November 19, 2009
When the great mystery behind the players-only meeting with administration and subsequent investigation into "concerns" about Kansas coach Mark Mangino turned out to be a complaint by a senior linebacker that Mangino had poked him in the chest and been an all-around meanie during a practice earlier this season, you could almost hear the old-schoolers scoffing in unison. "Poked in the chest? Bryant had the starting tackles hold us down while he kicked dirt down our throat! Lombardi made us eat our own thumbs! They made me the man I am today!" Coaches have always been known as one part sadistic drill sergeant, one part nurturing father, and for his part, Mangino maintains he did nothing inappropriate.
The issues in Mangino's case seems to be a) This isn't 1964, and b) He seems to have missed the "nurturing father" element of the equation, according to a growing chorus of former players and parents who connect a pattern of verbal abuse over his nearly decade-long tenure. For example (emphasis added):
One story involved former Kansas wide receiver Raymond Brown during preseason practices. Brown's brother had recently been shot and was recovering in St. Louis. When players were asked during a meeting to describe their commitment to the team, Brown stood up and told his teammates and coaches about the incident. Brown said he was trying to get the message across that life was too short to waste. Shortly after in practice, Mangino and Brown got into a confrontation on the practice field.
"Don't yes sir me, or I will send you back to St. Louis so you can get shot with your homies," Brown remembers Mangino saying.
Brown said he looked around at other players and coaches, all shocked at what Mangino had just said. "We tell him all that as personal stuff, but he uses that to break down his players," Brown said. "It's not a motivational tool, it makes you not even want to play for him."
The Brown incident wasn't an isolated one. Other players recall Mangino mocking their religion, pointing out a player's alcoholic father or terminally ill relative as a way to push the team's buttons.
The allegations extend to Mangino putting his hands on an assistant coach after a game and failing to report injuries, besides failing to develop any kind of relationship with players before they graduate. Obviously, this is not what you'd usually associate with a "family atmosphere" in the locker room, nor a professional one. A former captain, linebacker Joe Mortensen, told the Lawrence Journal-World that he attributes a torn ACL his last year to being forced back into drills too early following knee surgery, and if Kansas officials asked his advice, "'I’d be like 'Let him go.'"
It's also coming out at a curious time, with the Jayhawks riding a five-game losing streak and staring at a losing season with likely losses to Texas and Missouri still in front of them. You can't blame Mangino for thinking, as he said earlier this week, that this wouldn't be happening if Kansas was 5-1 in the Big 12 and in the hunt for the division title, as it's been the last two years, instead of 1-5 and heading for the scrap heap. Mangino is responsible for the best two-season run in school history in 2007-08 and is two wins from setting a new school record.
And apparently that bought him a lot of goodwill over those years, at least enough to keep people thinking, "He must be doing something right." It's one thing to be a jerk who gets results. When the worm turns and losses to the likes of Colorado and Kansas State start piling up, though, all bets are off if you're just a jerk. If that doesn't get Mangino fired, it guarantees a round of professional anger management or "sensitivity training" or something along those lines, at minimum, unless a substantial contingent of his players and their parents are all discovered to be lying.