Then he headed off the question that everyone wanted to ask.
“I’ve been asked the same question about 200 times. Let me tell you folks: don’t worry about a thing. The only thing that guides me is the truth. And your football team is roarin’ and ready to go,” Mark Mangino stated to applause.
Joking about his newfound popularity with the media, Mangino said, “They’ve been around me so much the last couple of days, you’d think I know the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.”
Even for someone who always finds the positive, Mangino was surprisingly effusive in his optimism and praise for the Jayhawks. This was welcome news for fans who, just a few years ago, openly questioned the overall talent level of the team.
“Our kids look better than they ever have. If [you] walk through our weight room, these guys have real, Big-12 muscles,” Mangino said. “They look like (NCAA) division one players, they walk like division one players, they talk like division one players. They have a swagger. They look good.”
Mangino said he thinks the much-maligned Big 12 North will be better than people think.
“It’s going to be improved across the board with every team,” he predicted.
With the division wide-open, Mangino sees a terrific opportunity for the Jayhawks.
“We’re making a run at the Big 12 North. We’re going full speed ahead, and our kids are committed. In fact, some of our kids don’t think they can do it; they know they can. That’s what’s going to make the difference,” Mangino explained.
In addition, Mangino said, all of KU’s scholarship players spent the summer in Lawrence, which he says makes a tremendous difference.
Mangino mentioned the recent loss of Rodney Harris, saying it is a “sad story, a tough deal.”
“We lost Rodney. The kid really has some serious family issues. We wish him well. He’ll do well in life: he’s got a good personality, and hopefully he’ll finish school and get his degree.”
The coach also said that two players will not qualify, academically. However, he and his staff knew this when they committed to the Jayhawks. He did not name them to protect their privacy.
“We have two kids we signed that we knew weren’t going to qualify. We took them under the premise that we would place them in a juco, and we’ve done that,” he explained.
Despite his optimism, though, Mangino was careful as he highlighted the nonconference games on the 2005 schedule.
“Don’t take Florida Atlantic lightly,” he cautioned. “They might not be a household name, but they have some guys I’d like to have on our team. They’re from South Florida, so they run well, they’re strong, they’re quick. They’re getting a lot of kids that can’t get into Miami or Florida or Florida State.”
Appalachian State will be a top-10 Division 1-AA team, led by senior Richie Williams, who Mangino touted as “one of the better quarterbacks in the country.”
Finally, Mangino worried about Louisiana Tech. “Louisiana Tech could be a spoiler. They beat Michigan State last year, and they played some other people like Penn State down to the last play of the game, so they are not to be taken lightly.”
Three dates on the Big 12 conference schedule got brief but special attention from the coach:
- “On October 15th, we go to Arrowhead to face Oklahoma. We’re looking forward to that. Our kids get to play in an NFL stadium. We get to wake up some of the KU fans in Kansas City and say, “Look what we have over here in Lawrence. You need to get with the program!”
- “On Nov ember 5th, we’ve got Nebraska coming here (to Lawrence). Good time to break a streak, huh?”
- “The Iowa State game will be played the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We hope that that game will mean something, and I think it will.”