Mangino a Winner

Mark Mangino (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

With Kansas preparing for its final regular-season game against Missouri on Saturday and embattled head man Mark Mangino fighting for his coaching life, I can't help but reflect back 26 years ago when KU basketball coach Ted Owens was on the hot seat.

If this is Mark Mangino's final game as Kansas head coach — and it could very well be with KU's internal investigation underway concerning Mangino's inappropriate behavior toward his players — I only hope he goes out in style like Owens did in his second to last game as Jayhawks' head coach.

The date was March 8, 1983 as KU battled Oklahoma in the first round of the Big Eight Tournament in Norman. Kansas, which had lost to OU twice that season, was the overwhelming underdog vs. the No. 19 Sooners that night. The 12-15 Jayhawks were reeling after losing 10 of 14 games heading into their showdown with OU.

Many observers believed Oklahoma would end KU's season and that Owens would be fired after two straight losing years.

OU featured freshman sensation Wayman Tisdale and star players David Little and Chucky Barnett, while KU was led by juniors Carl Henry and Kelly Knight, plus freshmen Kerry Boagni and Calvin Thompson.

Despite the long odds, KU believed and shocked the Sooners, 87-77, behind a career-high 30 points from Thompson and 20 from Knight. The Jayhawks won the game for their coach, carrying Owens off the court on their shoulders in celebration.

The party was short lived. Owens would coach just one more game three nights later against Oklahoma State in the tournament semifinals. Kansas fell, 90-83, to the Cowboys, who featured a sophomore guard named Bill Self (three points).

After 19 seasons and 348 victories, Owens soon became the first KU basketball  coach to be fired. He won the second most games in school history (now No. 3 behind Phog Allen and Roy Williams), and led KU to Final Four berths in 1971 and ‘74.

For all he gave Kansas, it is unfortunate that Owens' career at Mount Oread ended in a loss. But at least he had the good fortune of winning one of the biggest games of his career against Oklahoma.

Twenty-six years later, Mangino is on the hot seat and looking forward to coaching in one of the biggest games of his career versus Missouri. Like Owens' Jayhawks were against Oklahoma in 1983, Mangino's ‘Hawks enter Saturday's game as the underdogs vs. a 7-4 Tigers' team who's won three of their last four games.

A win over MU would make KU bowl eligible and most likely earn the Jayhawks a bowl berth for the third straight year, unprecedented in school history. Mangino would also notch his 51st win at Kansas, just one shy of the school record 52 by A.R. "Bert" Kennedy.

Mangino will coach this game with Missouri just how he's coached every game since he's been at Kansas — with passion, fierce determination, and unwavering spirit. Just like Owens did for 19 years, Mangino has given all he's had to KU since becoming head coach in 2001.

"I have put every waking moment of my life, since I got hired here, into this football program," Mangino said. "To be honest with you, when I am not at work, I am still at work. This job, for me, has been something I have put my heart and soul into making better and to make this football program something our fans and alumni and supporters can be proud of."

Mangino's players seem behind him. They no doubt want to win this game to help salvage their season, to become bowl eligible, and to honor their coach.

Senior receiver Kerry Meier has publicly voiced his support for Mangino.

"I really don't understand why there is an investigation," Meier said. "I have only been to one football program and I think the way they run the program here is probably similar to how they run things at numerous facilities and programs throughout the country.

"College football is a tough game and everything that comes with it is tough as well. If you are going to try and get something done a lot of times you are going to have to raise your voice and say some things to get people moving. Some of that stuff has to be said. For them to do a whole investigation, I was kind of caught off guard."

Senior safety Darrell Stuckey is in Mangino's corner as well.

"He has been a great coach and a great person to show you exactly what you need to do in your life as a man," Stuckey said. "Everything in life you cannot prepare for, but it is not about what you do when things are going well. It is what you do when you are facing adversity that matters."

Mangino has certainly faced extreme adversity the last two weeks. While he'd like nothing more than to beat KU's arch-rival Tigers, he doesn't want this game to be the defining moment of his career.

"We want to win the game," Mangino said, "but if my tenure here is to be based on one game, then I think that would be a sad affair for all of us. I hate to think that just one game would determine the future of us after eight years, our body of work over eight years."

His "body of work" has been impressive. All Mangino's done in eight years is resurrect the KU football program, win the Orange Bowl in 2007, graduate his players, and overseen the best years in school history.

While it shouldn't "determine the future of us after eight years," if the Missouri game were his last, I can think of only one fitting way Mangino should go out.

A winner.

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