Football Writers Association of America 2009 BEST WRITING CONTEST
COLUMN | ENTERPRISE | FEATURE | GAME | LOOSE DEADLINE

FIRST PLACE: LOOSE DEADLINE
Mangino and Leach brought different styles to Oklahoma but now have respect for each other
J. Brady McCullough, The Kansas City Star

LAWRENCE The first meeting of the day would begin at 8:30 a.m. for the 1999 Oklahoma coaching staff. Bob Stoops, then OU's first-year head coach, wouldn't start until all of his assistants were present.

Being punctual was no problem for offensive line coach Mark Mangino, who wouldn't know a morning without a sunrise. But Mangino and the other coaches often had to wait for the team's offensive coordinator, who didn't deal so well with 8:30.

J. Brady McCullough
The Kansas City Star, Kansas City, Mo.
Age: 27
College: Michigan
Background: When I was 12 years old, my dad (a Web site designer) made me a site called ncaatop25.com, where I would put out my personal top 25 each week of the college football season. By the time I was a freshman at Michigan, I was getting about 35,000 hits per fall. Sadly, when I started being an actual journalist at the Michigan Daily, the site fell by the wayside. I guess my point is that I have always lived for college football season. ... In that vein, I made my college decision based on overall college football experience. The choices were Texas, Texas A&M (had been in top 15 the previous season and were within five hours of my dad in Dallas), Michigan and Penn State (had been in top 15 the previous season and were within five hours of my mom in Buffalo, N.Y.). I chose Michigan because I was lucky enough to see a UM-Notre Dame game in person and was blown away. ... Since I am single and looking, I can't tell you all about my wonderful wife and beautiful children. But I can tell you that I have great parents who were both at one point musicians. ... Hobbies: Oh wait, I'm a sportswriter. I don't need hobbies. ... Past awards: third place in the 2008 National Headliner Awards for Sports Writing, first place in the 2008 Missouri Press Association writing contest for sports feature, third place in the 2008 FWAA writing contest for loose deadline and honorable mention for enterprise, fourth place in the 2008 USBWA writing contest

The way Mike Leach ran up the stairs inevitably, about 8:29 it would have surprised no one to find out that he had been setting his alarm for 8:15.

"You could hear him coming up those back steps because the staff room was right against the stairwell," said Jonathan Hayes, OU's tight ends coach then. "He'd be the last one in and the door would shut."

Their friends said Mangino and Leach had not changed at all in the past decade. So you can assume that Mangino was at work way before Leach this morning in preparing for Saturday's game between No. 19 KU and No. 8 Texas Tech at Memorial Stadium. Heck, now that Leach doesn't have to answer to anyone, he barely makes it in before noon.

"He'll work until 1 or 2 in the morning but won't come in the next day until 11:30 or 12," said Cale Gundy, the OU running backs coach for the entire Stoops era. "Coach Mangino, he's more from the old school, getting up at the crack of dawn, making sure things are done perfectly."

They were an odd couple, Leach the passing game coordinator and Mangino the run game coordinator. That much became obvious a few weeks into spring ball when Mangino and Leach were discussing whether or not the Sooners needed the counter run one of the most traditional run designs in football in their playbook.

Leach didn't want it, which said everything. Leach was a Californian, a no-rules thinker with a law degree from Pepperdine. As the offensive coordinator at Division I-AA Valdosta State and Kentucky under coach Hal Mumme, his offenses threw the ball 70 times a game and made defensive coordinators rethink their choice of profession.

Mangino wanted the counter, which also said everything. Mangino grew up in New Castle, Pa., a child of America's Rust Belt. He was a no-nonsense guy, working his way up the food chain at Kansas State under Bill Snyder, clocking 16-hour days. Mangino didn't tolerate tardiness, and he certainly wasn't going to let this smooth operator cut the counter. For a guy whose friends called him "Bear," it was a matter of principle, really.

Neither Leach nor Mangino would budge, which eventually led to shouting and the coaches getting up from their seats. They were almost chest-to-chest before Hayes, a former NFL tight end, pushed them apart.

"It's amazing how passionate these two guys were," Hayes said.

Mangino and Leach coexisted peacefully from then on, and the Sooners went 7-5 after five years without a winning season in Norman. Texas Tech plucked Leach to be its head coach, and Stoops promoted Mangino to offensive coordinator. With the offense at his controls, Mangino implemented more runs. It was only natural.

"We still ran Mike Leach's offense," Gundy said. "Everything we did in the year 2000 was what Texas Tech is doing right now. We just threw in a couple plays here and there. Coach Mangino saw that it was a good system for the players we had. We still slung it around for the most part."

Of course, the Sooners went 13-0 and won the national championship that season. One year later, Mangino was off to Kansas.

Mangino, since coaching the spread for the first time at OU, has not wavered from it. He said that some of KU's spread offense had roots in Leach's system. Although it would appear Mangino has gotten more out of his time with Leach, this year's Red Raiders are rushing (Continued from page 13) for 138.6 yards per game.

Mangino seemed impressed with the guy who once tried to eliminate one of the staples of the run game.

"They are running the ball very well," Mangino said. "In fact, they had 50 snaps against Nebraska, 25 runs and 25 passes. That's balance for Tech."

Mangino and Leach may have adapted their spread offenses, but they have the same opposite personalities. Mangino is unlikely to offer advice on what makes a good first date as Leach recently did on a local TV show.

"You wanna end it at some cool coffee-shop type of place," Leach said, "where there's bizarre-looking characters going in and out so that if the conversation isn't going well you can reference some of the different characters."

Hayes, now the tight ends coach with the Cincinnati Bengals, has kept in touch with Mangino and Leach. He no longer has to play the role of moderator.

"I think they both have learned something from each other," Hayes said. "I think Mike tries to insert more runs when he can, just to keep defenses more honest. And I think that Bear finds more exotic ways to move the ball now. It's a compliment to both of them that they have a lot of respect for each other."

Comment of the judge, Gene Duffey: The winning story was cleanly written. It had a good lead and offered interesting quotes from coaching colleagues about what the two guys were like when they coached together as assistants at Oklahoma. Good comparison of their personalities and their offenses.

► Second place: Jason King, Yahoo! Sports
► Third place: David Barron, Houston Chronicle
► Honorable mention: Ron Higgins, Memphis Commercial Appeal; Pete Thamel, The New York Times; Kirk Bohls, Austin American-Statesman