Mangino Honored As AP Coach

Wednesday, December 19th 2007, 1:57 pm
By: News On 6

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ It began as a friendly basketball game in Mark Mangino's old neighborhood of New Castle, Pa. One of the Mangino's teammates kept making mistakes. Finally, Mangino threw up his hands and let the kid have it.

Those leadership skills 40 years later would steer surprising Kansas into national championship contention and help him become The Associated Press Coach of the Year.

``Mark ran the kid off the court, out of the building and into the street,'' recalled lifelong friend Tom Tommelleo. ``Mark's always been a coach. We just didn't know it then. He would study every sport we played and see things the rest of us couldn't see. The thing that lit his fuse the most was somebody not giving his best effort.''

In his sixth season with the Kansas, Mangino has gotten an exceptional effort from the Jayhawks. Long-woeful Kansas won a school-record 11 games, had two All-Americans and earned a spot in the Bowl Championship Series for the first time. On Jan. 3 in Miami, the Jayhawks will play Virginia Tech in their first major bowl since 1969.

In voting by AP college football poll voters, Mangino received 28 of a possible 58 votes, easily outdistancing Missouri's Gary Pinkel, who had 11. Hawaii's June Jones was third (seven votes) and Illinois coach Ron Zook fourth (five votes).

``That's awesome for coach (Mangino),'' Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing said. ``He's earned all the recognition he gets. I don't think anybody realizes how hard coach works for us.''

Mangino is the first Kansas coach to win the award since the AP started handing it out in 1998 and the third Big 12 coach, joining Oklahoma's Bob Stoops (2000) and Kansas State's Bill Snyder (1998). Stoops and Mangino were both assistants for Snyder during the mid '90s.

Things have turned out well for Mangino, the studious kid who always demanded the best back on the playgrounds of Mahoningtown, the working-class Italian-American community in western Pennsylvania where his character was shaped.

There'll be a Mahoningtown reunion at the Orange Bowl. Tommelleo and a number of others are meeting in Miami to cheer on an old friend who's made good.

``He's at the top of the conversation in this entire area,'' said Tommelleo, who moved back to New Castle several years ago and works in the biotech medical industry. ``We are very, very proud of Mark.''

Kids played hard in the close-knit neighborhood of mostly first- and second-generation Italians where fathers worked 12-hour shifts in the rail yards and steel mills. Moms and dads had full authority to correct other peoples' kids, and often did.

``In our neighborhood, arguing and fighting were an expression of affection,'' Tommelleo said. ``Mark was always at the top of the chain.

``Sometimes,'' he added with a chuckle, ``Mark could be a gigantic pain in the butt. We were just playing the games. But he was always a stickler for detail. He was 10 years old and he was out there trying to figure out the right strategy, where you should stand, how you should use your hands.''

The late Tom Mangino, who went to Penn State on a football scholarship and played for freshman coach Joe Paterno, was one of the few adults in Mahoningtown at the time who had a college degree. A standout high school football player and a very large man, Mark Mangino's father was affectionately known as ``Bear.''

When Mark came along and looked just like his pop, the adults nicknamed him ``Little Bear.''

``To parents and grandparents in the old neighborhood, he's still Little Bear,'' Tommelleo said. ``It's been a long road for him. There were plenty of bumps in it. I'm sure there were times he didn't think he was going to make it.''

Some of the toughest times were when his two children were very young and he was working days as a high school coach and nights as an emergency responder on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

``I got tired of accidents, being witness to peoples' suffering,'' he said.

He kept seeing things he could not accept.

``I would wonder, `Why did this person fall asleep at the wheel? Why did this person pass somebody at this construction site?' I worked a few really bad accidents that I don't like to recall. It was disturbing. That was when I decided to go back to college and get my degree and do my best to become a coach.''

He got his first big break in 1991 when Snyder brought him to Kansas State as an assistant. When Stoops left Kansas State in 1999 to become head coach at Oklahoma, he brought Mangino with him as offensive coordinator. Two years after the Sooners won the national championship and Mangino was named the country's top assistant coach, he agreed to take over the Jayhawks.

``Coach has been around. He really knows people,'' Kansas defensive tackle James McClinton said. ``When he gets after you, he really gets after you. But I thank the Lord I have him in my life.''