In five days, Mark Mangino will return to Memorial Stadium for the first time in five years. Kansas will take on Iowa State in what could be the Jayhawks’ last winnable Big 12 game. And KU interim coach Clint Bowen could have his best opportunity to notch a resume-building victory in an effort to land the Jayhawks’ head-coaching job on a full-time basis.
Just don’t ask Bowen about any of this — especially that last part.
“I’ve said this from the beginning,” Bowen said Monday on the Big 12 coaches teleconference, “and a lot of questions have come back to try and make this about me getting the head coaching job at Kansas, and that’s not what this is about. This is about our players and our program.”
The Jayhawks (2-6, 0-5 Big 12) are coming off a 60-14 loss at No. 12 Baylor on Saturday. They are winless in four games since Bowen replaced a fired Charlie Weis in late September, and after offering some competitive football in losses to Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, the Jayhawks suffered their first true beatdown of the conference season at the hands of Baylor.
Now they face Iowa State, a team that is also 0-5 in the Big 12 and sharing space in the conference cellar. In the offseason, Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads hired Mangino to run the Cyclone offense, and the ripples could be felt in Lawrence, where Mangino once led the Jayhawks to an Orange Bowl victory.
Bowen was an assistant under Mangino in those days, but don’t expect him to affix any added importance to Saturday’s matchup — at least not publicly.
“You don’t want to treat any game any different than the others, in terms of must-win,” Bowen said. “I think every one of them, you go out and treat it as a must-win game. It’s the next game on the schedule; Iowa State is who we’re playing and our kids — we believe it’s important that they understand and that every second of every day counts.”
Take one glance at the schedule, though, and you can see what Saturday’s game could mean for Bowen and Kansas. After facing Iowa State, the stretch run becomes daunting. The Jayhawks will play host to No. 6 TCU on Nov. 15, and then travel to No. 16 Oklahoma and No. 9 Kansas State during the season’s final two weeks.
It’s hard to envision a closing schedule being any more difficult than that. Especially for a Kansas program that is trying to avoid its third winless conference season in four years. For the moment, though, Bowen is not concerned with what the final month of the season could mean for his future.
“It’s trying to establish an identity,” Bowen said again, shaking off the question about his future. “At the end of the day, the rest of that stuff will take care of itself. But my job right now is to give these players the best chance to win.”