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Saturday, November 24, 2007

The man behind the sunglasses

Passion for game led Mangino from Pennsylvania to prairie

Ryan Wood, the KU football beat writer for the Journal-World, talks about how Mark Mangino has taken the Jayhawks from 2-10 to the brink of the Big 12 championship game.

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The private Mangino

Mark Mangino - Personal Details

• Hometown: New Castle, Pa.

• High School: New Castle High

• College: Youngstown State

• Family: Wife, Mary Jane; Children Samantha and Tommy

• Grandchild: Gabriella

Mark Mangino's Coaching History

2002-present: Kansas University head coach

2000-2001: Oklahoma University assistant head coach and offensive coordinator

1999: Oklahoma assistant head coach and running game coordinator

1998: Kansas State assistant head coach

1997: Kansas State running game coordinator

1991-1996: Kansas State assistant coach and recruiting coordinator

1990: Ellwood (Pa.) High School head coach

1987-1989: Geneva College, offensive coordinator

1985-1986: Youngstown State assistant coach

1981-1984: New Castle High School assistant coach

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The Border War 2007

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¢ 6Sports video: Beaten but still in top 5<br /> ¢ 6News video: Fans cheer on Hawks from Lawrence<br /> ¢ 6News video: Crowds brave cold for ESPN's Gameday<br /> ¢ 6News video: Broken dreams<br />

It was the rarest of days in Memorial Stadium.

The flags were limp, even the one high atop the construction crane that was supposed to be the season-long symbol of new heights the Kansas University football team would reach in the future.

It was shirtsleeve weather in mid-November for the crowd, which filled the senescent stadium to capacity. But it was more than just a large crowd. It was an enveloping crowd. Everywhere, there were clusters of canopies on still-green grass, smoke from briquettes hovered above patches of parking, bellowing fight songs reverberated off the concrete columns of the oldest campus stadium west of the Mississippi, and toddlers who normally were eager to roam free suddenly grabbed their mother's hand.

It was that type of feeling. For the first time in a long time on the final home game of the season, Jayhawk fans were just wearing blue - not feeling it.

The Kansas Jayhawks were 10-0, and in about 40 minutes they were set to kick off as 27-point favorites against an overmatched Iowa State squad.

In the center of it all was Mark Mangino. The Kansas coach was standing on the Jayhawk at midfield, and at that moment, life surely had to be nearly perfect.

He's chatting with Iowa State head coach Gene Chizik. For fans who can tune out the hoopla - a Jayhawk on a surfboard, for crying out loud - they may see a side of Mangino they haven't noticed before. He's not the wooden figure who stands behind a wooden podium at press conferences. He's not talking in the short bites of a sideline interview. He's not in the measure-your-words- twice-and-speak-only-once mode.

The big man in the black jacket rocks on his heels and moves his hands with excitement like a puppeteer - up and down and side to side with nary a break. Who knows what he and Chizik were talking about? Mangino was doing most of the talking, and Chizik seemed pleased that he was. The first-year Iowa State coach gives Mangino a "slug" on the shoulder like men sometimes do.

No, even from 30-some rows up, you could tell this was the Mark Mangino whom his old friends had been talking about. This is the guy who likes being around people.

"When Bear comes in, he steals the show," said Karmine Cassese, a longtime friend of Mangino's from their days together on the football staff at Youngstown State in the mid-1980s. "He has a great bubbly personality. Can be kind of warm and fuzzy.

"There's a side to Bear that most people don't know about," Cassese continued. "In fact, I don't even think you guys call him Bear."

No. No, we don't.

•••

Chuck Mangino's voice sounds like he had a glass of gravel for breakfast, and his words are covered with an Italian-American accent like marinara on a meatball.

But his words have lots of answers when it comes to figuring out Mark Mangino. Family members in Western Pennsylvania where Mangino grew up say if you want to figure out the leader of the Jayhawks, talking to his "Uncle Chuckie" is something you "gotta" do.

Chuck - who still lives in the old Rust Belt hometown of New Castle, Pa. - says that's right. And he said to get a picture of who Mark Mangino is, understanding why nearly all his longtime friends and family members call him Bear is important.

You see, Chuck says, the original Bear was Mangino's father. That would be Tom Mangino. When some family members talk of Mangino and his father, they sometimes refer to Bear and Little Bear. They do this without snickering.

These days, such references are always in the past tense. Mangino's father has been gone for about two decades now. Cancer.

"He wasn't big like his son, but he was husky," Chuck said. "I figured all of us would pass away before him because he was just so big and strong."

Tom Mangino was the director of child welfare for a county agency near Pittsburgh. He also was a football player. He played tackle on the high school football team. He got offered a football scholarship to Penn State, Chuck said, but he hurt his leg before getting there, and football fame was never to be.

But Tom spent a lifetime talking about the game, Chuck said. He said football and baseball were the two most frequent topics of conversation that his brother had. The type of guy who quoted player names, numbers, positions, years. The whole ball of wax. And a young Mark listened to it all.

The two sports Mangino went on to play were football and baseball. Like his father, though, he wouldn't play them as long as he may have wished.

