. Home in Lawrence.
Dressed in a graphite suit adorned with a Jayhawks pin, Self landed at 2:14 p.m. He was accompanied by Roberts, his wife, Cindy, and their two children.
The warm, look-you-in-the-eye persona for which Self has become known was apparent from the moment he stepped off the plane. After introducing himself to Hemenway, Self shook hands with airport employee Troy Jantz.
“Good to see you,” Self said. “What do you do here?”
“I refuel airplanes,” Jantz said.
“Well then,” chuckled Self, “you must be the man around this place.”
Braving a stiff wind that blew his tie over his left shoulder, Self made his way into the airport lobby and eventually slid into Hemenway’s beige Lincoln. It was off to Allen Fieldhouse, where nearly 20 reporters had gathered upon hearing the news of his hiring.
Self spent much of the afternoon in seclusion from the media, though. Instead, secretary Joanie Stephens showed Self around the basketball offices before Konzem led a tour of KU’s facilities and then of Lawrence.
In time, later in the afternoon, he sat down and grabbed a bite to eat with the team – with his team. Finally, at 9 p.m., Self held his first formal team meeting with the Jayhawks.
It lasted just more than an hour, and Wayne Simien emerged with a distinct impression.
“He looks terrible,” Simien said, “like he hasn’t slept for a couple days.”
But that’s not all Simien and the rest of the Jayhawks thought of their new leader. They were impressed with what he had to say, with the way he carried himself.
“It’s his program now,” Keith Langford said, “and I want to play for him.”
The task of transforming Roy Williams’ program into his own had begun.
All his friends say this is the last stop for Bill Self. This is where his college coaching career started, back in that 1985-86 season, and he’s come full circle.
Yes, he had lots to do in the first hours in the rest of his life. He’d been almost 500 miles – from Champaign, Ill., to Lawrence – and had only said one thing wrong.
He, and not that guy at the airport, is the man around this place.