KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Everything about Mark Mangino has gotten bigger.
No, not in that way.
|Mangino led Kansas to a 12-1 record and an Orange Bowl win last season. (US Presswire)|
"The fact that there are expectations are a victory in itself," Kansas' seventh-year coach said Tuesday at the Big 12 media days.
For once, those expectations are larger than the coach. That's not a jab at Mangino, who looked tanned, relaxed and, yes, thinner, ready to follow a 12-1 season. That was the best record among BCS-conference schools, tying Hawaii for the best record in I-A. Few people realized that at the end of the season. Even fewer in college football cognoscenti care now.
Programs like Kansas aren't supposed to last. The expectations are coming from the small tight knot of KU football fans and donors. To everyone else, the Jayhawks are a one-hit wonder because they have a white KU on the side of their blue helmets and not a burnt orange steer or an intertwined "O" and "U".
New Mexico's Rocky Long might have been the voice of the silent majority when he suddenly and viciously ripped into Mangino's team this week this during Mountain West media days.
"I mean, who did Kansas play last year?" Long said, questioning KU's non-conference schedule that included Florida International, Toledo, Central Michigan and Southeastern Louisiana.
That, from a coach who tested his squad against the likes of New Mexico State and Cal State-Sacramento in 2007.
"You tell me," Mangino said, "when there was a time when the Kansas football program could beat the likes of Nebraska, Texas A&M, Colorado and Virginia Tech?"
That would be about never. Four years ago, though, things got so desperate that Mangino created a controversy to take pressure off his struggling team. After a tough loss to Texas, he accused Big 12 officials of favoring the Longhorns. Mangino said this summer that he made up the whole thing.
"I had never been around a team that had been so disheartened about a loss," he said. "It was to save the team. I knew I was going to get criticism for it and take some bullets, but Kansas hadn't had a winning program for many years. We were trying to get it on (our) feet."
As recently as a year ago the coach was basically on notice from AD Lew Perkins going into 2007: Win at least seven or face The Big Haircut. It all came together so well and so fast that Mangino is still enjoying his ride up to the coaching elite level. The Associated Press and Football Writers Association of America (among others) made him their Coach of the Year. His name is gold within the profession.