"When I was a young kid, I knew I couldn't be a great, great athlete," Mangino told the Journal-World in a 2001 interview. "Probably at that time there were times that I thought I could be a good baseball player. That didn't work out."

Mangino, who like his father played tackle, was offered a football scholarship at Youngstown State, which is just a few minutes from his hometown. But that didn't work out either, and Mangino left the team before the first game.

But come to find out, Mangino wasn't ready to close the book on football quite yet. He couldn't get it off his mind.

Mark Mangino is his father's oldest son.

•••

Bill Snyder admits that it sounded pretty odd.

The former Kansas State University football coach was listening to one of his assistant coaches - a man he respects - give his recommendation on whom to hire for a low-level position on the KSU staff. This was before the 1991 season - before Snyder would go on to become a legend and see the KSU field named in his family's honor.

This coach - John Latina, now the offensive line coach at Notre Dame - was recommending some guy who worked for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. Sure, he had done some assistant coaching at small schools, but he fed his family by responding to accident scenes and other problems on the Pennsylvania turnpike.

"I thought it was kind of an interesting recommendation," Snyder said recently. "But as I got to know Mark, I realized he was the type of person we wanted.

"I think what people are finding out is that Mark understands how to deal with adverse situations, and he understands how to deal with success. The interesting part of that is, that on the surface, he deals with both of them quite well and virtually the same. That is the mark of confidence."

But confidence wasn't exactly the word on the tip of the tongue for his family when Mangino headed west to join Snyder's staff. You're moving your family - by this time he had married his high school sweetheart and was a father - to Kansas?

"For a person to leave New Castle and go to Kansas State University for half the amount of money he was making at the turnpike, that takes a lot of guts," Chuck Mangino said. "But he loves what he's doing."

•••

Geno DeMarco remembers going to Mahoningtown as a young man.

Yes, Mangino is from New Castle, but, like every town, it has its neighborhoods. The Mangino neighborhood was Mahoningtown.

DeMarco - who lived a town over - was going to a bachelor party. It was in a school gymnasium. The main entertainment that night was grown men playing a tackle football game on a hardwood floor.

"That's what we did in Mahoningtown," DeMarco said. "That's the mindset. If you are from Mahoningtown, you are the tough guys."

Bear was in that game, DeMarco is sure. Being from a tough-guy neighborhood, being an Italian-American, being a good family man are all important to Mangino, said DeMarco, who has known the coach since their days together in the late 1980s on the staff of Geneva College, a small Division III school in Western Pennsylvania.

Those were different days for Mangino. BCS might as well have stood for Bologna and Cheese Sandwich, one of the few meals he could afford. Mangino has talked about how times were lean for his family - wife, Mary Jane (yes, still his high school sweetheart), and their children, Samantha and Tommy.

"Sure, but that's OK," Mangino told the Journal-World in a 2001 interview. "Let me tell you this. There are hundreds of thousands of people around the world that have had to make sacrifices, had to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, had to go without to strive toward their goals in life.

"We're not unique, but we're proud to say that we've earned everything we've had in life. We've earned it, and that's the only way to get it."

DeMarco is still at Geneva. He's now the school's athletic director and head football coach. Mangino is long gone, but not really, DeMarco said.

DeMarco talked with the coach just two weeks ago - right in the heart of a dream season. He thinks that says a lot about Mangino.

"He's that kind of guy," DeMarco said. "I mean, I'm a coach at a Division III school and I can pick up the phone and he takes the time to talk to me."

Johanna Mangino - the coach's cousin by marriage and the operator of New Castle's Mangino's Pizzeria - said Bear is about like he's always been. He still makes Western Pennsylvania his regular vacation spot, he still stops by the old family restaurant for a slice, and his hobnobbing consists of knocking around with old friends.

Cassese is proof of that. Cassese isn't some high-profile football guru. He's the head equipment manager at Youngstown State. That's what he was back in the 1980s when he met Bear and shared a room with Mangino on road trips. He and Mangino are still close.

Friends say keeping up with friends seems to be Mangino's most active hobby. Get together, talk a little football, tell some stories, smoke some cigars, maybe drink a glass of wine.

"I can tell you that we don't sit around and talk about our golf games," Cassese laughed.

But you might be surprised at what the coach would discuss. When the Journal-World asked him this week what topic besides sports he would talk about with a crowd for an hour, he said either national politics or Frost.

No, not the weather. Robert Frost, the poet.

"At a young age, my father gave me a book of his poetry," Mangino said. "I'm not a Frost scholar by any stretch, but I enjoy reading him. I enjoy trying to figure out what he's saying. Everybody has a different idea of the meaning of what he's saying."

Friends say that is no surprise. They all confirm he's a pretty avid reader - especially history - when he has time.

"Some guys read history, some guys make it," his Uncle Chuck said. "He's doing a little of both."

•••

History. That's what folks across the country know Mark Mangino for now. Every week has been a history lesson. You know: "Mangino's Jayhawks are 9-0 for the first time since the days of the new-fangled radio. Mangino's Jayhawks are 10-0 for the first time since the days of buggy rides." And so on and so forth.

