By JOE SCALZO
The big, mean, fire-breathing dragon of a coach — the one who was forced to leave Kansas for, among other things, having the audacity to poke one of his players in the chest — got physical with an injured Youngstown State player on Friday.
It happened early in that day’s practice. He spotted running back Demond Hymes, who was on crutches after rolling his ankle, walked over and ... well, he hugged him. But Mark Mangino is a big guy. Hymes could have been hurt.
Mangino raised his voice at Friday’s practice, too. Mainly because he was laughing and joking around with his tight ends, but still. A couple times he got loud.
Oh, and afterward, when a reporter asked an innocent question about his reputation, he didn’t even answer the question at first. Instead, he asked, “What’s my reputation?”
Well, coach, according to some members of the media and your former boss at Kansas, you’re a big, angry bully who makes insensitive remarks to his players.
“Don’t drink the Kool-Aid,” he said.
Back from the brink
In December 2009, two years after leading Kansas to the best season in school history, Mangino resigned.
Some of it was self-inflicted — he accused the officials of bias after a close loss to Texas, he piled up parking tickets on campus and he yelled at the officials at one of his son’s high school games, among other incidents — and a lot of it was due to a poor relationship with the athletic director, Lew Perkins.
“Quite frankly, he was in a very difficult situation where he was under a lot of stress from the athletic director,” said YSU coach Eric Wolford, who played at Kansas State in the early 1990s when Mangino was an assistant coach there. “Obviously, he was out to get him, so you may have seen a stressful side of a guy that’s not really that guy.
“He’s a player’s coach. He’s a great guy.”
Perkins was fired less than two years later after his department was investigated by the FBI and the IRS for illegally reselling $2 million worth of tickets and Perkins was accused of accepting exercise equipment in exchange for basketball tickets.
“They fired the wrong guy first,” Wolford said. “But hey, their loss is our gain. They’re never going to the Orange Bowl again.”
Mangino spent the 2010 season recharging his batteries and traveling to different college programs, including YSU’s. Then, in 2011, his wife, Mary Jane, was diagnosed with breast cancer and coaching took a backseat. Although he had some offers from coaches across the country, it wasn’t until she got cleared last winter that he was ready to say yes.
“She encouraged it; she wanted me to do it because she knew I missed it,” said Mangino, the consensus national coach of the year in 2007 after helping the Jayhawks to a 12-1 record and an Orange Bowl victory. “Eric kept calling me, trying to get me to come back here and we talked about all kinds of scenarios. He really wanted me to be here, so he was good about making the pieces of the puzzle come together.”
In March, Mangino was hired as the assistant head coach and the tight ends coach at his alma mater, where he served as an assistant under Bill Narduzzi (1985) and Jim Tressel (1986). The New Castle, Pa., native also serves as the recruiting coordinator. At practice, he’s one of YSU’s quieter coaches, preferring to observe and teach while guys like defensive coordinator Joe Tresey wear out their voices.
“He’s a mellow guy and he’s a great guy,” senior tight end Carson Sharbaugh said. “He’s always laughing and smiling. I don’t think that [angry] reputation about him is true.
“Coach told us if we do the right things, work hard and give a great effort, he’s gonna coach us and everything will be all right. All coaches yell — that’s normal — but he’s a good guy and I’m happy to have him for my senior year.”
Although many feel Mangino was treated unfairly at Kansas, there was one issue he couldn’t argue with: his weight. Never a svelte guy to begin with, the long hours and stress took their toll at Kansas with some reporters speculating that he reached 400 pounds.
Mangino is noticeably slimmer — he looks like he’s dropped more than 100 pounds — but he’s not ready to say how much slimmer.
“I’ve still got work to do,” he said. “I’ll tell you when I’m where I need to be.
“The thing is, you’ve got to make the decision at some point in your life to change your lifestyle. I spent my entire career putting my football team ahead of myself. Now I realize I’ve got to take care of myself so I can take care of my players.”
Mangino turns 57 on Aug. 26, which means he’s closer to the end of his coaching career than the beginning. But he said he’s been energized by a return to the sidelines. After Friday’s practice, he spent 15 minutes talking to tight end Nate Adams’ parents, then, on his way back to his office, chatted up YSU basketball player Kamren Belin, who played junior college ball in Kansas.
(Belin’s eyes almost popped out of his head when he told him he used to be the Jayhawks’ football coach.)
“Hey, I feel great,” Mangino said. “I love being around the players and I love the competition.
“I said years ago, a life without competition is pretty boring. I’ll go as long as I want to do it, as long as I feel like it’s a great challenge every day.”