Marge Hazlett once was asked to fill in for a few days in the Kansas University football office.
She stayed for more than three decades.
"It's been a great ride," said Hazlett, who is beginning her 35th season in the football office. "It's unique. There's something about it that keeps me coming in. I don't want to give it up."
Hazlett was the head coach's secretary for 34 years, but has reduced her work load. This season she'll work part-time, monitoring the front desk and serving as first-year coach Mark Mangino's administrative assistant.
Since Mangino arrived in December, he has changed everything from the coaching staff to uniforms, but Hazlett said Mangino's arrival didn't prompt her decision.
"People want to read that into it," she said. "It was my idea. After 10 coaches and 34 years, I wanted to have more free time."
Working full days Tuesdays and Thursdays and half days on Wednesdays has given the Lawrence native more time to spend with daughter Karen Russell and 10-year-old grandson Matthew, who live in Topeka.
"I love it," she said "I have a four-day weekend. It's been great."
In the beginning
Hazlett wasn't always so excited about working with football coaches. She was a part-time employee in KU's ticket office in 1968 when she was asked to fill in for coach Pepper Rodgers' ailing secretary.
"I said, 'I don't want to work for him,'" she said. "'I see her in the rest room, and she's always complaining about him.'"
That secretary never came back. While the coaches have changed, the woman behind the desk never did.
In Hazlett's first season with Rodgers, the 1968 Jayhawks posted a 9-2 record and went to the Orange Bowl.
"It's his fault," Hazlett said of Rodgers. "He got me hooked in this business."
Rodgers' next KU team went 1-9, losing six games by nine points or less. Hazlett has enjoyed five bowl trips during her tenure, but she also has sat through 24 losing seasons.
Some of those losing seasons were followed by coaching changes. Mangino is the 10th head coach she's worked for, counting Don Fambrough twice and interim Tom Hayes, who replaced Terry Allen for the last three games in 2001.
Not one of her former bosses left Kansas with a winning record. Rodgers, now a Washington Redskins executive, was 20-22 from 1967 to 1970.
He was followed by Fambrough, who was 19-25-1 from 1971 to 1974. Bud Moore was 17-27-1 in the next four seasons before Fambrough returned and posted a 17-24-4 record from 1979 to 1982. Mike Gottfried (15-18-1), Bob Valesente (4-17-1), Glen Mason (47-54-1) and Allen (20-33) followed.
A few had successful seasons. None were able to maintain it.
"They all leave in different ways," Hazlett said. "I took Bud Moore's last paycheck to him. He never came back into the building. It's hard when you see how hard they work, and you get to know their families. A lot of them don't leave on their own. It's the nature of the business. When you have success it's thrilling. But when you don't it's tough."
Who's No. 1?
After all these years, can Hazlett name a favorite coach?
"I could, but I would never admit it," she said. "They were all special in their own way. I feel comfortable that I could pick up the phone and call any of them."
That is, of course, when they don't phone her first.
Lynn Allen called Hazlett recently to report that the coach's mother had passed away. Later, Terry Allen, now an assistant coach at Iowa State, called Hazlett himself.
"I've been here so long I'm a mother to a lot of them Â a grandmother to some," she said. "You just have a bond there."
Then there's Fambrough, who was an assistant coach under Rodgers when Hazlett started in '68.
"Don Fambrough is Mr. KU," Hazlett said. "He'll always be a good friend."
Hazlett still receives Christmas cards from Terry Donahue, who began his Hall of Fame coaching career at Kansas as a graduate assistant to Rodgers in 1968.
Ironically, Donahue's final game as head coach at UCLA was the 1995 Aloha Bowl against Kansas.
"That was so neat," Hazlett said. "We were there for his first game, and we were there for his last game. That's what it's all about, the camaraderie and the friendships."
Hazlett still maintains a friendship with Mason, who left Kansas six years ago. The Minnesota coach pays for her to fly to Minneapolis each season and attend a Gophers' game. The man she still refers to as "Mase" also picks up her hotel bill. The trips give Hazlett a chance to catch up with the coach, his family and three of his assistants Â Mitch Browning, Vic Adamle and Tim Allen Â who also worked at KU.
'Big shoes to fill'
Hazlett, who prefers to keep her age to herself, doesn't know how much longer she'll work.
"I don't have a day in mind ... as long as I can make it up that spiral staircase," she said with a laugh. "My husband died six years ago and I don't have anyone to fight with at home, so I have to come up here and be my obnoxious self."
Heidi Crabtree has taken over as the head coach's secretary.
"I have big shoes to fill," said Crabtree, who started in July. "She's been an instrumental part of the program for so long. She was gracious and introduced me to people and explained who I was. That really made things easy. Of course, there have been people who called and said, 'Where's Marge?'"
Crabtree has known Mangino since their days at Kansas State. Crabtree's husband, Jeremy, was a student sports reporter for The Kansas City Star when Mangino was a KSU assistant coach.
The Crabtrees and Mangino continued to cross paths on their next stops. While Mangino was an assistant coach at Oklahoma, Jeremy became national recruiting editor for Rivals.com and moved to Texas, where Heidi finished her psychology and speech communications degrees at Southwest Texas State.
The Kansas City natives were eager to come home.
"Coach and Jeremy happened to be talking one day and he mentioned that he had an opening because Marge was moving to the part-time position," she said. "He called me up and asked if I wanted to come in and interview. I'm all about sports. I thought this would be a good way for me to be around people I find interesting. I'm enjoying it."