I don't think Robert Frost ever coached a down of division one football. He should have, though. Frost knew what this was going to be like.
But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before we sleep.
That was never more evident than the final game against Oklahoma State. If Nebraska or Oklahoma or the godless purple hoard hang 55 on you, a fan can take it. But Oklahoma State? How did they get so good so fast? Does Bob Stoops have the NCAA's enforcement office number on speed dial? Anyone seen Jimmy Johnson in Stillwater lately?
This coaching staff has miles to go. And miles. Oy, are there miles!
It's generally accepted that you never downgrade a coach on his first year. The first season is never anything but positives. Some players you didn't count on step up and contribute in some nice ways. The bottom line is that you're a new guy trying to teach your system and instill your philosophy into someone else's players. To think of it any other way wouldn't be fair.
It's even less fair when you're at Kansas and that someone else was Terry Allen. It should be duly noted, however, that Allen was a terrific recruiter. That was never more evident than Saturday as OSU receiver Rashaun Woods torched the KU secondary for seven catches, eight billion yards and three TDs. Apparently, Terry Allen got every single 5-foot-8 defensive back he set his sights on. It is too bad no one told Allen that everyone else was recruiting 6-foot-4 wide receivers.
The miles we have to go became apparent before the game ever started. During Senior Day introductions, there were 17 seniors. It's never a good sign to hear, "Who?" and "I don't remember him ever playing," during this time honored ceremony. What this says is that our seniors didn't play this year. It's very difficult to win, or even compete without senior leadership.
Me? Bitter? Noooo.
If you go looking for positives, you immediately bump into freshman stud Clark Green. If we can get some big fat guys up front who will keep this kid from getting killed, he's going to be one terrific football player for the Hawks.
Bill Whittemore was a very nice surprise, but again, he has to have some fat guys who will protect him. I remember watching him run around against Texas A&M and saying, "He's not going to last the season. He's going to get hurt." Damn me and my gift of prophecy.
Once you're done talking about those two, the conversation shifts to the surprisingly nice weather for the Okie State game and wondering if ticket prices will go up next year. Sure, Zach Dyer showed signs that clearly indicate his future at KU is as a defensive back. Nick Reid, a terrific athlete, avoided getting hurt and did a nice job moving from quarterback to linebacker for the Jayhawks. You can point to a few others, but none of them were anything to write home about.
In his postgame comments, Mangino said that we are right on schedule with regard to his plan. If "being right on schedule" means "we made it through our first season," then he's right.
After all, that could be the biggest positive of this season: it's over. The Fat Man made it. The team made it. Even though things got pretty bad, the wheels never came off. I'd like to think they've hit rock bottom and are ready to get better now.
"Hi, my name's Mark, and I'm a recovering losing coach." Hi, Mark.
No more evaluating. No more trying to figure out who wants to play and who wants free sweats and food and beer and pretty girls at The Wheel. No more wondering who will bust his butt when things are tough and who will pretend he's hurt when he's blown his coverage. It isn't pretty, but at least he truly knows what he has.
I'd also venture that he knows whose services will no longer be required this spring when practice begins. After the K-State game, he had people in mind when he stated that some of the guys on the team "need to get on with life's work." I'd bet we'll all notice some names missing from the spring two-deep.
Most importantly, the end of the season means he's absolutely, positively sure what this program needs and can close some deals to meet those needs. Problem is those needs are strength, athleticism, speed and size. Oh, is that all? "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?"
Remember this is where The Fat Man made his reputation: sitting in living rooms all over the country with young men and their mothers and fathers and grandmothers and coaches, convincing them to believe in him and in the program he represents. No football program has needed someone to believe in it more than Kansas Football does right now. Perhaps Mark Mangino is just the man to make it happen.
Glen Mason's first recruiting class coming off a 1-10 season included Chris Maumalaunga, Gilbert Brown and Keith Loneker. Over and over, Mangino has stated it is a long, tough process. A similar recruiting class may be necessary for Coach Mangino to honestly be able to say, at this time next year, "We're still right on schedule, right where we want to be." A recruiting class like that would also keep his critics at bay for awhile longer.
This season is over, and Coach can now go about the business of making us better in a hurry. I wish him nothing but the best of luck. It isn't going to be easy. He has miles to go before he sleeps.