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"Self is Now the Greatest KU Coach Ever" 😯 Q&A with Rustin Dodd

Former KU beat writer Rustin Dodd talks Self, Mahomes, Kansas City, and more

In this Hearings newsletter:

  1. Q&A with Rustin Dodd

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EVERYTHING IN THIS NEWSLETTER IS BASED UPON WHAT I AM HEARING FROM PEOPLE I TRUST. PLEASE DO NOT MISTAKE THIS FOR FACT OR FOR ACTUAL JOURNALISM, WHICH HAS VERIFICATION STANDARDS THAT I HAVE NOT ADHERED TO. I DO NOT GUARANTEE THE ACCURACY OF THE CONTENT.

Q&A: Former KU Beat Writer Rustin Dodd Talks Mahomes, KC, Bill Self, and More

HEARING: There’s a new book out from former KU beat writer Rustin Dodd that I personally can’t wait to get my hands on. I’ve followed Rustin’s writing for years, and can’t wait to see how he put this story together. Also, this Q&A alone made me miss his coverage on KU.

The title: Kingdom Quarterback: Patrick Mahomes, the Kansas City Chiefs, and How a Once Swingin' Cow Town Chased the Ultimate Comeback.

If it’s not clear, the book tells the story of Patrick Mahomes and the larger story of Kansas City. It’s written by two KU grads (The co-author is Mark Dent.). It’s out August 22.

Also, because I want to support two great KU journalists (and I told Rustin Scoops Mafia would show up): For every pre-order this week, we’ll make a $10 donation to Mass St. NIL Collective supporting KU student-athletes.

PLEASE email your receipt to [email protected] to ensure your order counts.

To get your copy to arrive on August 22 and support NIL at KU…

THE Q&A

What came first: The idea to write a Mahomes book or the idea to write a Kansas City book?

It really came at the same time. My co-author, Mark Dent, and I met while we were journalism students at KU. We’re both from the Kansas City area, and when Mahomes won his first Super Bowl, we thought he might be the perfect character to help tell this story about the history and recent transformation of Kansas City.

I’ve said this a few times, but we both grew up in Overland Park in the 1990s, and it just seemed clear there was this different energy in the last decade. We wanted to explore that, but to do so, we really needed to explain the whole history of the town, and what happened to the city over the last hundred years or so.

What did you learn about Patrick Mahomes that really stood out as you reported on the subject?

I’ve made this point before, too, but I think he’s actually underrated. We don’t really get into this too deeply in the book—at least not the nerdy statistical case—but there are so many advanced stats that show what an outlier he is in the history of football.

I think he’s the greatest quarterback who has ever played the position. He may not have the greatest career; we’ll see. But nobody has ever played the position better.

I think that only explains a little of why he’s so compelling, though. I think there’s a general aesthetic quality to his performance, similar to Steph Curry. He’s the rare athlete who has changed the form. His numbers are unprecedented, but he’s more fun to think about as an artist, removed from any of the conventional sports debates we might have. That may sound a little pretentious, but it’s sort of like what the writer David Foster Wallace wrote about Roger Federer. The joy is in the experience of watching.

We really try to capture that in the book. We basically want to explore three things: 1. Where did this guy come from? 2. How did he become so good? 3. Why does he matter so much to Kansas City?

So we tell the story of his childhood. We dive into the why and how of his training. And then we tell the story of Kansas City since he arrived.

Do you need to be from Kansas City to connect with the book?

No! But seriously, I hope not. It really is a book about the story of all American cities, told through Kansas City. We really think Kansas City is such a microcosm for the country. So if you’re interested in how midwestern cities came to be (and then grew), I think you’ll find the history of Kansas City to be really interesting. If you’re interested in the history of the suburbs, you’ll hopefully learn a lot. Because, believe it or not, Kansas City (and real estate developer J.C. Nichols, who is a main character in the book) really helped invent the modern suburb.

For instance: Here’s a Houston example because I know you’re from there. When the leaders and developers in Houston were developing the River Oaks neighborhood, they went to J.C. Nichols for advice and inspiration. This same story happened in tons of cities. Nichols may have been the most prominent developer in the country in the early 20th century—for better and worse. And we get into all of that.

And finally, Patrick Mahomes is such a compelling figure. He’s just getting started. But we tried to tell his story in a way that will be enjoyable for Chiefs fans and also perfect for people who don’t know the Chiefs as well.

You’ve said Mahomes is the greatest quarterback of all time… what led you to that conclusion?

