Brown: Simple formula for No. 4 Kansas’ surprising season

Carolyn Brown

There are some athletic programs around the country that will never “make it.” Conference championships, postseason play and national championship are all phrases that will never formulate in many players’ heads. Any team can be tough competition – an element of surprise to the No. 1 team – but gaining the reputation as one of the top teams in the nation? It’s not going to happen. There will always be programs that are immensely better than others, those programs that drown their competition annually. The possibility of an invisible program climbing its way to the top and gaining that dominating reputation: slim to none. So what does it take for a team that is known for losing to make it to the top?

As college football season is well underway to classifying who the top teams in this country are this year, it is hard for eyes to stray from the Kansas Jayhawks, now ranked No. 4 for the second consecutive week in the AP Poll. A team who is always in the bottom of the standings in the Big XII every year, Kansas is one of only two teams who have yet to lose a game this year. Some may say the Big XII is not as strong as it has been in years past; however, it is still impressive for any team to remain undefeated. If you have seen past Kansas football games, you would know how huge an accomplishment this is for this program. They used to be embarrassing.

But how does a team completely turn its program around and all of a sudden go from having a losing record every season to being undefeated? The answer: team unity. Many may disagree; even the worst teams can have unity and still lose. Sure, it may seem as if these losing programs have team unity, but does each player really possess what it takes to be completely part of the team and one with each other? This type of unity does not just include the players on the team but also the coaching staff. If the coach doesn’t fit with the players, then the players will not fit with the coach. And until the head honchos understand that they are just as much responsible for the results of their program, then the team is going to continue to fall off the radar – so far that opponents won’t even know that the program continues to exist.

So how did Kansas do it?

Coaching his sixth season at the University of Kansas, Mark Mangino has finally turned the Jayhawk program into a winning football team. After much skepticism, his work has finally paid off. One way he made this possible was by making sure the fun was not taken out of football by emphasizing the importance of team unity and togetherness. In order for the players to get to know one another, Mangino has created different competitions throughout the season that have nothing to do with football.

One night all of the players went bowling. Making sure not to divide the players into teams of offense versus defense, Mangino randomly teamed different positions with each other, allowing these teammates to truly get to know one another. On a team of about 100 players it is hard to actually know every player. Whoever won these competitions was awarded a steak dinner while all of the other players were awarded with a nice peanut butter and jelly sandwich. All of the players were then required to sit and eat with each other.

A bond has been created between all the players on the team. And as for Mangino, he has formed a bond with his players, something most coaches forget to do. By offering these competitions, he has been able to see how his players interact outside of football, creating a more personal relationship. It’s not just about football with this team. It is time for programs across the country to figure out that it is not just about the sport.

As much as athletes don’t want to admit they need guidance from their coaches, it is exactly what programs need. Athletes need to be able to know that it is ok to laugh at practice, it is ok to have fun every once in awhile and their lives are not dominated by the sport. Athletes need to realize that although winning is motivation, in all reality, it ends up just being a game. Not only should coaches be worried about their team possessing unity, but the coaches also need to work hard to join in on this unity.

It all comes down to unity. And teams are not going to have undefeated seasons like Kansas if the coaches will not be a part of the team. Coaching is key in all aspects of sports, and when you are lacking in one area, their success will also lack.

———————-

Carolyn Brown is a senior communication major from Oklahoma City, Okla. She can be reached at [email protected]