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AMES — For a week late in the season, he had the No. 2-ranked team in the country at Kansas. In football!
His team bounced back from a loss to Missouri in the regular-season finale by beating Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
He was the consensus National Coach of the Year.
That was 2007. Two years later, Mark Mangino resigned amid an internal investigation by KU’s athletic department regarding accusations of him verbally abusing players. This being big-time college sports, the fact the Jayhawks went 5-7 in 2009 instead of, say, 8-4, probably hastened his departure.
There was a $3 million settlement of a contract that was to have lasted through 2012. And until this spring, that had been that for Mangino and major-college football.
The man who was offensive coordinator for Oklahoma’s 2000 national-championship team, the coach whose Kansas team scored 76 points against Nebraska in that wonderful 12-1 season in 2007, was out of big-time football for the next four years.
Yes, he was the tight ends coach at his Youngstown State alma mater last year, working for a former player of his named Eric Wolford.
“I was coaching with the tight ends,” Mangino said. “I didn’t get paid a lot, but what they did pay me, it was stealing. Because I was having the time of my life.”
Then Paul Rhoads called. The Iowa State head coach had an offense in need of a dynamic. The offensive coordinator’s job was Mangino’s if he wanted it.
“Paul presented this thing in a very sincere way, no strings attached.” Mangino said Sunday at the Cyclones’ Media Day. “And I still have that drive in me. That fun at Youngstown — that coaching there — wasn’t a good enough fix for me.”
This thing at Iowa State, this is a chance at age 57 to have his own offense in his old conference, to be back in the Big 12 and again try to help a David slay some of college football’s goliaths.
“I enjoy the preparation,” Mangino said, “trying to take something and mold it, and then you have the challenges week after week. You get 12. It kind of fulfills me in a way.”
For three full years, Mangino was an out-of-work coach. He laid low and lived life.
“The one thing that I’ve had in my whole life, I’ve been blessed with this kind of resilient, bounce-back attitude,” he said. “I live for the day. I don’t let too much bother me.
“I’ve always had a rule that if I lose a game, by Sunday morning it was out of my system. If I lose a recruit, I have 10 minutes to sit in my office and bang my desk, then it was done.
“I had a path to take after I left the Big 12. (He calls it “leaving the Big 12,” not leaving Kansas.) The path I had, I could go out and try to put up this public defense for myself and try to say ‘Well, this shouldn’t have happened and that shouldn’t have happened,’ and pout and complain. And everybody would have said ‘They’re right, he’s a crybaby.’ ”
But there’s no crying in football, or at least no one who wants to hear it.
“You can pick yourself up,” Mangino said, “look forward and see where the next challenge in life is, and go attack it. The thing I learned about my last experience in the Big 12 is life’s too short to be bitter and carry grudges. They take away from your real focus in life. They really do.”
So here is Mangino in Ames, with a team outgained by 128 yards per game in Big 12 play a year ago, a team that averaged just 4.8 yards per play in a league when Baylor got 7.5.
After four years of at least being competitive and frequently entertaining under Rhoads, ISU was neither in going 3-9 last year. After four years out of the Big 12, Mangino again has a green light to match offenses with some of America’s best.
Kansas was 16-29 in the four years before Mangino arrived at Kansas, and is 9-39 in the four years since he left. So he can get results in a place where it’s typically hard to win. If he can do it twice, ISU gets that “competitive/entertaining” label back.
To reach Mike Hlas: (319) 368-8840; firstname.lastname@example.org