The last time Mark Mangino was in Lawrence, he was back at his old house, loading up boxes of football files, ready to say goodbye once more to the town he called home for nearly a decade. This was maybe three years ago, Mangino says, and he was bracing for a cross-country drive with a friend.
They stacked the boxes high in the back of a van, and returned to the road. A few minutes later, they were picked up by a highway patrolman. The officer immediately recognized Mangino.
“I’m hard to hide, huh?” Mangino said.
Yes, during seven seasons at Kansas, Mangino was never one to fly under the radar. He was the coach who led Kansas to the Orange Bowl, the coach who once became famous for uttering the words “Dollar signs,” the coach who left the school in ugly fashion after an investigation into his treatment of players ended in his forced resignation following the 2009 season.
Nearly five years later, Mangino will return to Kansas again on Saturday when Iowa State, 2-6 and 0-5 overall, faces off against KU, 2-6 and 0-5, at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“It’s really a business trip,” Mangino said earlier this week, during a conference call with reporters. “Maybe after the game I might feel differently, but not going into it.”
After returning to coaching last year at Youngstown State, Mangino is in his first season as the Iowa State offensive coordinator, returning to the conference where he spent most of his professional life. On the field, the Cyclones’ season has been rough. Iowa State ranks eighth in the Big 12 in scoring offense at 25.8 points per game, and ninth in total offense. Saturday’s game could decide which team ends the year in the Big 12 cellar.
“His work ethic is second to none,” said KU interim coach Clint Bowen, who worked as a defensive assistant under Mangino during his Kansas tenure. “We worked extremely hard. We paid attention to the details and learned little things do matter. We worked hard and developed a good program.”
On Saturday, Mangino will see old friends and old colleagues. He enjoyed his time in Lawrence, he says, and maybe he’ll take a moment to reminisce when the game is over. But Mangino, of course, is not usually the reflective type.
“We’re in a position where we need to win some games,” Mangino said.
“We’re sitting at 2-6, I’m more focused on getting our offense together and playing really well down there in Lawrence. That’s always been my approach.”
Iowa State at Kansas
WHEN: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Memorial Stadium, Lawrence
TV: Fox Sports KC
Other story lines
▪ THE JAYHAWKS’ HEALTH: Defensive tackle Keon Stowers was carted off the field during Kansas’ 60-14 loss to Baylor last week, a scary scene for one of KU’s emotional leaders. Earlier this week, interim coach Clint Bowen said Stowers could be ready to return against Iowa State. Bowen is also hopeful that junior running back De’Andre Mann will play after missing last week’s game. Freshman defensive back Derrick Neal, who was injured on special teams last week, is not expected to play on Saturday.
▪ THE CHANGING OFFENSE: Last week, Clint Bowen elevated receivers coach Eric Kiesau to the role of co-offensive coordinator and primary play-caller for the KU offense. With just four games remaining, Kansas can’t make wholesale changes to the scheme. But Kiesau said he’ll attempt to add some wrinkles to the offense. Among the things to watch for: How much will the changes help junior quarterback Michael Cummings, who played his best game yet last week against Baylor.
▪ THE HEENEY METER: Kansas senior linebacker Ben Heeney will finish off his decorated career over the next four weeks. With a team-leading 94 tackles, Heeney needs just six more tackles to hit 100 for the second time in his career. He also leads the country in solo tackles (66).