After an almost three-year hiatus, Mark Mangino is ready to coach football again.
Mangino thought he'd be back by now, but his wife's breast cancer diagnosis last year put career ambitions on hold.
Mary Jane Mangino's condition — which has improved; she had her final treatment a few weeks ago, and doctors are optimistic — has helped the former Kansas coach and Oklahoma offensive coordinator learn an important lesson on priorities.
“It was a no-brainer,” Mark Mangino told The Oklahoman in a telephone interview from Naples, Fla., where he and his wife live.
“My family comes before the game. It's helped me get things in perspective, too. She's joked with me, ‘Winning and losing football games isn't really a matter of life or death is it?'
“I said, ‘No, it's not. It's not.'”
Kansas and Oklahoma — the last two stops on Mangino's career path — meet Saturday at 6 p.m. on Owen Field.
The Jayhawks are in their first season under Charlie Weis, the second KU coach since Mangino's successful seven-year run came to a disappointing, controversial end over accusations that Mangino was emotionally abusive to players.
The Kansas football program experienced unprecedented success under Mangino, peaking with a 12-1 season and Orange Bowl victory in 2007-08. The Jayhawks' overall record during Mangino's tenure was 50-48.
Mangino resigned after a 5-7 season in 2009.
His immediate successor, Turner Gill, was fired after two seasons with a 1-16 conference record.
So far in 2012, under Weis, the Jayhawks are 1-5 overall and 0-3 in the Big 12.
“I have had no contact with anybody in the program since I left,” Mangino said.
“Do I follow them? I wouldn't say I go out of my way to follow the team, but I do have a place in my heart for the kids on the team that played for me or were recruited by me. I would love to see them have some success. ... I have no ill-will toward the football program or the players at Kansas.”
Mangino said he's proud of what he — along with his assistants and players — accomplished in Lawrence, Kan., touting his “Character First” program to instill good values, the advanced cardiac screenings to detect potential heart problems and his Jayhawks' solid academic record.
“By and large I am proud of what we did,” Mangino said. “I can't control what others think; I can only control my own thinking.
“But any good coach — or any good person who values their occupation — when they have time off like I have, they use it for a period of reflection, and I have done that. ... Anytime you spend a period of time anywhere, you always say, ‘Next time I'll do this a little different, or that a little differently.'”
Mary Jane Mangino's illness opened her husband's eyes to the importance of keeping things in perspective. Many coaches, and especially successful ones, are so focused on winning that they can lose sight of other priorities.
“You get wrapped up in your football team and trying to make them better, trying to win games, and your vision becomes like a tunnel,” Mangino said. “Next thing you know, you have no idea what's going on. Your kids are involved in things, and your wife tells you but you barely hear it or retain it. You become obsessed with this quest for winning and excellence.
“I think my wife's situation here has really changed my perspective. I think what I've learned is that life is precious, so let's enjoy it.”
After Mary Jane's final treatment a few weeks ago, she gave her husband an explicit order that he intends to follow.
“She's given me a directive: Go find a coaching job,” Mark Mangino said. “So we'll see what happens. I don't know where it will be. Could be anywhere.”
Could it be Oklahoma? Mangino was an OU assistant from 1999-2001; he was offensive coordinator for the Sooners' national-title run in 2000.
Mangino's daughter lives in Tulsa, and he's been back to Norman “five or six times” since leaving Kansas, he said.
“There are no openings there, and I don't anticipate any openings there, at least not as we speak,” Mangino said. “Would it be something I would think about if there was an opportunity? Yes, but I just can't sit around and wait to see if something happens at Oklahoma.”
Still, he said he loved his time in the Sooner State because of the people.
“The Oklahoma people remind me of the people from where I'm from in Western Pennsylvania; we just felt so comfortable there,” Mangino said. “We felt like we were at home.”
Mangino is open to being either a head coach or an assistant; one thing he won't be, though, is so engaged that he loses sight of what really matters.
“It has really woken me up and my priorities have changed, but don't think I ever lost the desire to win,” Mangino said. “That's still something that's very, very important to me.
“How I go about it ... I think I'll change that course a little bit the second time around.”