Mangino's Teams Have Come a Long Way

As KU begins the Big 12 season at at Iowa State on Saturday, I can't help but reflect back on Jayhawk coach Mark Mangino's first game versus the Cyclones on Aug. 31, 2002, how far the program has come since that bitter 45-3 loss in Ames, and just how KU's rise to national prominence has coincided with ISU's fall as one of the elite Big 12 programs.

For Mark Mangino, the loss to Iowa State in 2002 was a rude awakening in his first game as KU head coach. Kansas was outplayed in every aspect of the game, featuring a team with a cupboard bare of talent and a program trying to recover after five failed seasons of previous head coach Terry Allen.

Ironically, on the opposite sideline that day in Ames was Allen, who was beginning his first year as ISU associate head coach. After the Cyclones’ victory, the team rewarded Allen with the game ball. I thought that was quite ironic, because, in reality, that gesture was more a testament to Allen’s dismal five years at Kansas than his ability as an associate head coach.

Iowa State beat a KU team that day comprised of a boatload of guys that Allen himself recruited and coached at Kansas. There wasn’t a lot of talent on the roster, and the program was in shambles after five straight losing seasons under Allen, including a 3-8 record (1-7 in Big 12) during his last year in 2001.

Heck, the situation was so bad that then-KU athletic director Al Bohl fired Allen in midseason after KU was destroyed by No. 2 Nebraska, 51-7, on Nov. 3.

Allen was a good, likable man, but definitely not ready to lead a major Division I program. He went just 20-33 at KU, failed to instill discipline with his players, and truth be told, should have been fired long before Bohl canned him after the Nebraska game.
    
In one of the all-time coaching blunders, Allen didn’t even recruit Olathe (Kan.) North High star running back Darren Sproles. Allen thought Sproles was too small at 5-6, not good enough to play for Kansas. All Sproles did was become one of the all-time greats at K-State and is now enjoying his fourth year in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers. He’s already considered one of the most distinguished small players in NFL history.
    
 To make matters worse, Allen’s Jayhawks couldn’t even K-State a game during his tenure at Mount Oread. In five contests against KSU, KU was outscored 244-50. K-State hung at least 50 points in three games; KU’s closest margin was a 32 point-loss (48-16) to the Wildcats during Allen’s first year in 1997.

You ask what Allen’s record was in Big 12 competition during his five years at KU? A dismal 10-30. He never won more than three games in conference play in any season, and twice posted  a 1-7 mark.

After five years of failure, apathy was prevalent in the program, and for the student body, football was just an excuse to drink and party before Kansas basketball season. KU hadn’t even won more than five games and notched more than three conference victories since 1995, and no Jayhawk coach had produced a winning career record since Jack Mitchell’s teams went 44-42-3 from 1958-66.

Mangino went just 2-10 that first year in 2002, but he instilled much-needed discipline with his players and began laying the foundation for a winning program. Despite the losing record, athletic director Lew Perkins thought KU football was on the right track and gave Mangino a contract extension.

A brilliant move, Mr. Perkins.

In Mangino’s second season, KU advanced to its first bowl (Fort Worth Bowl) in eight years. And the Jayhawks whipped Iowa State, 36-7, in Lawrence on Nov. 22 to become bowl eligible with six wins.

 This time around, Terry Allen was not rewarded with the game ball.

The Jayhawks slumped in 2004, but may have been the best 4-7 team in the country. Kansas lost  five games by a total of 20 points (including a 13-7 loss at Iowa State) with three of those defeats by a combined eight points.

With Mangino’s captains — Banks Floodman, Charles Gordon, Nick Reid, Kevin Kane and David Ochoa — leading the charge, KU rebounded in 2005 and went 7-5. The Jayhawks won their first bowl game in 10 years with a 42-13 victory over Houston in the Fort Worth Bowl.

And just like in 2003, KU beat No. 25 Iowa State to become bowl eligible in the regular-season finale. In a thrilling game, Scott Webb kicked a 34-yard field goal in overtime to give KU a 24-21 win.

Again, Terry Allen did not receive the game ball.

Maybe Allen saw KU’s rise in the Big 12 and didn’t want to get beat every year. Or maybe he just wanted to be a head coach again. In any event, after four seasons at Iowa  State, Allen left the program in 2005 and became head coach at Missouri State. (The jury is still out on Allen at Missouri State, where he went just 2-9 in 2006 and then 6-5 last season. His Bears are 1-2 heading into Saturday’s matchup against Western Illinois, including a disappointing 35-27 loss to Division II Washburn and a 57-13 defeat to Oklahoma State.)

While KU was on the move in the Big 12, Iowa State began its fall. Kansas went 6-6 in 2006, but was not invited to a bowl game. Iowa State, meanwhile, suffered though a 4-8 season, including a 41-10 loss to Kansas in Ames, KU’s first win at Iowa State since 1996. After leading Iowa State to five bowl games in six years (2000-2005),  head coach Dan McCarney was forced to resign.

 It only got better for KU last season with its historic 12-1 record and Orange Bowl victory. But for Iowa State and new head coach Gene Chizik, matters just got worse. ISU floundered with a 3-8 record, including its third straight loss to Kansas (45-7).

After beating Iowa State by a combined 86-17 points the last two seasons, Mangino’s Jayhawks look to rack up some more touchdowns on Saturday in Ames and earn their  fourth straight victory over the Cyclones and first Big 12 win this young season.

For Mangino, the pain of losing at Iowa State, 45-3, in his first game as KU head coach six years ago, must seem light years away.

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