Athletic Director Lew Perkins Made Wise Decision To Keep Mangino

Now the coach Perkins put his faith in is the national coach of the year

Dec. 29, 2007

NORTH MIAMI, Fla. (AP) - The smartest thing Lew Perkins ever does as Kansas athletic director may turn out to be the time he zigged when everybody thought he was about to zag.

Instead of firing Mark Mangino when he was an unproven head coach with a losing record, Perkins gave him a big raise.

What, many Kansas fans asked, was he thinking?

Perkins, after all, hadn't hired Mangino. The athletic director right before him had, the guy who was fired for incompetence. Speculation had centered not on whether Mangino would soon be gone, but on who might replace him.

It made sense. Wouldn't a new boss want his own man?

But the veteran administrator who'd held similar positions at Wichita State, Maryland and Connecticut took time to size up the situation. He noted the outdated facilities, the substandard budget and the sad history of a program mired in decade after decade of gloomy mediocrity.

Finally, in 2006 when Mangino was 19-26 in his first head coaching job, Perkins raised his guaranteed income from $610,000, the lowest among Big 12 football coaches, to $1.5 million.

Now the coach Perkins put his faith in is the national coach of the year. His team is in the Orange Bowl to face Virginia Tech with a school-record 11 wins.

Attendance has risen three years in a row. Construction is under way on $41 million in new facilities. It's their first appearance in a major postseason game in almost 40 years and the 63-year-old Perkins was taking it all in on Saturday as the No. 8 Jayhawks prepared for the Hokies under the warm Florida sun.

"You won't see me in shorts very often, so take a good look," he joked.

The last time Kansas was competitive in football, it lasted only one year. Glen Mason's 1995 team went 10-2, but fell back to 4-7 the following season. One year later, the Jayhawks had a new coach who would go 20-33 over the next five seasons.



Nobody thinks that's going to happen this time, no matter what happens on Thursday night. In just about every respect, Mangino and Perkins seem to have the program at an all-time high.

A big key was Perkins' decision to follow his intuition and not go looking for a new head coach when to outsiders at least it seemed to be the only sensible move.

"It's easy to fire people," said Perkins. "I spent a lot of time looking back at the history of KU football. Sometimes people don't understand what the issues are. I noticed a revolving door of coaches. I'm a big continuity guy. I believe to be successful you have to have continuity, consistency. If you change coaches, you're starting all over again and it's going to be five or six years before you are where you want to be."

Perkins decided that Mangino had a good long-range plan.

"We spent a lot of time talking. We had a lot of the same ideas, the same thoughts. Even though his won-loss record wasn't what people would have liked, we had made improvement. I looked at what he'd already accomplished, what he'd done academically, his staff, his recruiting. I looked at a lot of things and I felt like we had the possibility of being very good in the next four or five years."

At the time, not many fans would have agreed. This season in what turned out to be their breakthrough year, the Jayhawks were picked fourth in the Big 12 North.

They had an undersized sophomore quarterback and a coach who was still under .500 after five seasons. But Todd Reesing practically obliterated the team record book for passing and a bevy of talented players combined to reel off 11 straight wins and thrust the Jayhawks onto the national stage.

And Mangino, a few days before the Orange Bowl, is exactly .500.

"There was no way I wanted the coach at Kansas to be the lowest-paid in our conference," Perkins said. "It was sending the wrong signal. Mark was doing the right things. He deserved a chance to keep doing them."

Now Kansas fans are worried that big-time programs are going to come after the coach everyone a few years ago expected to be fired. If some school does make a tempting offer, maybe Mangino will remember the guy who showed faith in him during the lean years.

Being named AP coach of the year kicked another $50,000 into his bank account as an incentive Perkins had written into his contract.

"I think you try to show people you're loyal to them before those things happen," said Perkins.

"I see nothing but positive things in the future for Kansas. We have our new facility opening in July. We've got a bunch of starters back next year.

"Consistency is important," he added with a laugh. "Look at me. I've been married to the same woman for 40 years."