LAWRENCE, Kan. -- It began as a friendly basketball game in
Mark Mangino's old neighborhood of New Castle, Pa. One of 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
In his sixth season with 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
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
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
"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 become coach at Oklahoma,
he brought Mangino with him as an assistant. Two years after the
Sooners won the national championship and Mangino, as offensive
coordinator, 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