New Castle native Mangino confronts past in return to Big 12
Mark Mangino can't hide from his past. In fact, he uses it to guide his present.
Mangino, a New Castle native who played on a WPIAL football championship team there in 1973, was forced to resign as Kansas coach in 2009 amid accusations he verbally abused players.
After moving to Florida, losing weight from a robust figure and reflecting on his career, he is back in coaching. He was named offensive coordinator at Iowa State on Jan. 6 after spending the 2013 season as tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator at Youngstown State, his alma mater.
“That's just a snapshot of who I am,” he said of the accusations. “A small part of who I am. Maybe I could have handled it differently, but when I look at my entire body of work at Kansas, I really feel like we did the best thing and the right thing.
“My approach to coaching and life is you can't change history, whether it's good or bad.”
Physically and emotionally, he is a changed man.
Mangino, 57, said he has shed about 125 pounds, though he doesn't talk about what he weighed previously.
“During the holidays, it fluctuates,” he said, laughing.
More important, he's eager to rise above the accusations that cost him the Kansas job he held from 2002-09.
Mangino's resignation included a $3 million settlement, according to The Kansas City Star. As a result, he can't discuss specifics of his departure or the school's three-week investigation, but he remains proud of his time there.
Saying he wanted “to be around” for his children and grandchildren, he said he made “drastic changes” during a three-year coaching sabbatical that included exercise and a healthier lifestyle while living in Florida.
“If you want to improve yourself, you have to look at yourself and see where you can improve, where you can be a better coach, a better person,” he said. “The unexamined life is not worth living. Socrates said that.”
Youngstown State coach Eric Wolford said there were no issues with Mangino and that his players were sorry to see him leave.
“The media version you get out of Kansas sometimes is not always the real Coach Mangino,” said Wolford, who played under Mangino at Kansas State. “He is a great guy to be around.”
Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads, a former Pitt defensive coordinator, combed through Mangino's past before hiring him. Mangino's two-year contract will pay him $725,000 in base salary, according to The Des Moines Register.
“Not one player, administrator, coach or colleague that I talked to had anything negative to say about Mark,” Rhoads said.
Yet the incidents are there.
There have been more than 820,000 YouTube views of Mangino screaming at Kansas player Raimond Pendleton in 2007 for hot-dogging at the end of a 77-yard punt return.
Volumes have been written about other events, including his ranting at a high school referee in 2002 when he thought his son, Tommy, was the victim of a late hit. Mangino later apologized, calling the incident “regrettable.”
Former Kansas defensive lineman Cory Kipp told the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World that he suffered seared skin on his hand in 2003 after being forced to do bear crawls on hot artificial turf as punishment for failing to weigh in.
Former Jayhawks receiver Raymond Brown told ESPN.com that Mangino often would “say personal, hurtful, embarrassing things in front of people,” once referencing a player's alcoholic father. He also said Mangino addressed him using a racial slur, telling Brown after a dropped pass, “If you don't shut up, I'm going to send you back to St. Louis so you can get shot with your homies.”
In 2004, Mangino was fined $5,000 and threatened with suspension by the Big 12 for accusing officials of favoritism toward Texas after a game. He said he did it to take heat off his players after a tough loss.
Plus, Kansas lost three scholarships each from the 2007 and '08 signing classes when the NCAA found it guilty of academic fraud and other violations.
Previously, he ran into trouble at his first head coaching job at Ellwood City High School in 1990 when parents accused him of being too harsh with players. Mangino said he resigned after one season to pursue a career in college.
“I thought (college was) where I belonged,” he said.
Turns out, he was right. Following a path laid by three other former Ellwood City coaches who found success elsewhere — Chuck Knox (in the NFL), Jim Rankin (at North Allegheny) and Pat Tarquinio (at Beaver High School) – Mangino spent the next eight seasons helping to resurrect the program at Kansas State under coach Bill Snyder.
He left Kansas State for Oklahoma, where he ascended to offensive coordinator after only one season, helped the Sooners win the national title in 2001 and was named winner of the Frank Broyles Award as assistant coach of the year.
A year later, he landed the job at Kansas, a downtrodden program that suffered six consecutive losing seasons before he arrived.
He won 50 games in eight seasons, the most by a coach at Kansas in more than 100 years. In contrast, the Jayhawks have lost 33 of 35 conference games since he left.
In 2007, Kansas finished 12-1 and No. 7 in the nation after defeating Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. In the process, Mangino won 14 coach of the year awards. He was the first to win coach and assistant honors, preceding Gene Chizik, David Cutcliffe and Gus Malzahn.
But he's proud to say he's more than a coach, taking comfort from his three years away from football while helping his wife, Mary Jane, battle breast cancer.
“The time off ended being a blessing for us in a lot of ways,” he said. “First of all, when my wife really needed me, I was there 24 hours a day. I wanted to be there for her treatments. Usually when you're coaching, you're in the office 15, 16, 17 hours a day.”
Today, he said, Mary Jane “is doing terrific.”
He also had the rare opportunity (for a coach) to spend time with his daughter, Samantha; son, Tommy, a graduate assistant at Arkansas; and four grandchildren. Returning to Youngstown State allowed him to reunite with other family members from his New Castle roots.
He said he learned many lessons growing up in New Castle.
“A lot of it reflects who I am to this day,” he said. “Hard work and being true to who you are is important. That's what makes this part of the country unique.
“I am who I am. I have never tried to be something I'm not. I'm not a good actor.”
“He is very genuine,” Youngstown State's Wolford said. “That's what makes people so comfortable around him.”
Mangino said he has no secret formula to take with him to Iowa State.
“If I did, I'd probably be going around selling it out of the back of a pickup,” he said. “What I have to offer is pretty simple: Hard work.”