Taking Care of Business

Kansas Jayhawks head football coach Mark Mangino stood in Mrkonic Auditorium Saturday night and summed up his team's 49-3 smacking of a badly out-manned Northern Colorado Bears squad very simply.

"We did what we had to do: we had to take care of business tonight."

This satisfied, somewhat casual comment really caught my ear because I'm old. I hold grudges. I remember big games. I remember bad losses.

I thought back to Mark Mangino's first season opener in 2002. The 2009 season opener could not have been more different. That game was a disaster, a 45-3 hammering at the hands of an Iowa State team that would up 7-7.

Kansas QBs Zach Dyer, who would be converted to defensive back before the season was over, and soon-to-be star Bill Whittemore combined for a less-than-stellar 10-of-31 passing for 81 yards that afternoon in Ames, IA. Clark Green led all Jayhawk runners with – no, this is not a typo – 39 yards. That was better than half of KU's 69 rushing yards that day. KU had 52 yards of total offense in the first half.

Mangino's assessment after the game sounded more like those of a CYO 7th grade football coach who would've praised his team for lining up straight in pre-game warm-ups and having their shirts tucked in than a Division I college coach. His team was so bad, he praised his squad for effort and nothing else. That's all he had.

"There was no let-up, physically, at any time," Mangino said. "I went in the locker room, and those kids are strong. There was nobody in there crying, feeling bad for themselves. They know we're in this for the long haul."

Fast forward to the 2009 Kansas opener. KU found a way to score 49 points with Heismann hopeful Todd Reesing throwing just 20 times for 208 yards. Of course, Reesing didn't have to throw much because he and his backfield mates were busy running themselves silly for 328 yards on the ground.

Here's what Mangino had to say after watching the '09 Jayhawks debut: "We had to get some drives going, offensively, and we had to hit on all cylinders. We needed our defense to be tested a little bit and, I think to some degree, they were. We needed some work in the front seven. We took care of business, that's the best way to put it."

In between that embarrassing loss in Ames and a business-as-usual win in Lawrence, the program has seen its ups and downs. Thing is, the ups have been bigger than they ever seemed to be before – four bowl games under Mangino, three wins, a BCS-bowl victory over a top-5 team – and the lows don't seem as low. Even during a 4-7 season in year three, Jayhawk fans were treated to KU's first win over Kansas State for the first time in forever and encouraged by a 27-24 near-miss against Vince Young's Texas Longhorns in Lawrence.

I'm really working hard to keep this from becoming one of the columns by an old KU fan who says it was harder to be a fan back when we were in school. They were, but that's because the football team stunk. Besides, that isn't what this is about.

My four years at KU – 1982-86 – I was treated to a combined football record of 17-25-3. I saw the end of Coach Fam's second stint on Mt. Oread and three of Mike Gottfried's four seasons before he left for then-nationally prominent Pitt. My senior year, the G-man guided the J-hawks to a 6-6 record that included wins over K-State, Missouri and several directional schools.

This year's KU seniors – the ones on the four-year plan, anyway – have seem the Jayhawks play their way to 26-12 (including Saturday night's win). You've seen a 2008 42-21 Insight Bowl win over Minnesota and a monumental 2008 24-21 FedEx Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech. The worst season you've had to endure was 6-6 your freshman year.

In other words, KU seniors, your worst KU team is as good as my best.

Again, this isn't about me having it bad and walking up hill both ways to Strong for 7:30 a.m. calculus in a blizzard. It's about enjoying what's happening now and appreciating the hell out of it.

I never dreamed I'd see a KU home opener against another directional school sold out. I'm too used to seeing a sell-out once a year, and back then, half the stadium was wearing red polyester.

The idea that a Kansas coach would treat a 49-3 win not as cause for a parade but as business-as-usual just boggles my old, addled brain.

And the idea that Kansas has one of the more difficult schedules in the country this season and could still, if the cosmic tumblers fall just right, win a boatload of games and have a very special season just blows my mind.

The win over Northern Colorado is just another sign that Mark Mangino and his staff have worked tirelessly over seven-plus seasons, dedicated to a singular vision of how to build a college football program, to put that long, brutal afternoon in Ames, IA, far behind us.

Enjoy it and treasure it, Jayhawk fans. And next time you see Mark Mangino, tell him thanks.

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