KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Saturday, less than an hour before Mark Mangino coached his final football game at Kansas, associate athletic director Jim Marchiony stood on the Arrowhead Stadium sideline as the Jayhawks went through warmups.
By then it had become obvious that Mangino would be gone the following week amid allegations of verbal abuse toward his players. Mangino knew it, the media knew it and so did Kansas fans – including one who screamed at Marchiony from the stands.
Wearing a crimson and blue KU shirt, the middle-aged man wanted Marchiony to pass along a message to his boss, athletic director Lew Perkins.
"Hey Marchiony," the man yelled. "Tell Lew that the average fan thinks he [expletive] this whole thing up."
The opinion was certainly understandable. To the "average fan," Thursday's ouster of Mangino should seem ridiculous and difficult to understand.
Just two years after a 12-1 record earned him national coach of the year honors, Mangino resigned following an internal investigation in the wake of allegations he mistreated players and that he "poked" one of them in the chest. The coach and university agreed to a settlement less than $6.6 million he was owed on his contract. Findings of the investigation will remain confidential as part of Mangino's personnel file.
Mangino supporters – and there are plenty of them – will argue that the charges are petty. This is football, after all. Screaming about and criticizing lackadaisical efforts is something that's done at almost every level of the game, sometimes with beneficial results.
Perkins knows that, which is why all the message board posters and talking heads are wrong when they say he got rid of Mangino simply for riding his players.
Perkins didn't push out Mangino for yelling. He pushed him out for what he yelled – at the Jayhawks, at administrators, at parking lot attendants and secretaries, at media relations directors and even his own assistant coaches, who he was known to belittle in front of the entire team.
Countless times during his eight seasons at Kansas, Mangino crossed the line when he raised his voice both on the field and off of it. Screaming at people to motivate them is one thing, but Mangino had a nasty habit of making it personal.
Finally, on Thursday, Perkins decided he'd had enough. And while a few Jayhawks fans may be confused and upset, Mangino's departure certainly hasn't caused any tears within the walls of Kansas' athletic department.
"Mark Mangino is a bully," said one former assistant who asked not to be identified. "The only thing that surprises me is that Kansas didn't get rid of him sooner. I'm shocked they put up with him for as long as they did."
It's not as if Perkins – who was hired after Mangino – had never thought about making a coaching change. The problem was that, until Thursday, he couldn't.
In just his second season, Mangino led Kansas to a victory over archrival Missouri and an appearance in the Tangerine Bowl, its first postseason berth in eight years. In 2005 the Jayhawks won the Fort Worth Bowl and touted one of the better defenses in the country.
No one, though, could've predicted what happened in 2007, when Kansas remained in the national championship hunt until it lost to Missouri in the final week of the regular season. Still, the Jayhawks finished 12-1 and defeated Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
All of a sudden, the university that had always been known for its basketball success had become a football school, too. Sellouts at Memorial Stadium became the norm. Funds were raised for a $33 million facility upgrade. All of it led to a new deal for Mangino that made him the fourth-highest paid coach in the Big 12.
Still, as much as it seemed like a reward for Mangino, the $2.3 million contract was also a statement that Kansas was willing to pay its coaches handsomely. It was important that people knew that, because even as support for Mangino grew, it was obvious behind the scenes that he was a misstep away from losing his job.
That misstep occurred during a walk-through the night before Kansas' Oct. 17 game at Colorado, when Mangino reportedly poked linebacker Arist Wright in the chest while berating him. The incident was reported to Kansas' administration, who responded by launching an investigation into Mangino's coaching tactics and treatment of others.
During the past three weeks, scores of former Jayhawks have flocked to various media outlets to tell tales of Mangino's verbal abuse.
One published report said Mangino asked a player if he "wanted to end up being an alcoholic like his father." Another published report said Mangino told a player that, if he didn't shape up, he'd send him back to St. Louis so he could "get shot with his homies."
Although he hasn't addressed any of those accusations specifically, Mangino has cited the lack of discipline in the program when he arrived in December of 2001 as a reason for his tactics. He said he needed to be stern and intense to change the culture of the program. He noted that, for every negative remark, there's been a supportive one from a former player.
That may be the case, but that doesn't make those comments, if they were uttered, OK.
Mangino's temper problems have been an issue since the year he arrived on campus.
During his first season, Mangino caused headlines at a prep football game when he allegedly screamed curse words at a referee who failed to throw a flag for a late hit on his son, Tommy, who was the quarterback at Lawrence High School. According to published reports, Mangino followed the official off the field and toward the locker room, all the while continuing his verbal assault.
Kansas officials forced Mangino to apologize, but he later said he didn't feel as if he had done anything wrong. That was the same stance he took years later regarding a formal, written complaint by a campus parking official who said Mangino screamed and cursed at him after he ticketed him for illegally parking his SUV.
Things weren't much better within office walls. Within a year of his hiring, two staff members – including one secretary – said they quit their jobs at Kansas because of Mangino's tirades.
Those two lasted longer than former Kansas offensive line coach Ken Conatser, who resigned after just two games in 2002 following an incident at UNLV when Mangino chastised him in front the entire team during halftime.
Upon returning to Lawrence, Conatser packed up his belongings, turned in his resignation and returned to his native Ohio.
"If I'd have stayed in Lawrence I'd have probably ended up in the county jail," Conatser said earlier this week. "The assistants there now … they never could speak out about what the environment is truly like. They didn't want to lose their jobs."
Actions, though, can be telling.
Seemingly every year, Mangino lost assistant coaches to other schools. While some coaches take pride in retaining their staff each season, Kansas was continually searching for new position coaches. Kansas had the reputation of being a brutal place to work because of Mangino, who also annoyed administrators with his disdain for attending booster functions and by refusing to address his weight problem.
It's also noteworthy that, despite all of his success in Lawrence, Mangino's name never appeared on a short list for the various job openings that surfaced over the past four or five years. The word was out. Mangino was not worth the headache.
Not even at Kansas, where Perkins apparently got tired of putting out fires for Mangino. In the past, Kansas had no choice but to tolerate Mangino because he was winning. But there's no place for a coach with a temper problem who ends the season with seven straight losses.
Even after what would be his final game, Mangino remained stubborn following Saturday's loss to Missouri. He said he had no regrets about how he'd coached his team the previous eight years, adding that he wouldn't make any changes to his style if he were brought back for a ninth season.
"I'd rather die on my feet than live on my knees," Mangino said.
As he left the press conference, two things seemed obvious: Eight years ago, Kansas made the right move by hiring Mark Mangino, and now they were making the right move by parting with him.
The offensive coordinator for Oklahoma's 2000 national championship squad, Mangino will likely find his way back onto the football field soon. As much as he'll be remembered for his failure at Kansas, he'll also be revered for his success. No one can say that the man isn't an excellent football coach.
Still, it's hard not to wonder if Mangino will ever have his own program again. The stories and anecdotes that have surfaced about him in recent weeks will haunt him for the rest of his career in recruiting. If no other school would take a chance on Mangino during the past eight years, why would they now?
At the very least, Mangino can always hold his head high about what he accomplished at Kansas, where he completely changed the culture of a program that seemed destined for eternal mediocrity.
Kansas is an attractive job again, and for that the Jayhawks can thank Mangino, who leaves Lawrence with a handful of bowl rings and coaching awards.
And hardly any friends.
- Mark Mangino