I’m mostly talking statistically at this point, because Tom Brady (and maybe a few others) have better careers in total right now. Chiefs fans know these numbers, but: He has a winning record when his team is trailing by 10. Tom Brady is second in that stat, and he only wins 38 percent of the time. His career passer rating is 105.7. Rodgers is second at 103.6. And Rodgers really didn’t hit his true prime until his third season as a starter. Mahomes is only entering his sixth. I don’t think he’s had his best season yet.

Of course, you can easily argue that football has changed a lot, even in the last few years. And you could say that is one reason why Mahomes’ numbers are so ridiculous. That’s true. But it’s a little like saying Steph Curry benefits from playing in an era where people are shooting more threes. Steph CREATED that era. I think Mahomes is similar in that regard. Not exactly the same. But similar.

What about with KU.. is there a great untold story with KU that you’d want to take a crack at writing?

I’d like to go back to some of KU’s NCAA Tournament losses and see if the time that’s passed has given people some perspective on what happened. I’m thinking in real-time here, so maybe there are better examples, but one of the my favorite teams to cover when I was on the KU beat for The Star was the 2012-13 KU team. That team should not have been that good. But it was somehow awesome. Maybe one of the most underrated KU teams of the Self era. They went 31-6, earned a No. 1 seed, won the Big 12, and Kevin Young was one of their starters!

A quick Kevin Young aside: I wish I would have had more years to cover him. He was a fascinating guy. We had a conversation about the civil rights leader Bayard Rustin during the NCAA Tournament when he was a senior. The gist was that Kevin had been studying civil rights leaders, and he wished more people knew about Bayard Rustin. And if you don’t know anything about Bayard Rustin, there’s a movie on him coming out this year. Look him up. It really speaks to how interesting a guy Kevin is.

But back to that team: Jeff Withey was INCREDIBLE as a senior. I’d argue he was more valuable as a senior than Cole Aldrich was as sophomore or junior. Travis Releford was maybe the best finisher at the rim I covered. (I think he was the best finisher in traffic that KU had until Jalen Wilson this past season). Elijah Johnson was also really, really good and was forced to play out of position, and while Ben McLemore was somewhat two-dimensional—he could only finish lobs and shoot threes—he was elite at both of those things. That team had five useful players—Perry Ellis was still figuring things out—and I truly believe they could have beaten Louisville in the NCAA title game. I’d love to ask some of those players about the Michigan game and all the drama that transpired. I don’t think KU fans think of that season as one that got away because of the roster. But college basketball was relatively down that year. It would have been fascinating to see them on the big stage against Louisville.

It’s crazy Bill didn’t win one in the 2010s while you were covering them at The Star… With the 2022 title, is it possible that Self is the greatest KU coach of all-time?

He is, right?

He has the rings — and the overall resume. I guess he doesn’t have a coaching tree that includes Adolph Rupp and Dean Smith, but otherwise, I think Self is now the greatest KU coach ever. I don’t have too much to add that everyone doesn’t already know, but I do remember when Self replaced Roy Williams, one of the common talking points was: “Well, Self may succeed and maybe even win a title, but he’ll never win 80 percent of his games like Williams did.” Twenty years later, Self has won 81.5 percent of his games.

What was your thought watching KU football on GameDay and seeing a packed stadium on ESPN?

Maybe this speaks to how popular college football is overall, but … I think Kansas football fans are extremely underrated. And when I say Kansas football fans, I mean KU fans, but also K-State fans. I guess you could technically say K-State football fans are properly rated at this point, but here’s what I mean: Nearly 3 million people live in the state of Kansas. In the weeks that KU and K-State both have home games, around 80,000 or 90,000 fans will go to watch a Division 1 football game in the state. That’s a ton! Kansas is a small state with two major Division I football programs and they both can draw 40,000 or 50,000 fans when they’re competitive. Nebraska is smaller but only has one power five school. States like Minnesota, Wisconsin and Missouri are bigger and only have one power five program. Even Ohio only had one power five program until Cincinnati joined the Big 12.