That's got to be refreshing for Mangino because for years that was not what immediately sprung to the national consciousness on the rare occasions it thought about Mark Mangino. Oh, some real pigskin fans may have first and foremost remembered him as the offensive coordinator for Oklahoma's national championship team in 2000. A handful more, as one of the few Division I coaches who never played college football.

But let's not kid ourselves. Most get one image when Mangino's name is mentioned.

He's that fat coach.

That is not polite, but Mangino can't get away from it. Even his own fans wear crass T-shirts that say "My coach can eat your coach," or "Our coach beat anorexia." Imagine what people who don't like him say.

Many people around Lawrence believe Mangino is afraid to find out. They say that's why it is as rare as a Gold and Black on Mass. Street to walk into a Lawrence restaurant and see the coach or be in line behind him at the local barber shop.

His friends simply say: You don't know Bear.

Several said Mangino long ago became comfortable in his own skin. He always was a big kid, his Uncle Chuck said. And who knows, he may not be a fan of the crass T-shirts and such, but friends say he's never been afraid to joust about his weight.

For example, Dan Wathen, longtime head athletic trainer at Youngstown State, tells an unsolicited story about Mangino trying to figure out in the 1980s how to walk down a muddy, steep, slippery hill leading to the stadium at Eastern Kentucky. He described Mangino and one other Youngstown coach, who actually was bigger than Bear, as looking like a couple of "elephants" trying to figure out how to not go "(rear) over tea kettle."

Wathen reminded Mangino of that story back in 2001 when Mangino was announced as KU's new coach. Mangino shot him back a note that said, "Well, you know I've always had a hard time staying on my feet."

So, if it is not the weight thing, then what keeps Mangino in his shell? Maybe it is that he doesn't have the patience for people. Can't deal with all the incompetence. Look at the Raimond Pendleton incident. Mangino landed a prominent spot on YouTube for the verbal explosion he unloaded on Pendleton after the player got the Jayhawks a penalty for excessive celebration.

"They look at him and think he is a bully and uncouth and is not responsible, but they are totally wrong," Chuck Mangino said.

Mild-mannered actually is a description of Mangino that comes up often. Friends say the chances of Mangino ever yelling at you are next to slim and none, unless you're a bonehead - or worse, a lazy dog - on the football field. And for that, his friends will offer no apologies. His Uncle Chuck didn't apologize when Mangino took heat for being too tough on high school students during his one head coaching stint at Ellwood (Pa.) High in 1990, and he's not going to now.

"In his job you have to be tough, or you aren't going to have a team," Chuck Mangino said. "You can't treat the players like babies. You become an adult if you play this game, and it isn't a game for everyone. That's just the way it is back here."

Mangino's friends and family say there's a more pragmatic reason for why the coach isn't often seen outside the office.

Cassese - the old roommate from years gone by - puts it the plainest.

"He's the kind of guy that when he started there he no doubt thought, 'Hey, I don't got time to (expletive) around with people. I got to get here and get something going, or I'm going to get whacked.'"

DeMarco - the Division III coach - tries to put it a little more diplomatically.

"When I look at Bear, it is all about efficiency," said DeMarco, who said for Mangino that often means preparing his football team night and day, and finding time for his family and friends during any breaks.

Uncle Chuckie, though, explains it best from the heart.

"Here's the thing, going back to my father and his grandparents, they were all workers," Chuck Mangino said. "They figured by working, they were doing the right thing. That was just the way it was. They worked to make sure their children got what they needed to survive. It was a serious thing.

"If you don't take it seriously, you'll never be successful. You have to have priorities in your life. It is just like me. I loved my family, but my business was a priority. Out of that business, I was able to raise a family."

So yeah, Mark Mangino does look all business. Chuck Mangino thinks his nephew has his priorities just right.

"I knew he had it in him. It was always football, football, football. And his father wasn't a quitter. Manginos aren't quitters."

Comments

jayhawkr34 6 years, 4 months ago

lets hope not afilmer, lets hope not

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afilmer 6 years, 4 months ago

he'll be gone when the first higher profile program makes him an offer. that's the nature of the beast. i hope he doesn't, but he will.

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seattlehawk_78 6 years, 4 months ago

I'm sure he'll get some consideration. I don't know where I read it but there was something about him going to Penn State. Of course they have to wait for Paterno to retire. I feel pretty confident he will remain in Lawrence. This is his program, he got a contract extension, they're builidng new facilities, and there is a lot less pressure coaching here.

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dughawk 6 years, 4 months ago

How could you not like this guy. No matter what else he does or doesn't do, the word "genuine" applies. Good kids aren't stupid and neither are their parents. They will go play for somebody like this instead of somebody who has his own website and rattles all over the TV. We have been very lucky to have him and I hope we get to keep him for a long time.

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jayhawkr34 6 years, 4 months ago

Just wondering with all the coaches being fired from big name programs, how long til mangino's name starts being tossed around. Just a thought.....

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beebe1 6 years, 4 months ago

Best article on Mangino; even tho the KC Star had a good short one.

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