Keegan: Mangino can take the heat

The name Bill Snyder still means something to Mark Mangino, Kansas University football coach and former understudy to the Kansas State coach. Mangino left Snyder for Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, and that irreversibly damaged whatever personal relationship existed between Mangino and the all-business Snyder.

Still, the lessons took root.

The most important thing he learned from Snyder?

“I would say no matter what the situation is, to just keep at it,” said a looser-than-usual Mangino at his weekly Tuesday news gathering. “Don’t let anybody distract you or take you off course of what you really believe in and what’s best for your program.”

Easy to preach.

“Early on, it’s really tough, when you take a program that’s been down,” Mangino said. “Nobody really believes in the program. Everybody’s going to take a wait-and-see approach to how you do it, if you’re capable of doing it.”

It takes not only thick skin, but a fire-repelling suit to take all the hits, he learned.

“I go back to the early years here, and as they say, if you’re going through hell, keep going,” Mangino said.

He has elevated the program to purgatory. The defense keeps the program from falling back to burning days and nights. The offense keeps it from soaring to the clouds.

His frustration level isn’t what it was early in his tenure, when he quickly learned he had taken on a bigger project than he imagined.

“From a coach that had competed against KU, I often wondered, and many of my colleagues did, why KU, located in a fine community, beautiful campus, has resources, why they weren’t competing well in the Big 12 Conference, and I came here and found out,” Mangino said.

What made it tougher?

“Some apathy,” he said. “Many universities wish they had one great sport on their campus. Most do not. We have a great basketball tradition here. For a lot of people, that was just good enough.”

Mangino took a long-range approach to building a program, which is why he deserves a long tenure, six seasons minimum, to prove himself. The make-or-break season would be Kerry Meier’s second as quarterback.

In taking the long-range view, Mangino first recruited the student body and the blue T-shirt section of students appears bigger by the week. Students become alumni and buy tickets.

“Apathy is fading,” Mangino said. “A lot of people are joining in. Many are rolling up their sleeves to help in the community and on campus. We’re changing now. We’re getting people excited about football. Just got to keep going hard and win.”

It’s all relative. Games still aren’t selling out. More is craved by little names and big.

“If Oklahoma can do it in football and basketball, and Texas can do it in football and basketball, why can’t Kansas do it in football and basketball?” asks Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers. “This school is an unbelievable school, unbelievable campus, second to none. We need to get a good football program, and I think Mangino can do it, but it’s going to take a little bit of time.”

The administration needs to give that to Mangino.

“I think they’ll give him that time,” Sayers predicted.

Or, Mangino can buy it with a second consecutive victory over Kansas State.