When Mark Mangino was named head football coach at Kansas, he remarked that the Jayhawks program was coming off “a tough century.” It was a funny line, but it was also very true.
Kansas was known as a basketball school. Football, they said, was just something the students and fans dabbled in to pass the time until basketball season. It took six years, but Mangino has turned that around in a big way.
In 2007, Mangino led Kansas to a school-record 12 victories and its first major bowl appearance in almost 40 years. The Jayhawks went to the Orange Bowl where they upset third-ranked Virginia Tech, 24-21, earning Mangino the Maxwell Football Club’s 19th annual George Munger Award as College Coach of the Year.
“That’s awesome for coach Mangino,” said Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing. “He’s earned all the recognition he gets. I don’t think anybody realizes how hard coach works for us.”
“When I first arrived at Kansas, it was disappointing,” Mangino said. “There were days when I was frustrated and said this ought to be better. The University of Kansas deserves better than this in their football program.”
Mangino has given them something better. He has installed one of the most prolific – and entertaining – offenses in all of college football.
In 2007, the Jayhawks were the nation’s highest scoring team, averaging 44.3 points per game. They had 64 offensive touchdowns and only 46 punts. They averaged 6.4 yards per snap and their top rushers, Brandon McAnderson and Jake Sharp combined for 1,838 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns. Receivers Dexton Fields and Marcus Henry averaged more than 16 yards per catch.
Mangino has a playbook full of wrinkles and twists; for example, a formation with both offensive tackles flanked wide alongside the receivers. That was the formation the Jayhawks used to open the Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech and Mangino’s wide-open approach, which featured shovel passes and fourth down gambles, was instrumental in the victory.
“People kept telling us we couldn’t win against this team, that we couldn’t win the big game, that we had no chance,” said Reesing, who passed for 33 touchdowns as Kansas improved from 6-6 to 12-1 in just one season. “We took that to heart. We like being underdogs.”
“It feels really great,” tackle Anthony Collins said. “Now I feel like USC and Florida and those schools feel every day. They don’t get any better than this. We won the Orange Bowl.”
Mangino grew up in Mahoningtown, a working-class Italian-American community in Western Pennsylvania. His father, Tom, went to Penn State on a football scholarship and played for freshman coach Joe Paterno. Tom was known as “Bear” and to his friends in Mahoningtown, Nick is still known as “Little Bear.”
Mangino worked his way up the football ladder, starting as a high school coach in Western Pennsylvania. Married with a young family, Mangino had to take a second job as an emergency responder on the Pennsylvania Turnpike to supplement his income.
Mangino got his big break in 1991 when coach Bill Snyder brought him to Kansas State as an assistant. Another assistant on the staff was Bob Stoops, who hired Mangino as his offensive coordinator when he was named head coach at Oklahoma. Mangino was named the nation’s top assistant coach when the Sooners won the national championship and two years later, he was hired to rebuild the Jayhawks.
“Coach has been around, he really knows people,” said Kansas defensive tackle James McClinton. “When he gets after you, he really gets after you. But I thank the Lord I have him in my life.”
University of Kansas