With hard work, grit, Mangino puts football back on the map at Kansas
Not long after he was hired at the University of Kansas, Mark Mangino experienced something that gave him a clear indication of his status in the community. Mangino was shopping with his wife when an older woman approached and asked if he was the new football coach. Mangino replied he was and then waited for some words of encouragement.
"Well, I want to tell you that if you do really good, I'll buy football season tickets," the woman said. "I've had basketball tickets now for 40 years. But if you do good, I'll buy football season tickets too."
It wasn't exactly what Mangino wanted to hear, but he thanked her and went on his way. "I'm always hoping I'll see that lady again and see if she got her football tickets," he said recently.
There have been plenty of seasons when tickets were easy to come by at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, but Mangino and his Jayhawks have changed that. Never mind that Kansas has a reputation as a basketball school or that the hangover still lingers from the recent celebration of a national title by Bill Self's Jayhawks.
Football matters again at Kansas. There will be an energetic reception in the fall for Mangino's team as Kansas tries to follow up on its historic 12-1 season, which included a 24-21 victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl and a No. 7 ranking in the final polls. The Jayhawks have entered the Bowl Championship Series race. Now the college football world will be watching to see if Kansas can stay there.
"One of the things we want to do is make sure this isn't a one-time thing," Kansas athletic director Lew Perkins said. "I don't think it is. That's where Mark comes in as the coach. I really think he's got a handle on a lot of things. We're not going to allow this thing to slip"
It's just the latest challenge for Mangino, 51. Last season he won coach of the year awards from eight different organizations, including The Associated Press, the Walter Camp Foundation and the American Football Coaches Association. That's quite an accomplishment for a coach at Kansas -- and also pretty special for a blue-collar guy from Pennsylvania who knew he wanted to coach by the time he was 14.
In 2002, Mangino's first season at KU, the Jayhawks finished 2-10, including 0-8 in the Big 12 North. He inherited a program that had endured six consecutive losing seasons and hadn't been to a bowl game since 1995. But by Mangino's second season, the Jayhawks won three conference games, finished the regular season 6-6 and played North Carolina State in the Tangerine Bowl. And in 2005, Kansas finished 7-5 and beat Houston 42-13 in the Fort Worth Bowl.
Those bowl appearances didn't earn the Jayhawks the national attention they received last season, when they won their first 11 games and climbed to No. 2. But it was progress that hinted at better things to come. "We've been bowl eligible four of the last six years, so this is not an overnight thing," Mangino said. "Last year, I felt like things really started to come together. We were healthy and we had stability at quarterback, which was something that had been missing in previous seasons.
"I think the way people react to me and my program is much different now. When I first arrived here I was basically anonymous and I liked it. But I knew it meant the football program was not held in high regard. People react differently to me now. I appreciate it. It's nice of them to be so supportive."
Mangino is the first to admit that personal awards and popularity don't win football games. He is a private man who works hard to deflect personal attention. Any other approach would be inconsistent to his basic values. His coaching philosophy is built on a foundation of self-sacrifice and teamwork, qualities that were burned into his soul growing up in a tough-guy neighborhood of New Castle, Pa.
Kansas was the least penalized team in the nation last season. Mangino stresses efficiency in practice and he believes that minimizes mistakes. His low tolerance for showboating was evident last September when Raimond Pendleton returned a punt 77 yards for a touchdown against Central Michigan and was penalized after diving into the end zone. As soon as Pendleton reached the sideline, Mangino lit into him. The incident was posted on YouTube under the heading "Coach Mark Mangino explodes" and has been viewed more than 385,000 times.
When he was named AP Coach of the Year, the wire story included comments from a childhood friend, Tom Tommelleo, who said Mangino always behaved like a coach. "Sometimes Mark could be a gigantic pain in the butt," Tommelleo told the AP. "We were just playing the games. But he was always a stickler for detail. He was 10 years old and he was out there trying to figure out the right strategy."
Reminded of those comments, Mangino said: "By Tom's own admission, he kind of embellished that story a little bit. But to some degree I was the organizer on the playgrounds and sandlot fields. I like winning and competing and I kind of understood what was going on.
"In high school, I was the starting defensive tackle on the football team. And I was the starting catcher on the baseball team. But I wasn't going to be great at anything. I was just average. I knew that if I was going to go anywhere, it was going to be with the mental aspect of the game. I was always thinking of ways to improve and seize strategies of the game. I tried to absorb everything."