And heads immediately rolled.
Twelve years ago, a fiery mentor named Glen Mason inherited a Golden Flashes squad that was 3-8 in '85.
And a brutal weeding-out process ensued.
Rookie coach Dean Pees, who now faces the daunting task of turning a program that hasn't enjoyed a winning season since Mason departed in 1987 into a perennial contender in the Mid-American Conference, would like nothing more than to match the success these two head coaches ultimately enjoyed at Kent State and beyond.
So far he has. In the casualty department.
Roughly 15 players that were on last year's squad or that worked out with the team last spring have decided to call it quits after getting a taste of life with Pees.
"I didn't come here with the attitude that I wanted to get rid of people," said Pees, whose rigorous offseason conditioning program has claimed several victims. "I wanted them all to stay, but they had to stay under our conditions. Rarely does that happen with a new coach. So I'm not surprised."
Several of the players that decided to pack it in were not on scholarship, but a handful were expected to contribute a great deal to the cause in 1998.
The list includes William Young, the Flashes' second-leading receiver a year ago (35 catches, 457 yards); Dedrick Paul, who caught 11 passes for 214 yards in '97; Dion Gaston, a letterman last year who was listed as the starting fullback on the team's spring depth chart; and Shane Farris (offensive line) and Rick Abramowski (linebacker), both projected second-teamers last spring.
"Some that have left were proven players," said Pees. "When guys that didn't play leave, no one really cares. But when you lose guys that were players, that gets people's attention.
"But again, I didn't want anyone to leave. Some guys called and said they weren't sure what they wanted to do, and I said if you're not 100 percent sure, then leave. To stay, you had to want to win and want to do it the right way."
And the right way's never been the easiest way.
Thoughts of James' first camps still bring grimaces to the faces of those that endured them.
"Those stories are legendary," said Ken Dooner, who lettered three years under James. "I wasn't there his first year, but I heard all about how brutal it was. Then my freshman year, we lost half our class during winter workouts. Was it ever tough.
"But a new coach has to set a precedent, and that's what Dean is doing. That's the only way to build a program."
If anyone was tougher on his troops than James, it was Mason, according to those who witnessed his demanding style first-hand.
"He was demanding of everyone right across the board, his players, his assistant coaches, himself," said current KSU field house manager Pete Mahoney, who was an assistant coach on Mason's first staff in 1986. "He wanted his players to raise their expectations to his level, and he refused to lower his. He just pulled them along."
But not everyone made the trip.
"We lost some that first year," said Mahoney. "I remember we had a running back that was supposed to be great, but he didn't pass his running test. He thought he was above that. But he was told to hit the highway.
"But those who stayed never laid down and died. Even when we fell behind, we always believed we could win because Glen made us expect to win. And from talking to Dean and watching him a little, I see the same type of coach. His expectations are high, and he's forcing his players to raise theirs right up with him."
How tough has life been with Pees so far?
"Last summer, I don't think I would have made it," said quarterback Jose Davis. "I wasn't playing well and I wasn't the starting quarterback, so I was a little depressed and down on myself ... I don't think I would have been willing to work this hard.
"I can't say I've experienced anything like it. But it will all pay off in the end."
Those that remain have bought into that theory.
"We had about 50 guys stay this summer, and they came to camp in great shape," said Pees. "They've made tremendous strides in their conditioning and in the weight room. And the freshmen also came in in great shape.
"We still didn't get 100 percent (to pass preseason conditioning tests), so we still need guys to dedicate a little more. The guys that stayed over the summer did the job and the others didn't, and that's always the case. But overall, I'm pleased."
As Pees spoke, those who hadn't met the team's conditioning standards were gathered in a circle following practice on Monday, struggling through countless sets of push-ups and sit-ups in the searing heat.
"That's our Opportunity Club. Since they didn't make it, they now have the opportunity to get better," said Pees, with a wry smile.
The Opportunity Club may cost Pees a couple more players. But that doesn't seem to concern him much.
"I can't worry about those who aren't here," he said. "I'm not putting any unreasonable demands on these players. This is the same standard we had when I was at Notre Dame, Miami (Ohio), Toledo and Michigan State, and these players know that and they've accepted it. It's the standard you have to live by if you want to win."