It began as a friendly basketball game in Mark Mangino's old neighborhood in Western Pennsylvania. One of Mangino's teammates kept making mistakes. Finally, Mangino threw up his hands and let the kid have it.

Those leadership skills 40 years later would steer surprising Kansas into national championship contention and help him become the Associated Press Coach of the Year.

"Mark ran the kid off the court, out of the building and into the street," recalled lifelong friend Tom Tommelleo. "Mark's always been a coach. We just didn't know it then. He would study every sport we played and see things the rest of us couldn't see. The thing that lit his fuse the most was somebody not giving his best effort."

In his sixth season with Kansas, Mangino has gotten an exceptional effort from the Jayhawks. Long-woeful Kansas won a school-record 11 games, had two All-Americas and earned a spot in the Bowl Championship Series for the first time. On Jan. 3 in Miami, the Jayhawks will play Virginia Tech in their first major bowl since 1969.

In voting by AP college football poll voters, Mangino received 28 of a possible 58 votes, easily outdistancing Missouri's Gary Pinkel, who had 11. Hawaii's June Jones was third (seven votes) and Illinois coach Ron Zook fourth (five votes).

"That's awesome for coach [Mangino]," Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing said. "He's earned all the recognition he gets. I don't think anybody realizes how hard coach works for us."

Things have turned out well for Mangino, the studious kid who always demanded the best back on the playgrounds of Mahoningtown, a working-class Italian-American community where his character was shaped.

There'll be a Mahoningtown reunion at the Orange Bowl. Tommelleo and a number of others are meeting in Miami to cheer on an old friend who's made good.

When Mangino's two children were young, he worked days as a high school coach and nights as an emergency responder on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

"I got tired of accidents, being witness to people's suffering," he said.

He kept seeing things he could not accept.

"I would wonder, 'Why did this person fall asleep at the wheel? Why did this person pass somebody at this construction site?' I worked a few really bad accidents that I don't like to recall. It was disturbing. That was when I decided to go back to college and get my degree and do my best to become a coach."

He got his first big break in 1991 when Bill Snyder brought him to Kansas State as an assistant. When Bob Stoops became coach at Oklahoma, he brought Mangino with him as an assistant. Two years after the Sooners won the national championship in 2000 and Mangino, as offensive coordinator, was named the country's top assistant coach, he agreed to take over the Jayhawks.

Noteworthy

* Atlanta Falcons linebackers coach Brian VanGorder will take over as defensive coordinator for the University of South Carolina.

* Rutgers associate coach Darren Rizzi has been hired as head coach at Rhode Island.

Rizzi, a former tight end at Rhode Island, replaces Tim Stowers, who was fired last month after one winning season in 8 years. *