At times in the early days of what he now calls his three-year “coaching sabbatical” in Florida, former Kansas football coach Mark Mangino felt more like he had been exiled.
By VAHE GREGORIAN
The Kansas City Star
That led to a lot of reflection and reading and some times, too, simply disconnecting by idly watching television. Among other shows, he liked reruns of “The Andy Griffith Show” because life was so simple in Mayberry.
But maybe things can be too simple.
Even in this repose, Mangino said by telephone Tuesday, he would find himself staring at his cell phone, wishing somebody would call to talk football.
That returned in a trickle last year when Mangino became associate head coach at his alma mater, Youngstown State, turning to his family and coaching roots as he began his journey back into the football world.
And it came in a deluge Tuesday, when Mangino, 57, received several hundred congratulatory calls, emails, texts and tweets after he was hired as offensive coordinator at Iowa State.
Mangino didn’t say it, and maybe he doesn’t really even think of it this way. But this was a substantial step toward having a chance to redeem his reputation and revive his career at a school that needs help (3-9 a year ago, ninth among 10 Big 12 teams in scoring) but had been to three bowls in the previous four seasons.
And whatever he does at Iowa State will be magnified with Kansas as a regular opponent in the Big 12.
Now, since Iowa State is his fourth job in the conference, Mangino gamely tried to suggest that all the practice he’d had going against former employers within the Big 12 meant “been there, done that” now, too.
But he wasn’t a head coach anywhere else, and it didn’t end badly anyplace else.
And in his own way, he couldn’t help but acknowledge that there will be a bubbling storyline when he returns to Kansas, where he was 50-48 overall and 23-41 in Big 12 play before being fired in 2009 amid allegations he mistreated players.
No KU football coach had won more games since early in the previous century, underscored now by the fact that Kansas has gone 2-33 in Big 12 play since.
Mangino in November and on Tuesday stressed that he has no ill-will against KU, where his daughter, son and son-in-law earned degrees.
Still … he knows that will be a different sort of game, even as he ramped up the coach-speak.
“I’ll try my very best to keep within the lines of normal work and procedures,” he said with a giveaway chuckle, but with seriousness added, “Better treat them all the same, or you’ll find you’re in a bad spot.”
Mangino ultimately was in anything but a bad spot during his time away from the game and in Youngstown.
The break enabled him to be there for his wife, Mary Jane, as she was diagnosed with cancer, and it allowed him time to take some deep personal inventory. Socrates’ words that “the unexamined life is not worth living” became a sort-of mantra he said in a November visit to Youngstown by The Star.
And that seemed to speak for decisions to rekindle some dormant friendships, mend other relationships, commit to more family time and lose a dramatic amount of weight.
He also acknowledged, albeit in general terms, that he wished he’d handled some things differently at Kansas and had spent time considering how he might do things differently when he got back into coaching.
He reiterated those points at a news conference Thursday in Ames.
“Whether it’s perception or reality … I think you can always improve as a coach, as a person. I’m big into that. You preach that to your players, and you have to practice what you preach,” he said.
He was “proud of my work” at Kansas, he added, and there was “never a situation where myself or anybody crossed the line.”
Just what lines, he didn’t say.
But that may have been about as close as he can get to what he’s allowed to say per his $3 million settlement with KU.
According to that, the results of an internal investigation of his allegedly harsh behavior were sealed, and Mangino said in November he was not at liberty to discuss specifics.
But, really, all of that’s behind him now, at least until its certain resurfacing in November.
Now it’s about the next chapter of his re-entry to the game, one he wouldn’t have taken if he hadn’t felt in harmony with coach Paul Rhoads and Iowa State’s approaches.
Most specifically, he said Tuesday, Iowa State has a reputation for doing things the right way and playing hard-nosed football.
“I think I fit with that,” he said.
He could have stayed at Youngstown, happily, at least another year because he was “comfortable” among family and longtime friends.
“But I think it’s always more productive in life to look for challenges instead of comfort,” he said. “Comfort can be boring. Comfort doesn’t satisfy the (competitor in me).
“There’s a time in life for that. But I’m not ready for that now.”