Mangino Unapologetic

It was apparent in the Arrowhead Stadium media room Saturday evening following Kansas' last-second 41-39 loss to Missouri that Kansas head coach Mark Mangino has no intention of going gentle into that good night.

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 on them.

"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 repeating.

"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 Lawrence.

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 himself.

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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