Mark Mangino believes he's in a good place. He didn't say so specifically, but he didn't have to. It's hard not to notice the excitement in his voice.
And the laughter. He chuckles a lot.
"I define my own happiness," he said. "I don’t have others do it for me."
It's the attitude of a man doing what he loves with the people he loves.
Three months ago, Mangino agreed to join Paul Rhoads' staff as Iowa State's offensive coordinator and tight ends coach, marking his official return to the Big 12. He's joined by his son, Tommy Mangino, who is the team's wide receivers coach.
Before that, Mangino spent one year at his alma mater, Youngstown State, also coaching tight ends.
But Mangino is mainly known for his eight years as the head coach at Kansas. From 2002-09, he guided the Jayhawks to a 50-48 record—mind-boggling given the program's lowly recent history—including a 12-1 season in 2007 that ended in an Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech.
Sandwiched in between tenures in Lawrence, Kan., and Youngstown, Ohio, however, was a three-year stint in which Mangino accomplished his greatest mission.
Mangino's coaching resume has taken him everywhere from Youngstown to Norman, Okla., and now to Ames, Iowa. But only after he was let go from Kansas in December 2009 did he really travel.
It could have been that he needed some time away. Mangino and Kansas parted ways amid allegations of player mistreatment—and on the heels of a seven-game losing streak that put the Jayhawks at 5-7. It was the first losing season for the program since 2004.
So Mangino and his wife, Mary Jane, left Lawrence and moved to a house in Naples, Fla. They didn't stay there full time, however; they traveled extensively.
Among the sites Mangino and his wife visited included the Battle of Vicksburg in Mississippi, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn. and even Mount Airy, N.C, the fictional home of The Andy Griffith Show.
There were family trips too. Mangino's daughter lived in the Tulsa area, and there were more relatives to visit in his home state of Pennsylvania.
"It provided time for our family to pull closer together," Mangino said. "It allowed me to be the father and grandfather that I wanted to be and was trying to be when I was working long hours.
"We got to do things together as a family that we had not been able to do—maybe ever."
It was a complete departure from the coaching lifestyle. There was no rush. Mangino and his wife could do things at their pace. For the first time in decades, it was all about them.
"My wife likes to think that my departure from Kansas was a blessing in disguise."
The Family Man
The time away from football allowed Mangino to concentrate on his personal life. Not long into his sabbatical, however, his focus shifted outward.
In 2011, Mary Jane was diagnosed with breast cancer.
It's in remission now, and she goes in for regular checkups, but there was a time when the outlook was scarier. Mangino describes the chance to be with her during that time as a "blessing."
He wanted that same chance for his son. As Tommy began showing interest in following his dad's professional footsteps, the longtime coach tried to discourage it.
The life of a college football coach is taxing. There is practice, game preparation, more game preparation, recruiting trips, even more game preparation and university events to attend. Often lost in that schedule is a coach's family.
"Tom was strong academically. I thought there were other things he could do that would free him up when he had a family," Mangino said. "He had a lot of things going for him that he could have pursued with his academic background.
"But, his mother sided with him."
So Tommy began coaching. He was an offensive graduate assistant at Kansas for two seasons (2008-09), an assistant at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College for three and a grad assistant at Arkansas in 2013.
The path followed his father's description of the business perfectly.
"I told him he would have to pay his dues. He would have to coach a lot of hours doing tasks that weren’t fun," Mangino explained. "He would probably have to go into the high school or junior college ranks. If he wanted to get into the Division I ranks, he would have to be a graduate assistant a couple of times."
Tommy has a wife, Danielle, and one son, Vinny. As hard as the coaching profession can be on family life, three generations of Manginos are in Ames—together.
The Homecoming King
Mangino says he keeps in contact with several former players, including those from Kansas. In a way, they are an extension of his family
In 2013, he got a call from a former player. This one was different from the others, though.
Eric Wolford, the head coach at Youngstown State and a former player under Mangino at Kansas State, had a job offer.
"He wanted me to come back and help him out," Mangino said.
Mangino, a 1987 graduate of Youngstown State, was thrilled. He believed he was in a place where he had options. This was the right option at the right time. Youngstown was home to him and many of his friends.
The caveat, however, was that he could commit only for a year, and Mangino doesn't like being a one-and-done coach.
Wolford didn't mind.
"In fact," Mangino recalled Wolford saying, "he didn't think I was going to be there for more than one year."
Ten months later, Rhoads called to inquire about an opening on his coaching staff.
Though Mangino didn't have an extensive history with Rhoads, it's not lacking significance.
They coached against each other once before in 2009, a 41-36 win by the then-No. 16 Jayhawks. It was the last time Mangino won a game in Lawrence.
Now working for Rhoads, Mangino enjoys being back in control of an offense. While many principles of offense are constant, the game has evolved. Mangino's time away from the game didn't mean he was out of the loop, though.
"You have to stay in tune to the trends, you have to educate yourself," he said. "So during my time off from the game, I visited various programs and NFL teams. I studied a lot of video and talked to a lot of people. I watched some games on TV and in person, and observed practices.
"I stayed on the cutting edge."
Mangino's playbook isn't thick. He doesn't believe in it. Rather, he's more focused on discipline and getting the little things right.
Iowa State's offense needs help, there's no doubt about that. Last season, the Cyclones ranked ninth in the Big 12 in points per game and eighth in rushing offense and total offense. Mangino was hired because of his acumen with a locker room whiteboard.
There will be tough times, of course. By his own admission, his team meetings are hard work. What he wants, though, is to have fun. The interaction between players and coaches, he explains, is something that isn't understood by the general public.
"The players, they keep you young," Mangino chimes enthusiastically. "I may not know the names of the songs, but I know the beat to every contemporary country song, pop song and hip-hop song.
"I’m up on the latest phrases, so when I say them to the players while walking in the hall, they get a kick out of it."
The Happiest Man Alive
Five years ago, Mangino's future as a college football coach seemed uncertain at best. Now, he's back in the Big 12.
It would be easy to assume that he's angling for another head coaching job. If he can get things turned around with the Cyclones, more likely than not some program will offer him a chance.
Without a doubt, Mangino would seriously entertain such an offer. But, for now, he's put it out of his mind.
"I live for the present and I’m mindful of the future," he claimed. "I’m locked in to the task at hand."
For three years, Mangino's task was reconnecting with his family, something that understandably slips through the cracks over the years. He seems content with where his life has taken him. The things that matter most have been taken care of.
The rest is ultimately secondary.
"My career will not be incomplete if I don’t get another head coaching job," he said confidently. "I’ve had a great ride."
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.