Mark Mangino is gone. Turner Gill is in. Just a few thoughts on both men and a few other stories as we await the announcement of the new football staff.
What Jayhawk fans are thinking of Gill’s hire is hard to say at this point. I certainly do hope that they will come to appreciate Gill as much as I do. Yes, KU is now being coached by a Husker. Until Tommie Frazier came along, I couldn’t imagine a better option quarterback than Turner Gill. If he’s half as good a coach as he was a player then KU will be just fine for years to come.
Another photographer commented that in one day there were more good pictures of Gill than were produced in years with Mark Mangino. Very true. Gill is picture friendly. Mangino wasn’t. And, that has nothing to do with weight issues. Some people are just comfortable in front of a camera like Gill. Others aren’t, like Mangino. When introduced to Gill last Monday, he laughed and said to me, “So it’s your job to make me look good.” My reply. “I will.”
That is one aspect of my KU job that really didn’t exist in my journalism days. If a coach made a fool of himself on the sideline, it was my job to document that. Former KU coach Mike Gottfried was guaranteed to lose control over a referee’s call almost every game. Gottfried made awesome photos as his blood vessels came close to eruption.
The very popular coach Pepper Rodgers was another photographer’s delight for good reasons. He always seemed to just be having fun on the sidelines. Few remember that the spike of the football after a touchdown actually started at KU in their glory year of 1968. Rodgers loved how the spikes became more and more creative. They reached such creativity that, sadly, the NCAA legislated against the fun.
Coach Mangino did make some good photographs for me. Most involved water bucket showers. He hated them, but he also knew on a few occasions they were important to the players. Funny how those showers often involved Missouri.
For all of Mangino’s stringent rules, he treated me well. He’d always tell me to do what I needed to do because “you’re with us.” I knew being “with us” didn’t give me total freedom, but it did allow me the opportunity to get right next to him for those showers which made good photos. Sopping wet, Mangino would tell his personal bodyguard he was fired for letting players drench him. But, the next game, the bodyguard was right there by his side again.
Just as Gill said, it also was my job to make Mangino look good too. I was aware he hated to be photographed seated. He also didn’t like photos from the side. I have to be honest here. It would have been very easy to make some very unflattering photos of Mangino. I didn’t.
Every summer, I’d go to Mangino’s home for their family photograph. Once completed, he’d grab a couple beers, and we’d sit and talk. Mangino is very well read and a history buff. I really enjoyed those chats. Thinking about those conversations makes the other side of Mangino even more difficult to grasp.
It certainly is not my place to make judgments on whether or not Mangino should have been retained. Thankfully I am no longer in a position where I have to deal with those decisions. I also don’t trust rumors.
From the moment I met Mark Mangino on the day of his introductory press conference it was clear that he was going to be demanding. I joined him in then AD Al Bohl’s office for photos. After his press conference, I followed a small party of administrators that led Mangino on a tour of the facilities. The first stop was the practice fields south and west of Allen Fieldhouse.
In no uncertain terms, Mangino let it be known those fields were not in acceptable condition. Just moments before, he had just been introduced. Now the facility people were already being charged with correcting a problem immediately. As tense as that moment was for all concerned, Mangino was right. The fields were not in good shape. Could the delivery or timing been better? That is what makes Mangino “an enigma wrapped in a riddle shrouded in mystery” as the famed Winston Churchill quote regarding Russia stated.
That was just the first of many needed changes. From uniforms to academics nothing was overlooked. Laura was the football academic advisor at the time. One woman working with 110 players! Today four counselors work with football. That is quite an improvement that Mangino started and was even greater enhanced when Lew Perkins was named Director of Athletics.
When Al Bohl fired Terry Allen, Laura decided it was time for her to change sports. Her boss agreed. That didn’t save her from coming under the wrath of Mangino once. Today, Laura can’t even remember for what, but told me later that day she knew she had made the right decision.
Weeks later, I finally got Mangino to agree to sit for the only mug shot he had taken in all his years at KU. After all the work was completed, there was only one other task left. I told Mangino I fully understood the need for all the changes and even some of the tough talk. However, I told him I was probably too old and too dumb, but he was never going to yell at me the way he had to others in the department. He looked at me and laughed. He told me I was the first person to stand up to him since he arrived. We seemed to come to some agreement right there. Whether he meant it or not, he and I got along well from that day on, and he never yelled at me.
However, seeing others catch the brunt of his anger was truly painful. In my career, I’ve seen players yelled at, poked and grabbed by facemasks. My earliest days working for the Arizona Republic included some of the dealing with Arizona State’s famed tough coach Frank Kush and his players that resulted in his firing. My first Arizona State game was Kush’s last game in which he made it clear he was being fired. I will never shoot a stranger game. Fans were angered beyond belief all in support of Kush. Nothing I’ve seen on a practice field has really shocked me since.
What did bother me was they way some non-football players were treated at KU. There really was no need for that. People were always on edge. There really wasn’t any peace. Clearly in just a few weeks of Gill’s reign, people seem happier and closer to peace.
Probably one of the most tense were the strength coaches. It was their job to provide security during practice. They watched the areas around the practice fields with true intensity. During the first spring practice under Mangino, the strength coaches were especially terse with fans at KU softball games. The old softball concession stand and right field line were right in line with the south fence of the practice fields.
Between games of a doubleheader, Laura and I stood and chatted with one of Laura’s co-workers. The mistake we made was doing that facing the football fields. Suddenly, a voice boomed from behind the shielded fence warning us to turn away from the fields immediately. A drawn out standoff ensued that ended only when someone with football that knew me told the strength coach to stand down.
Clearly there is a need for security. Someone once told me about spying on a KU practice for another team from the south windows of Allen Fieldhouse during the Terry Allen years. I also remember a coach then telling me he knew KU had been hacked during a game in Manhattan when the Wildcats “knew every play we were calling.” Still I hope the beautiful practice fields just outside the stadium will be used. They didn’t provide enough security during limited use with Mangino.
It will be an exciting spring and fall. I truly look forward to both. I’m anxious to meet the new staff and begin all the work on the media guide and program needs. Surely, there will be lots of rumors and stories on all the message boards and Internet sites between now and the fall. 95% of it will be wrong. One thing I have learned is that Lew Perkins runs a very tight and smart operation. These sites deal in rumors and innuendo, both generally wrong.
There has been lots of collateral damage. There is no choice. KU has taken care of the departing assistants well and as best they can. Still, it had to be a tough holiday season for them all. Any forced change is always that way. I will miss many of those men very much. I didn’t play football, and I’ve never coached. I have my opinions, but what do I really know? Heck, I thought Nolan Cromwell would have been a great fit. Don’t look to me for any “Deep Throat” information. I’ve got enough stress in my life without that.
A relative from Nebraska called me after seeing me in the background of a Gill photo that ran in the Omaha World-Herald. My relative is a knowledgable but not super intense or fanatic sports fan. He loves Gill for his integrity and Christian belief, as do I. However, I have seen what sports today is all about in great detail. My relative said he hoped that even if things didn’t go well for KU next season the fans would still be happy knowing what a wonderful man they have as a coach. I had to laugh.
There is one sad truth I know when it comes to fans. If the devil could win 12 games every year, fans would tragically love him. If Jesus Christ lost his last seven games after a 5-0 start? Well, my wife said it best. Those fans would be crying, “Crucify him!”
Somewhere in between these two extremes is where we all will be next season with KU football. No matter the outcome, I can’t wait.