To answer your question, however, that scene gave me such nostalgia for the 2007 season. I was on campus then and it was such a wild time. I remember being in the Underground (the campus food court) and KU was undefeated, and I somehow was eating near a group of football players, including Chris Harris. They were 6-0 and about to go play at Colorado, and I promise this is a true story. One of them noted that if they won that week, they’d go to College Station the next week with a chance to go 8-0. I’m paraphrasing, but Chris was like: “If we could win at College Station, wow.” I remember when KU football started getting love on PTI, which seemed totally insane. I remember going to Stillwater to cover the KU-Oklahoma State game on a Saturday night (“Shades of Doug Flutie!”) and I think Ohio State lost that day, and Jason Whitlock, before the game started, was going wild in the press box about how this Kansas-Oklahoma State game was now the biggest in the country. In retrospect, we should have seen some of this coming. KU was actually pretty decent in 2006, but I guess nobody realized how good Todd Reesing was going to be.

What do you wish KU fans knew about covering the team?

Well, this will sound incredibly self-serving and “inside baseball”. But I wish they understood how difficult writing a decent game story can be while having to meet a newspaper deadline. This is truly first-world problems, but when you’d cover a Big Monday game, it would tip off at 8 p.m. and you’d have to file your story by 11 or 11:15. The press conferences sometimes wouldn’t start until after 10:30, which meant you were usually writing most of the story during the second half. This is a long way of saying that I always hated how difficult it was to write something interesting—that would hold up for the next day—in 20 minutes or so. Back before the internet, people had to read game stories just to understand who won and lost (and what happened). Covering KU basketball in 2013 or 2014, that wasn’t the case.

What’s a favorite memory or two you have from covering the Jayhawks?

So my co-author Mark Dent and I covered KU basketball for the Daily Kansan when we were in school, and we were the two student beat writers in 2008. One of our favorite stories involves Mario Chalmers showing up to Stauffer-Flint (where the UDK newsroom was) and asking for a copy of the newspaper from the NCAA championship victory. He was very nonchalant about it.

Two of my favorite players to interview were Tyshawn Taylor and Naadir Tharpe. They were interesting guys with smart perspectives on the world, and they weren’t afraid to talk. I appreciated that. The 2012 run to the Final Four was special to cover as well. I also remember watching Joel Embiid at a camp scrimmage in the summer before freshman year, and immediately thinking that he reminded me of Shaquille O’Neal in Blue Chips. He was just so physically huge, and if you watched him play for two minutes, it was obviously he was going to be an NBA All-Star. What’s cool about that story is that’s exactly what everyone always says about great players. People are just like: “You could just tell.” And it’s always like: Yeahhhh, buttttt you don’t know for sure. And that sounds kind of cliche. But with Embiid, it was just true.

What do you think is most important for KU moving forward?

I don’t have a great answer for this. But No. 1: Don’t screw up Allen Fieldhouse. They did an incredible job with the last renovation. I hope they do the same with this one. You have to keep the spirit of the place. It needs to feel like a gym from the 1950s, because it is.

A funny thing about Allen Fieldhouse and Kansas City. I feel the same way about stories about how amazing Allen Fieldhouse is as I do about stories about how great Kansas City barbecue is. KU fans just can’t get enough of any ranking that says Allen is the best. Just like KC people can’t get enough of any story that says KC barbecue is the best. It’s true that they both are, but it’s just like: OK, we get it.

But I will say: Having had the privilege of going to some amazing sports venues, there’s only two that have compared to Allen: Fenway Park and Augusta National.

I know that’s pretty predictable. But when Jay Bilas talks about the ghosts and the bones of the place, he really is correct. I’ve been to Fenway maybe 15 or 20 times and it hits every time. I’ve been to Augusta three different years and it’s the same. Allen Fieldhouse never disappoints.

Thank you, Rustin! I appreciate your time and best of luck with the book. I’ve heard great things...

A sampling of the early reviews:

“Mark Dent and Rustin Dodd write a story here that is bigger than Patrick Mahomes — and it’s hard to imagine ANYTHING being bigger than Patrick Mahomes. They tell the remarkable history of a thoroughly American city and its pathway to the center of professional football.”—Joe Posnanski, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Why We Love Baseball

“A smart meditation on race, class, geography, and of course, football. This deeply-researched book will leave you with more appreciation not just for the transcendent superstar that is Mahomes, but the city that has embraced him. —Mirin Fader, New York Times bestselling author of Giannis

Again…

For every pre-order this week, we’ll make a $10 donation to Mass St. NIL Collective supporting KU student-athletes.

PLEASE email your receipt to [email protected] to ensure your order counts.

To get your copy to arrive on August 22 and support NIL at KU…

Yup, this is Scoopsmafia 😂🤷‍♂️

KUHearings Discord legend “callmemorrison” turned Bill Self into Superman using AI. To join the Discord, click here.

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