The morning of Oct. 17, 2009, the Kansas Jayhawks sported a 5-0 football team. KU had won 25 of its previous 31 games. It was the best stretch of Kansas football since at least the 1940s.
Two years later, Kansas has sunk to the bottom of the Big 12, not just in the standings, but in status and, even worse, in hope. The Jayhawks have lost 19 of 24 games and are as good a pick as any as the worst team among the six conferences with automatic qualification to the BCS.
Mark Mangino, fired as KU’s coach at the end of the 2009 season, not just for a seven-game losing streak to close out that year but for alleged mistreatment of players, isn’t absolved of all the Jayhawk problems. Turner Gill did not take over a program bristling with talent.
But Kansas provides a clear warning of how delicate success can be for some programs. Difficult to obtain, easy to lose.
Mangino, who coached for Bob Stoops from 1999 through 2001 before taking the KU job, remains close with Stoops. Mangino visited OU earlier this season and spent several days around the Sooners.
Stoops was careful not to discuss Mangino’s firing particularly but this week said, “In general, I think some people believe the grass is always greener somewhere else. You find out it’s not always that way.”
Mangino left Kansas less than two years after beating Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl to cap a 12-1 season. He left KU with a record of 50-48; Mangino is the only Jayhawk football coach of the last 55 years with a winning record.
No doubt Kansas officials wish they still had Mangino’s success. I don’t claim to know if Kansas officials wish they still had Mangino.
But Stoops pointed out that success is not automatic. “What we have to do isn’t always that easy,” Stoops said. “Sometimes scheduling commitments, proximity to recruiting, circumstances can be a lot more difficult than others. Sometimes the better chance is to keep sticking with it.”
Stoops said that while he was defensive coordinator at Florida, he was offered some head coaching positions that were dead-end jobs. “I’m not that good a coach,” Stoops said. “Some places there’s reasons they have the history they do.”
OU plays at Kansas on Saturday night. The Sooners are 351/2-point favorites, on the road, against a school that not so long ago lifted the Orange Bowl trophy in triumph.
Success at some places is precarious. You’ve got to massage it, cultivate it, protect it. Kansas shows us what happens if you don’t.