Mark Mangino was typically direct but a little sentimental during Nate Bukaty's post-game interview for the Jayhawk Radio Network. He talked about how bittersweet the game was for WR Dezmon Briscoe: 14 catches, 242 yards, two touchdowns to go with two fumbles that led to Missouri touchdowns.
He talked in grateful tones about the many contributions of the Kansas
seniors – in particular, QB Todd Reesing, WR Kerry Meier and RB Jake Sharp.
He also said that the loss wasn't nearly as tough for him as it was for
his players, and that was difficult for him.
"It's not about me; it's about the players," Mangino said. "I'm an old
enough guy. I can deal with everything, but those younger kids, it's a
little more painful for them."
When the questions from media turned to him and the ongoing
investigation into alleged incidents of physical and verbal abuse,
however, the coach's tone changed.
A reporter prefaced a question by saying that a lot of attention will
be focused on Mangino in the next few days.
Mangino interrupted, "Well, the last two weeks have been, too, right?"
Then he smiled, but it wasn't even remotely happy. It was the smile of
someone who's taken his fair share of shots in the last couple of weeks.
The reporter continued by asking if he had anything to say to "the
people who are trying to make the decision" to retain him or terminate
his employment at KU.
"I have nothing to say to those people. That's not my place to say
that. I'm confident in my ability, and I feel good about everything
I've done," he said.
He continued, with something of a "be careful what you ask for" timbre.
"When I was hired at Kansas, they told me they desperately needed
structure and discipline in the football program. The people who hired
me said that was the key point, and I've done that the right way, and I
feel good about it, and I'm proud of the way I've dealt with our
players in the program."
Mangino cited what he called "success stories" as testimonials that his
approach to the game was working. Players had come to him, he said,
unprepared for the demands of higher education and, in some cases, not
ready for the demands of Division I football, but many of them
benefited from the admittedly high expectations their head coach placed
"Now they carry diplomas under their arm and they're having successful
lives and building families," he said. "So I don't have anything to say
to any decision-makers. A friend of mine told me something one time
that I think is a very good way to go about life, and that is, 'I'd
rather die on my feet than live on my knees.'"
Mangino repeated his philosophy that has nearly become a mantra. Media
and hardcore KU fans can probably recite it from memory, but it bore
"We (Kansas coaches) think that how you handle adversity as a
collegiate football player, there's a pretty good chance that that's
how you'll deal with adversity later in life. So we try to prepare kids
for adversity and success. You know, they're both dangerous in their
own way. We always talk about how we're going to handle things, and
when things don't go right, you have to keep your head up high. You
have to be proud. We always tell our players, no one can take your
dignity, but you can give it away. If you believe in what you're doing
and you're giving it your very best, you have nothing to be ashamed of."
I couldn't help but think Mangino wasn't just reiterating his
philosophy in relation to his players; he was echoing it in the context
of his own performance at Kansas.
Another reporter asked Mangino if he would return as coach if his
retention was based on "toning down" his approach. Mangino barely
missed a beat.
"You're coming from the assumption that it needs toned down," he said,
deadpan. "How I coach is how I coach. Ninety-nine percent of the kids
here appreciate it, they appreciate the way I care for them. I make
sure they get the best health care, that they're doing their academics
and working toward a degree."
Then the publicly kinder, gentler Mark Mangino we've seen the last
couple of weeks came through again.
"We spend a lot of time counseling players. We have some players who
have parents who are ill with cancer that we've been counseling for
several months. We have a player that is sick with cancer. We have a
lot of players whose parents have lost their jobs with the economic
climate. We've been there to support them, as well. They know they can
come to us; they know we're going to be there for them. They know that
we're going to get them ready to play football, we're going to get them
ready to study, going to make sure they go to class, get a degree and
take good care of them."
He said that success at the BCS-school level requires a "certain
amount" of intensity, structure and discipline. The vast majority of
his players have not only appreciated and respected it but have
flourished under it. Mangino said he has heard in the last two weeks
from players he hasn't heard from since they left campus.
"We're doing a lot of good things in a lot of positive ways. I run the
program the right way. I'm proud of it. We're not going to change.
There's nothing to change," he said, steadfast.
One common thread that runs through all the stories of alleged abuse
and inappropriate behavior that have come to light has been how Mangino
treats other people, particularly those who have, in ways trivial and
meaningful, crossed him. He was asked, looking back, if he'd change
anything at all about how he's treated people during his tenure in
With no hesitation, he said, "Absolutely not."
Then, after a brief pause, he continued, "Let me tell you something:
everybody has a different perception of people, especially when you
have a profile such as a college football coach. And I will tell you, I
may be one of the more pleasant people to deal with in college
football. Trust me."
And does Mark Mangino plan on being the coach on opening day, 2010?
"Yes," he said.
I'd bet the house any coach in his situation would say the same things.
After all, the last thing a coach's agent needs on the other side of
the buyout bargaining table is an athletic director who can replay
soundbites and read interviews that include passages like, "Yeah, wow,
did I butcher that situation! What the hell was I thinking?"
Funny thing is, even if an investigation wasn't going on, I doubt that
Mangino would answer these questions any differently. I've never met
anyone in my life who is more demanding of himself or more sure of
Because of that, I'd bet the house and the car that Mark Mangino will
continue to be a successful college football coach.
I'll also go double-or-nothing that he'll be doing it as an offensive
coordinator at another BCS school.
Rage, rage against the dying of the night, Coach. No one wants this
whole mess resolved any more than I do, but I can't imagine you
handling yourself any other way.
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