Nevertheless, I found myself feeling a little sad when the news finally came down Thursday night that Mark Mangino would no longer be the head football coach.
Please don't misunderstand; I don't condone what the man did. I'm as
big a wuss as anyone. One dirty look from the man and I'd have run from
the locker room, screaming like a little girl.
But I'm old, and anyone who can remember playing cassette tapes on
their car stereos will know what I'm talking about when I say that I
spent dozens of Saturday afternoons in a half-full Memorial Stadium,
listening to my dad curse like a drunken sailor. Occasionally the
stadium would fill up, but when it did, half of the people in it were
wearing red polyester.
Every six or seven years, a good team would come along – usually lead
by a great player or two, like David Jaynes or Willie Pless or Willie
Vaughn – and wow us with a staggering 7-4 record. And just as soon as
those terrific players left campus, so did the winning record. The next
year, it was back to business as usual: 3-8, maybe 2-9.
So I'm disillusioned that the coach who had always been so professional
and businesslike and, on occasion, even cordial with me ended up being
a very different person than I thought he was. I've tried to remind
myself that plenty of good did come from the Mark Mangino era at
Kansas. We might all do well to remember that.
There are a lot of Jayhawk football fans who, not all that long ago,
would've laughed at you if you'd told them that 50,000 people would
fill Memorial Stadium to see Kansas play some directional school in
They couldn't have imagined an undersized quarterback using his
oversized moxie and tremendous football smarts to make plays and have
fans believing that their Jayhawks had a chance every single Saturday –
all because Mangino was the only FBS coach who thought he could play in
the Big 12 . And I'm talking about Bill Whittemore.
Todd Reesing had the chance to thrill us all – along with his fellow
Kansans Jake Sharp, Darrell Stuckey and Kerry Meier – because Mangino
saw something he liked.
He beat Kansas State for the first time in what seemed like forever. He
beat Nebraska for the first time in what scientists are starting to
think really was forever.
Old fans like me heard the idea a few years back for a new $36 million
football complex adjacent to Memorial Stadium and wondered where all
that money – or where all the KU fans who liked football, for crying
out loud – was going to come from
The money and fans came from everywhere after an Orange Bowl win, a
top-10 ranking and a 12-1 record in 2007. If you'd asked us prior to
that magic season if we thought that squad was going to start 11-0 en
route to the most successful year in school history, we'd have asked
what you'd been drinking.
In the last five or six years, there's been a palpable sense of
excitement on Game Day in Lawrence, and there's more to it than Bob
Hemenway giving the green light to getting hammered in the parking lot
before kickoff. Mangino changed the culture of Kansas Football and
changed what it meant to be a Jayhawk fan. Every Game Day since 2005, I
walked into the stadium truly believing that my team had a chance to
win, no matter how out-manned they were supposed to be. His teams
always played hard. His teams never quit. Over time, his teams, along
with the fans, learned that if they kept sawing wood, good things could
happen. And they often have.
What's ironic about that feeling of confidence is that Mangino's record
of 50-48 – just two wins shy of becoming the school's all-time
winningest coach – was built on non-conference cream puffs and, until
this past season, beating the bad Big 12 teams they were supposed to
beat. Unfortunately, with last Saturday's loss to the Missouri Slavers,
Mangino's conference record dropped to a dismal 23-41. Take out the 7-1
Big 12 record they wracked up in 2007, and Mangino is 16-40 in the
league. That's less than a .290 winning percentage. Hardly a record
that inspires confidence.
It speaks, however, to the extent to which Mark Mangino and his Kansas
teams changed the way Jayhawk fans look at our program. We walk with
our heads a little higher and our crimson and blue a little bit
Mangino talked at his post-Mizzou Q&A at Arrowhead about
interviewing for the KU job. At the time, he was told that the top
priority for the new coach was to instill structure and discipline
where there had been none.
Mark Mangino cared deeply for Kansas Football and the young men who
came under his care and coaching. He was only trying to do the job he
was hired to do and produce young men with strength, intelligence
and character. I honestly believe that Mark Mangino never meant to hurt
anyone. But he did.
I'd like to thank Mangino for a (mostly) fun ride, and I'd like to wish
him well. I also hope he manages to do the things he needs to do to
keep his name out of the newspaper for all the wrong reasons.
Some Good Came With the Bad
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