Steubenville Catholic Central grad Ken Mannie entering 20th season with Spartans
EAST LANSING, Mich. – It’s the windshield and not the rear view mirror three weeks after standing on the sidelines watching the Michigan State Spartans win the Rose Bowl, 24-20, over Stanford.
“We’ve already moved on, starting on 2014. We can’t even come up for air,” Ken Mannie said with a laugh.
Mannie is going on his 20th season as the Spartans’ strength and conditioning coach for the football program, while additionally directing and overseeing the strength and conditioning programs for all men’s and women’s sports.
“The Rose Bowl – what a beautiful setting,” said the Steubenville Catholic Central graduate. “You drive through some nice neighborhoods and then – there it is. There are beautiful mountains in the background.
“The whole atmosphere was beautiful.
“They estimated we had over 60,000 people there. It was really like a home game – or as close to a home game as you can get. There were still 30,000-plus Stanford people there, but it was evident we outnumbered them in fans. Our people really showed up. It was great to see and great to here because they were vocal.
“It was emotional for (wife) Marianne and me. When you walk up to the Rose Bowl Stadium, it overwhelms you.
“She said her eyes welled up a little bit. When we went over there as a team the day before the game, you walk up to that stadium and you are overcome with emotion.
“It is beautiful and you know how hard it was to get there.
“You could tell something was running through the veins of our players. You could tell they were overcome with emotion.
“Marianne and I were proud to represent Steubenville.”
Michigan State won the Rose Bowl for the first time since a 20-17 win over USC in 1988.
The victory over Stanford was salted when former walk-on Kyler Elsworth jumped over the middle of a pile at the line of scrimmage on the fourth-and-1 play to stop Ryan Hewitt. It was Elsworth’s first start in his career. He replaced two-time team captain Max Bullough, who was suspended.
“He had never had a start before and he was started in the Rose Bowl at linebacker,” Mannie said of Elsworth. “It’s a credit to him that he stuck it out all those years – especially as a special teams and rotational guy. He is a tough, hard-nosed guy and he persevered.”
One start in five years and it was on the second biggest stage.
“Talk about being tough and persevering and having all that hard work pay off,” said Mannie. “And it paid off for him in a big way.
“He is a perfect example of sticking to it through everything and never saying die. He waited for his chance – maybe it would come and maybe it wouldn’t. He got his big chance and it was a moment like that and it will live in his heart forever.”
Mannie taught and coached on the high school level for 10 years (1975-84). He spent nine of those years at Catholic Central where he coached football, wrestling and track.
He began his coaching career as a student assistant at Akron in 1974, working with the offensive guards and centers.
A former walk-on, Mannie became a three-year letterman and two-year starter at offensive guard for Akron from 1971-73. He played on the 1971 Zips’ team that finished 8-2 and ranked eighth nationally in the Division II polls.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in health and physical education from Akron in 1974 and received a master’s degree in physical education and health education with an emphasis in exercise science from Ohio State in 1985.
“Our kids got up every day and faced the challenges of each and every day and each and every week – in practices, in workouts and in games,” said Mannie. “They had a fist-fight mentality. They had that, plus they were willing to get better. And, we certainly did as the season went on.
“Everybody had written our offense off as dead. Then an Ohio kid, Connor Cook, comes through and gets better each week at quarterback. Our running game and our offensive line started to get. Even though we lost that game at Notre Dame (17-13 on Sept. 21) – and Connor was still trying to find his way – I think it was a turning point for our football team. We knew we could be really good.
“We played a good team at Notre Dame and, after that, I think we had some confidence and a renewed attention to detail. We felt we found a quarterback who could get the job done and was going to get better. All he needed was some experience.
“Our defense had been solid, like it has been the past few years. In fact, our defense won a couple of games for us early by scoring. We were starting to play well on both sides of the ball and it kind of took off from there.”
There eventually was the Big Ten championship game, a 34-24 win over previously undefeated Ohio State.
“I think a few things helped us in that game – we had been in that game two years before, in the same locker room in the same stadium,” said Mannie. “Credit Wisconsin and Russell Wilson, who made some great plays that night (a 42-39 Badgers win). We felt comfortable in that stadium, being there two times in three years.
“Our kids were confident against Ohio State because we had lost to them by one point the year before, so, even though there were some new players, we had basically played that same team.
“We came into that game with our confidence sky high (having won eight in a row). They scored 24 in a row on us, but I never felt for one second that our kids thought that the margin was too much to overcome or that we were losing control of the game. I felt really confident we were going to find a way to win that game.”
Prior to his arrival at Michigan State, Mannie spent nine years in a similar capacity at the University of Toledo (1985-94). He worked for Nick Saban in 1990 when the Rockets won a share of the Mid-American Conference title and finished 9-2.
He served as a graduate assistant alongside Mark Dantonio at Ohio State in 1984, working with the Buckeyes’ Big Ten championship football team.
“Mark and I were on the first staff together with Nick Saban (at MSU in 1995). Mark was the secondary coach. I’ve said that Mark and I were kind of cut from the same cloth – he being from Zanesville and me from Steubenville. We hit it off. He has faith and confidence in me and I appreciate that. We think along the same lines in so many different ways.”
Mannie is a certified strength and conditioning specialist with the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association, the National Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association and holds an honorary certification with the International Association of Resistance Trainers.
In May 2002 at its annual conference in Salt Lake City, the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association awarded Mannie the title of Master Strength and Conditioning Coach in recognition of his professionalism, expertise, longevity and contributions to the field. He also is a professional member of the American College of Sports Medicine, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education and the American Association for Health Education.
“Now that I’m a little bit older, a little longer in the tooth, I’ve taken on the role of mentor,” said Mannie, who has served as a consultant to several NFL teams on training equipment, program design, and the organization and administration of testing protocols. “I have taken more of an emphasis on helping our kids through things other than football and preparing for football. Life matters and hopefully we can help them into self-sufficient young men.
“They need to get their education, but they also need to enjoy this time while they can because this time is very short-lived. It’s a very difficult and challenging time in their lives. Sometimes they are living for the moment and they have a hard time making the right decisions. We want to be there for them to help them learn from those mistakes and not make those mistakes again.
“We want to help them move forward to be the young men their parents want them to be, their families want them to be and when they want to be, but are not sure how to do it.
“It’s a lot more than just dealing with the physical needs of the players. It’s kind of like a guidance counselor. We are there to help them through tough times – football related and a lot of non-football related items.
“We are around these young men a lot more than their position coaches on a yearly basis and we have to take advantage of those opportunities for mentoring moments. We have to aspire and motivate them any way we can.
“I look forward to that obligation and embrace it. I enjoy it more than the physical things we put them through.
“Preparing them for life is a lot more important than preparing them for football.”