The last two winters, I have met the Kansas coach at an off-the-beaten-path coffee shop in Lawrence, Kan.
It's just me, Coach Mangino and a handful of gawkers eating scones and drinking $4 coffee.
At our rendezvous last winter, I asked him who Sporting News should pick to win the Big 12 North. He told me to pick Kansas.
I laughed. It was a small laugh.
Mangino? He didn't laugh. He just kept looking at me.
Then it hit me: Mangino was serious.
Look who's laughing now. No, the Jayhawks didn't win the North. But the 24-21 victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl may be even better. Yeah, I guess KU was worthy of this BCS bowl berth.
Mangino isn't laughing. That's not his style. He's not one to gloat. He's a humble man who already is thinking about 2008. I guarantee it. Mangino knows the minute he starts savoring this delicious victory too much, he's doomed.
But I'm not bitter or mad for doubting Kansas. I am happy as heck for Kansas' Big Boss Man. His Jayhawks are the Orange Bowl champs, capping an out-of-nowhere, out-of-this-world, 12-1 season that only Mangino and his team thought was possible.
I didn't see it coming. And you're lying if you say you did.
Best of all: Mangino deserves all of it. But you know what? It isn't going to change him one bit.
As I've gotten to know him, I have come to appreciate Mangino as a person more than a coach, which is saying something.
I have learned how much he loves his wife, son and daughter. And if you want to see Mangino smile, ask him about his granddaughter.
Mangino knows they have sacrificed a lot for his benefit. And he has given up a lot, too.
The guy was given nothing growing up in Pennsylvania. As a youth, baseball was his passion. Mangino loved it and still does. His team: the Cleveland Indians. His player: Rocky Colavito.
If baseball was his passion, football was his love. But Mangino was a million miles away from college coaching glory in the 1980s, when he worked his way through college on the graveyard shift with the Pennsylvania Turnpike crew. Part of his job was helping clean up accidents. Then, it was off to class.
Long days, little sleep ... all of this, along with a wife and two young children.
Then it happened: Mangino got his break by landing a job as a graduate assistant at Kansas State. It was more about opportunity than money, as he was making less than $20,000.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
But he listened to K-State coach Bill Snyder, who told him to sit tight and keep working hard. If you are doing a good job, the good jobs will find you.
You know how the rest has played out if you watched the Orange Bowl.
The ultimate blue-collar coach has taken Kansas to its ultimate football prize.
Congrats, Coach Mangino. I look forward to meeting again this February.
And this time, I'm going to listen to you.
CFT: Former Penn State signalcaller Steven Bench joined the South Florida Bulls, he announced on Twitter.
CFT: The University of Nevada is honoring longtime coach Chris Ault, who stepped down in the fall, by renaming the school's football field after him.
Video: Football from NBC Sports
HBO Real Sports: Bill O'Brien
Penn State football coach and 2012 National Coach of the Year shares the challenges in turning around a program shattered by scandal. Real Sports premieres Tuesday, May 21 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.
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