Probe into Kansas coach still unfinished
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP)When they were growing up in a tough Italian neighborhood in New Castle, Pa., Mark Mangino's playmates called him Little Bear.
Now, angry and defiant while Kansas builds a case for firing him, the embattled coach might properly be described as Wounded Bear.
In the face of accusations of verbal abuse by many former players and obvious discord with athletic director Lew Perkins, Mangino refuses to give an inch. The Jayhawks' coach insists that he's done nothing wrong and "99 percent" of his current and former players are in his corner.
In the meantime, Kansas' investigation into Mangino's treatment of players is entering its third week. Time is not on the side of those who want him out. The all-important recruiting contact period begins on Monday and if the Jayhawks are going to fire the second-winningest coach in their checkered football history, they had better act quickly.
Even if Perkins has already picked out a successor, he'll need time to go through the motions of a coaching search. If a new man is not on board quickly, an entire recruiting class could be lost now that Saturday's last-second, 41-39 loss to Missouri ended Mangino's eighth season on a seven-game losing streak and prevented a school-record third straight bowl bid.
So when will the ordeal be over?
"I think it'll be pretty soon, but I don't know exactly," Mangino said.
The probe may not end until assistant athletic director Lori Williams, who's been conducting the probe since Nov. 16, finally meets with Mangino.
"I have not talked to her yet. It's a possibility," Mangino said.
In the first few hours after the investigation was announced, many former players came forth with stories of mean-spirited comments by the coach. So far as is known, nobody has accused him of physical abuse. Mangino insists he did nothing but try to instill a badly needed sense of structure and discipline in a program that was in shambles when he arrived in 2002.
Does he have any regrets about the way he's handled people?
"Absolutely not," he said. "Everybody has a different perception of people, especially when you have a profile such as a college football coach. ... I will tell you I may be one of the more pleasant people to deal with in college football. Trust me."
The descent of Mangino and his team was breathtaking. They started this season 5-0 and were ranked No. 16, favored by many to win the Big 12 North. Mangino, the national coach of the year when the Jayhawks won a school-record 12 games in 2007 and beat Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl, was hailed as one of college football's most outstanding coaches.
Then came a last-second loss at Colorado and an inexplicable slump by senior quarterback Todd Reesing. What followed was five straight losses, the announcement of Perkins' investigation, and two more losses.
The Jayhawks had gone from 5-0 to 5-7, and their coach could be on his way out.
"There's really no way to describe it. It just hurts," said senior running back Jake Sharp, one of Mangino's biggest supporters. "We learned a lot about life this season. I learned when you think you've got all your ducks in a row, when you think you've got it figured out, that's when life shows you how small you are.
"The way the season went, it obviously is a very big disappointment," Sharp said. "I really couldn't point a finger as to why it went this way, but it did. Nobody knows why they get cancer. Nobody knows why they get in a car wreck. That's a lesson I learned this year."