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How Kansas and Mizzou rose from the ashes

The Kansas City Star, a once venerable newspaper that like all others has had trouble adapting to the internet age, ran a great piece today about Kansas and Missouri's trek to the Preseason Top 15.

Mark Mangino, Oklahoma assistant and Kansas coaching candidate, had to be convinced when he met the Jayhawks job interview contingent led by then-athletic director Al Bohl in a conference room at an Oklahoma City airport hotel.

Bohl, who could sell Michael Phelps a life jacket, vowed that Kansas would spend like the big boys. He told Mangino about the "KU Air Force," private jets available for recruiting trips.

At the time, Kansas had two airplanes for the entire university, and Bohl was pitching a mirage, as Mangino later discovered.

"The Air Force quickly became ground troops," Mangino said.

That was Kansas football.


The problem with booing is the collateral damage. Missouri fans didn't intend to disparage the players as they trudged off the field as losers to Bowling Green in Gary Pinkel's debut.

These were general malaise boos. The here-we-go-again boos were delivered after a play just before halftime when a Tigers pass landed closer to a team manager than the intended receiver.

That was Missouri football.

Barking Carnival's State of the Union for Kansas
Barking Carnival's State of the Union for Missouri

And then by the time undefeated and #2 ranked Kansas and #4 ranked Missouri rolled into Kansas City last year to renew their 117-year rivalry the teams were playing for #1 in the land. LSU and West Virginia had already spit the bit that weekend.

"This game is just as big as the Texas-Oklahoma 'Red River Shootout' or 'The Game' between Michigan and Ohio State," said U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, who played college football at Prairie View A&M. "Last year, it was bigger than both."

Perspective? Um, no. I'd expect that type of statement from Lee Corso, but not a politician. But it was a huge game.

We have clearly been here before
We have clearly been here before

The real key point of the article is how they rose from the ashes.

Terrific hires followed by savvy recruiting, opportunistic scheduling and wise spending, but to even get to that point, both schools had to take stock and ask how their programs had fallen so far off track.

Missouri had been on a hire and fire treadmill. From the sacking of Al Onofrio after the 1977 season until Alden's hiring in 1998, Missouri went through five athletic directors, five chancellors and four football coaches. Woody Widenhofer hadn't been on the job for six months before he lost the athletic director and chancellor who brought him to Columbia.

Kansas had to do some serious selling to lure Mangino. He actually called to withdraw his name before an offer was extended. "I wondered if Kansas had it," Mangino said. "I didn't see the infrastructure that I saw at other Big 12 schools."

By 2003, things looked promising at Missouri and Kansas. They had each reached bowl games that year.

But what happened next became a critical juncture for both programs.

They lost their momentum and didn't fire the coach.

"Missouri had been like the golfer who missed a fairway and bought a new driver," Missouri voice, Mike Kelly said. Coach Gundy in Stillwater likes that line and has already sent it to Boone Pickens.

And now the expectations are enormous. The Tigers are being talked about as national-championship contenders, and Pinkel wants to you to know that a division championship isn't enough.

"We won the Big 12 North last year," Pinkel said. "We did not win the Big 12 championship. We certainly haven't arrived."

Kansas is talking like eight or nine victories limits its potential, no matter that Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech and South Florida appear on the schedule.

"We embrace the expectations," Mangino said. "Because when I arrived here, there were no expectations."

I'm not convinced these either Kansas or Missouri are ready to be consistently Top 25 programs for a long stretch, but I like what I see and hear from both Mangino and Pinkel. I am interested to see if we start seeing a swing back to giving coaches longer leashes. As you might recall, hiring winning coaches can be tougher than getting the bottle out of Lindsay Lohan's mitts.