In Search of an Epiphany

Kansas football has become a series of punchlines.

Okay, let's play a game. Finish the following phrase:

"Kansas football..."

Here are some of the standard responses:

" monkeys."
"... (Heavy pained sigh, eyes rolled towards the heavens)"
" how we measure the distance between the start of classes and the start of basketball."
" sweaty monkeys."

Okay. We've heard that one. We've heard them all, actually. They've been painfully accurate.

This past week, KU Head Football Coach Mark Mangino gave his weekly press conference in the standard format. For the uninitiated and/or squeamish, the standard format would look a lot like a spin room in the aftermath of the Battle of Little Bighorn: "Custer was looking pretty good against those Indians for awhile, don't you think?"

The pain is evident on Mangino's face; his team plays badly much of the time and blows opportunities with almost maniacal speed. The on-field strategy of the KU/K-State game seemed to be to get 11 guys with Jayhawks on their helmets spending 4 quarters saying "Thank you, sir, may I have another?" like so many pledges on Hell Night. The final score would have been worse than 64-zip if Bill Snyder hadn't been substituting starters for guys like the bus driver and assistant to the water boy.

This past Saturday, KU was able to do something against Nebraska that they weren't able to accomplish with K-State; they put points on the board. Of course, the game most likely ended the career of Jonas Weatherbie so that was a pretty damn expensive touchdown.

What say the naysayers now? They say things like "If Mangino can't do it..."

I say--Quit your whining. It takes a long time to turn around a big ship and the SS Jayhawk has been taking on water since the Titanic was a tugboat.

We were spanked and we deserved to be spanked and we will continue to be spanked until Mark Mangino has had the chance to do what he's good at. Mark Mangino is a recruiter. He is such a good recruiter that Bill Snyder no longer sends Mangino cards at Christmas.

Mark Mangino would not have recruited much of the current Kansas team. Is that a personal dig at these fine young men whose confidence is as weak as the coffee at Denny's? No--they are adults in the house in which they grew up: The House of Terry Allen.

Terry Allen got in way over his head. He started doing that, oh, let's see--the day his boxes arrived from Iowa in '97? Mark Mangino is not a man in over his head, although at the moment Mangino may be a man at the end of his tether.

It's not easy to lose. It's not easy for these players to be on a field where their ability and intelligence is tested to the absolute limits for four quarters. Not to bash things academic, but given the chance to take the ACT's every Saturday for two-and-a-half months or play Big 12 Football, I'd sharpen my pencil and feel lucky to be sitting in a cafeteria. Sure, whiffing on college boards can stifle your academic career--but do you do it in front of 50,000 bloodthirsty spectators?

That's more observation that absolution. This team is bad. Thank you for attending today's view of the painfully obvious. The harder question might seem to be, "can Jayhawk football get any better?"

Yes, Virginia, it can. Mark Mangino may not be Santa Claus even if he could be a body double for the guy. But last December, Mangino made his agenda clear: Kansas Football will no longer be the extra-long commercial break before Roy Williams' Allen Fieldhouse Spectacular.

Mangino has Kansas fans behind him. Mangino has his younger players totally behind him and he has his more-veteran players behind him even if they don't get IT yet. We won't see IT for two or more seasons. So--will the alumni stay behind him? Will Al "Jack Welch is My Hero" Bohl support him? Will the press? Will, of all things, the Internet media weasels?

For what it's worth, I will be. I remember the press conference last year when Mangino shut down Jason "Make-mine-Super-Sized" Whitlock when Jason asked Mangino if a man of his size could successfully coach Big 12 football. Talk about the big bloated pot calling the kettle fat.

There is a photo of Mangino scowling behind a pair of Oakley's and he looks like the world's angriest bumble-bee. Mangino, given the chance, will recruit and train and inspire his teams. While we may never have a true conference powerhouse in our team, we will have a team that can be described without using swear words.

Our best coaches inspire us to be better than we are; to be more than what we have become.

What we've become is a series of punch lines.

We laughed and cried for all the wrong reasons this season--but it will get better.

At least, it probably can't get a whole hell of a lot worse. Top Stories