Mark Mangino knew he wanted to be a coach when he was 13 years old.
Thirty-three years later, Mangino is living that dream. The 21-year sideline veteran will work his first game as a college head coach today when Kansas University opens the football season at Iowa State.
"I played football and baseball in high school," Mangino said. "I was a good athlete in my high school and things like that, but I knew I wasn't a great player when you look at the grand scheme of things in any sport. But I had a real love for those two sports, and I knew I wanted to be a coach. I knew from an early age nobody was going to knock my door down for my athletic ability, but I thought maybe, someday I would be a successful coach."
Paying his dues
Mangino was successful as an assistant coach, but it took time. He got an early start, coaching youth teams when he was still a teen-ager himself.
Mangino married his New Castle, Pa., High School sweetheart, Mary Jane, in 1979 when he was 23. Daughter Samantha followed two years later, and son Tommy was born in 1984. Trying to support his young family, Mangino went to college part-time in the mornings, coached in the afternoon and worked as a first-response medic on the Pennsylvania Turnpike at nights.
He finally earned his degree from Youngstown State in 1987 Â 13 years after he graduated from high school. He continued to toil on the turnpike, a job he worked for more than a decade.
"Mark Mangino is one of the greatest stories of persistence in the coaching profession," said Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who gave Mangino his first college coaching job when he was the head coach at Youngstown State in 1985.
From 1981 to 1984, Mangino was an assistant coach at his high school alma mater. While many aspiring young coaches shuffle their families from one job to another, the Manginos stayed in New Castle when other opportunities arose. Mangino drove across the state line for two years to work with Tressel at Youngstown State in Ohio.
He then went back to the high school ranks as head coach at Ellwood City, Pa., in 1990, though the family continued to live in New Castle.
The Manginos were living a good life in Pennsylvania, surrounded by their family. Mary Jane managed a dental office, while Mark pursued his goal.
Before the 1991 season, Mangino's old high school teammate Â John Latina Â recommended Mangino for a job at Kansas State where Latina was an assistant to Bill Snyder.
First, KSU hasn't had a winning season in nine years. Second, the job was a graduate assistant position that paid less than $9,000 a year. Making matters worse, NCAA rules limited graduate assistant positions to one year at that time.
Pitt Â a school in his own home state Â made a similar offer.
Despite the obvious drawbacks and the distance from home, Mangino couldn't resist the opportunity to join Snyder's staff.
"Thank God we had supportive families," Mary Jane Mangino said. "We knew after one year he could be out of work, but we didn't want to look back and say, 'What if?' We loaded up our house and drove a U-Haul across the country to Kansas State.
"We had some tough times financially. We had two kids, and graduate assistants don't make much money. We ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly, but the kids were little and they didn't know what we were doing. It was great. I wouldn't change it. Somebody was watching over us."
After that one season, Mangino didn't have to go looking for work. The Wildcats posted a winning season in 1991, and Snyder promoted Mangino to recruiting coordinator. He was working in an office Â not on the field Â but he had a full-time job at a major college, and his family moved out of a two-bedroom duplex and into a three-bedroom house.
Things were about to get interesting.
On the rise
After a 5-6 1992 season, K-State went 9-2-1 in 1993 and qualified for a bowl game Â the first of nine straight for the Wildcats.
And Mangino wasn't stuck in that office for long. He moved up quickly, coaching running backs, offensive linemen and then serving as running game coordinator. By 1998, Mangino was assistant head coach, and KSU had established itself as a national power.
Mangino, however, left to help former KSU assistant Bob Stoops with another rebuilding project at Oklahoma. The Sooners' offensive coordinator and assistant head coach was named nation's best assistant coach in 2000 after OU won the national championship.
Oklahoma hadn't had a winning season in the five previous years before Stoops took over.
Kansas fans Â who have bought more season tickets than in any of the previous 25 years and snatched up almost every reserved parking spot near Memorial Stadium Â are hoping Mangino can work the same kind of magic on Mount Oread.
It's been six years since KU has posted a winning record, and last year's 3-8 mark was the Jayhawks' worst in 13 years.
"Mark's prepared for all that," Stoops said. "He's an experienced guy. He's knowledgeable, bright, smart. He understands the game and has been part of a few building programs with Kansas State and Oklahoma. He's aware of what's in front of him, and I think he'll do a good job."
In the spotlight
Much of the focus will be on Mangino, but the first-time college head coach has been focused on his players.
"I haven't been thinking much of myself," he said. "We've been so busy with our preparation. When Saturday rolls around, I'll realize that this is my first game as a head coach. But it doesn't have any bearing on our team. We're in this for the long haul. I'm really not caught up in the whole thing about this being my first game."
Who has time to think about themselves when they're working 15-hour days?
"When you're a coordinator, you only worry about one side of the ball," Mangino said. "You're taking care of the offense and the offensive players. Now as a head coach you're concentrating on every facet of the game, and you're paying attention to every single snap on the field and you're communicating with your assistant coaches and your players. It's a different challenge. There's no question about that."
There's no question there are expectations as well.
The coach, whose family once survived on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, will make about $750,000 this season Â or $325,000 a year more than coach Terry Allen did last season.
KU also raised salaries for assistant coaches. Running backs coach and special teams coordinator Clint Bowen is one of the staff's lowest-paid coaches, but his $79,500 salary is an $18,500 increase from what he made last season working for Allen.
Mangino said the pressure hasn't bothered him.
"I've never been a head coach, but I've been in some big games as an assistant coach," he said. "My view of it is, I enjoy this. It really isn't work to me. I enjoy challenges. I'm not a 9-to-5 guy. I don't see myself sitting in the office at 9, going home at 5 and cutting grass or shoveling snow. That's just not me. I love everything about coaching Â my relationships with my fellow coaches and players. Saturday is a day that after all the hard work and preparation you get to test it out."
Earlier in the week, the coach predicted he wouldn't be tossing and turning on Friday night.
"I won't be pacing the halls at the hotel," he said. "I'll probably be watching TV or talking to my family on the phone. I'll sleep well. A lot of that has to do with preparation and how you feel about your players. I feel good about our players. I know our kids are going to play hard. We have a great coaching staff who have done a great job of preparing those guys. Saturday is a fun day. The hard days are Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Saturday is a lot of fun."
A new era
Saturdays in Norman, Okla., and Manhattan are fun. Whether they will be fun in Lawrence remains to be seen.
Win or lose, Mangino will have his share of supporters. Mary Jane and Samantha, a junior at KU, will travel to Iowa State, though Tommy must stay in Lawrence to practice with his LHS football team today. The coach's mother, brother and sister-in-law planned to make the trip from Pennsylvania to see the season opener.
"I knew Mark was a great coach," Mary Jane said. "I can tell how much he cares about his players. He's very competitive, so I knew someday he would have a chance to have his own team. I didn't know where or how long it would take. It's still amazing to both of us. I knew he could do it."