KANSAS CITY, Mo. — You tell Mark Mangino that the local papers have mooted him as the next offensive coordinator at Kentucky, ready to swoop in and save another basketball school from football hell. And Mark Mangino just laughs.
“No kidding? I’d better grab my bags,” the former Kansas football coach says with a chortle. “(New Kentucky coach) Mark Stoops is a friend of mine. Great guy. He’ll do a heck of a job there. But that’s not something right now that interests me. And I think he has some people in mind (already).
“I’m not trying to be picky. I’m just trying to be smart with what I do.”
As of early Thursday morning, Wisconsin and Tennessee were still looking for coaches. Ditto South Florida, Temple, Louisiana Tech, Northern Illinois and Kent State. Bret Bielema threw the cognoscenti for a loop when he jumped from Wisconsin to Arkansas; Butch Jones may or may not be leaving Cincinnati for Colorado, depending on which report you hold as gospel.
While the coaching carousel keeps spinning, Mangino, 56, isn’t in Lexington, Ky., drawing up plays — he’s at home in Naples, Fla., checking the voice mail, champing at the bit.
“I very much would like to get back to coaching,” says Mangino, who was 50-48 over eight seasons with the Jayhawks (2002-09). “I just want it to be the right situation. I want to be around good people. I want to be at a place where the football program on campus is respected. I certainly have always believed that academics come first, and building young men comes first, but I’d like to be somewhere where all those things are important, (where) football and academics are compatible.”
At last count, at least 12 Football Bowl Subdivision programs — roughly 10 percent of the circuit — were on the hunt for a new man at the top. And yet, other than a reported dalliance with Colorado (Mangino went on Twitter to publicly remove his name from consideration) and an alleged link with Purdue (which wound up hiring ex-Kent State coach Darrell Hazell), Mangino’s name has been noticeably… well, absent.
Which is funny, considering the fact that his legend looms a little larger in Lawrence for each year since he’s been gone. In eight campaigns, Mangino took Kansas to four bowl games — winning three, including the 2008 Orange Bowl — and averaged 6.2 victories per season. Over the three years after he was ushered out the door, dogged by a seven-game losing streak in 2009 and accusations of player abuse, the Jayhawks have won a total of six games, period — churning through two more head coaches along the way.
“I don’t live in the past,” Mangino says. “There’ll be a time when I will be able to relax, sit down, and reflect more about it, and study it a little more. Right now, I kind of live in the present. That’s just the way I am. That’s the way I operate.
“I will say this to you: I think people in college football that are in the know and understand the game — some of them are involved in the game, some of them are close to the game — I think they really see what took place (at Kansas) and they understand the situation, and they know what we accomplished, and they know how I ran that football program.”
While he’s remained in contact with several of his former players, Mangino admits that he’s not especially close with Charlie Weis, the Jayhawks’ current coach.
“The last thing I want to be doing is dispensing advice,” Mangino says. “You know what they say about advice: ‘The wise don’t need it and fools don’t heed it.'”
But by the same token, the Pennsylvania native notes that he’s a little wiser, a lot healthier — “I’ve changed my lifestyle,” Mangino says — and understandably humbled after the roller-coaster ride that was Lawrence. On the plus side, the break has afforded him a window in which to travel a bit, catch up with friends, and spent time with his wife, Mary Jane, as she’s battled breast cancer. Mangino happily reports that his better half is cancer-free and pushing him to get back in the saddle.
“I’ve had a chance to travel to several Division I schools and NFL camps, I’ve had a chance to study the things I did at Kansas, and review it and tweak things,” he says. “I’ve had a chance to just work on my own fitness. I’m feeling good and feel recharged.”
Mangino doesn’t get caught up in revisionist history, nor does he think he was blackballed for the way things ended at Kansas. He’s been approached by headhunters on behalf of at least one BCS program, although he declined to specify which one.
“I just want to be around a good bunch of people,” Mangino says. “That’s my intent.”
It doesn’t have to be a major player. Or a major paycheck. Mangino remains pals with Dan McCarney, who turned around Iowa State, ran into the wrong athletic director at the wrong time, and is now trying to repeat the trick at North Texas. Last year, he conferred with Frank Solich, who made the transition from Nebraska to Ohio.
Again, it’s not about being picky. It’s about being smart.
“I think, to tell you the truth, I will catch on somewhere,” Mangino says. “If I don’t, it’s not meant to be.
“I’ve got a feeling I’m going to be coaching next fall, somewhere. I don’t know where, or what position, or anything like that. But I have a feeling. I’m pretty confident.”
Kansas went 12-22 in the three seasons before Mangino showed up; it’s gone 6-30 since. That’s not to say the big lug was to the Jayhawks what Cam Newton was to Auburn, but it does say something, don’t you think?