|Manning is attempting to rebuild the Tulsa program after serving as a Kansas assistant for six years. (US Presswire)|
LAS VEGAS -- Same routine, different polo shirt.
That's what July's been like for Danny Manning, the legendary Kansas basketball player, 15-year pro and former KU assistant.
He's now the coach at Tulsa, a job he accepted at the end of March. Naturally, Manning's been all over the recruiting trail this month. A snapshot of the lifestyle for most coaches outside of BCS conferences (and even some in them): Manning boarded a red-eye flight from Vegas to Orlando Thursday night, and he'll grease out the final few days of the 2012 open recruiting period there. He took off at 11 p.m., west coast time, and landed well after the sun was up in Florida.
I wasn't in the airport with him when boarding, but chances are that Orlando-bound plane was at least half-filled with other coaches doing the same thing Manning was. Late-night flights and little-to-zero sleep; it's just the most unglamorous, monotonous part of the job. But necessary, because this is the chase of recruiting. By this time of the month, coaches are carrying heavier bags under their eyes than onto their flights. (I spotted one coach nodding off during an afternoon session of games Thursday.)
The routine is no different for Manning now than the past six years, but he is still adjusting to life as a head man at a mid-major rather than an assistant at one of the most powerful college basketball institutions in the country. Serving at the side of Bill Self on the Kansas staff, Manning built up his equity in the game and it paid off with a pretty decent opportunity for a first-time head coaching gig. He could've had other ones sooner, but waited. Eight years at Kansas led him to this. Self used to coach at Tulsa, and his connections there helped big-time in ensuring Manning landed the job.
But what was it that changed for Manning? Why the Tulsa job, and why now? Turns out, once his father died, Manning felt the urge to get in gear and create something for himself outside of being a popular assistant within a traditional program. Within a month of losing his dad, Manning had decided he needed to get that pivotal big, first chance as a head coach. The death accelerated him to a new avenue. Bittersweet, for sure.
"Tomorrows aren't promised," Manning said. "And when my dad died, I started thinking, If you see something out there you like, go get it."
His father, Ed, was a former NBA player and also an assistant at Kansas. He was on staff in '88, when Danny won the title. In recent years, Danny said his dad had struggled through a lot of health issues, ultimately dying of heart problems.
"He fought them for as long as he could," Manning said, before Ed died in early March. Manning had a strong relationship with his dad, who he said was either 67 or 68 when he died. He never really knew, even if reports of his death stated 68.
"He was born in Mississippi on a farm, and the date on his birth certificate was actually probably not his real birthday," Manning said. "But in those days, that's how it was."
Hearing Manning talk about his father and life and reason for taking on new endeavors really captured why he's doing this. To be honest, if Manning wanted to be an assistant at Kansas for the next 10 years, it's something he could have cruised with. He lived in Lawrence, is a hero there, of course, and being a KU assistant is an extremely coveted spot in college basketball coaching. Leaving to take the Tulsa job isn't as simple as it sounds, especially when you see what Manning is inheriting.
As he's worked out with his team and adjusted to what's certainly going to be a tough gig for the next two years -- Tulsa lost its two best players, Jordan Clarkson and Eric McClellan, to transfer -- Manning's embraced philosophy more than specific expectations for certain players so far. He's very much still in the preliminary stages of having this job.
"For me, as a coach, a lot of it is life lessons," he said. "I want all of our men to step out on the court and be tough, but off the court, we want them to be wonderful young men. But they have to understand basketball is something that they do. It's not who they are. We have to put them in a situation when they leave for college they're accountable young men."
As for the semi-controversial McClellan and Clarkson transfers, Manning said, "It's kind of one of those deals where you deal with it and roll with the punches. With this team now, every player has ownership in it and everyone has leadership responsibilities."
Manning signed a four-year deal when he agreed to become Tulsa's coach on March 29. Stability has been something so big in Manning's life ever since he was done with the NBA. It reached a point where his son wasn't in the same school for more than a year for the second half of his NBA career due to having rotated through so many teams. That's the other reason why Manning wanted to wait for his first head-coaching job. Let his kids live normal lives. Now they're all in college.
Now Manning moves on. There's so much ahead. It's all unforeseen expectation, for now. It's a stirring, challenging new life for him. He only wishes his dad was here to see his son take on one of the biggest challenges of his life.