It was apparent in the Arrowhead Stadium media room Saturday evening following Kansas' last-second…
No One's Blame - Except Everyone
Every other Kansas coach in my memory who has been encouraged to explore other options was asked to do so based on what's happened on the field. Don Fambrough (twice), Bud Moore, Terry Allen and Bob Valesente were shown the door after lousy seasons – in some cases, multiple lousy seasons. There wasn't any hair-pulling and gnashing of teeth. No one argued. It all went down pretty simply: box up your office. Ethel in human resources has your last check. Thanks for stopping by.
The last two weeks, however, have been the exact opposite. Allegations of personal attacks, witch hunts, physical assaults, verbal abuse, bullying, corporate infighting and on-the-field underachievement have fed a media poopstorm the likes of which Kansas Jayhawks fans haven't seen since Roygate II.
So what have Kansas fans done? We've taken sides, and we've moved quickly to find fault, usually based on the first thing we hear. That's the mob mentality, and it's easy to get caught up in it. I did, and a lot of other people did, too.
It's that mob mentality and our tendency to take sides that have kept us from realizing that virtually no one involved can say they haven't played a huge role in how this mess has been reported and re-reported and perceived by fans of the Kansas Jayhawks and college football. I'm sure that each actor in this melodrama felt that they were acting in someone's best interests, be it KU's or their own. I find it hard to believe that what's resulted has really been in anyone's best interests.
Lew Perkins has increased fund raising and improved KU's athletics facilities by leaps and bounds since he's arrived in Lawrence. KU's been to three bowl games – including a BCS bowl game, in large part due to his negotiations with Orange Bowl officials – and won an NCAA basketball championship.
That said, the athletics departments "investigation" into Mark Mangino's alleged improper conduct on the practice field and in the locker room has turned into a public relations disaster. The timing – two weeks prior to the season's end – is suspect, as are his denials that KU's late season slide had anything to do with the investigation.
It's not a secret that Perkins and Mangino don't exactly exchange Christmas cards. I also have a theory that Mangino's contract extension and monumental pay raise during a painful 2006 season was a move by Perkins not to renew his commitment to Mark Mangino but to position KU to hire a big name coach after Mangino would be fired following the 2007 season. Then Mangino and his Jayhawks went 12-1, won the Orange Bowl and screwed Perkins' plan all up. That's just a theory. In other news, I have no proof that Lew Perkins was on the grassy knoll.
I'm confident that, like the vast majority of athletics directors, Lew Perkins would like to hire a coach who's on the same page, philosophically, as him. I'm also confident that that may not be the case with Mark Mangino.
Perkins' handling of the media prompted them – me included – to break out our Jump to Conclusions Mat and just jump ourselves silly. What's interesting is that the stories have gone from, "Mangino punched a player in the throat before the Colorado game," to, "He poked someone in the chest and was mean." But the media was allowed to take the story and run with it. I didn't notice anyone encouraging restraint or reason, either.
Mangino's not as much of an innocent victim as some would have you believe. To his credit, he did much of the heavy lifting when it came to resurrecting a stagnant Kansas football program to the point of experiencing some success. His persistence, along with having an athletic director who was willing to raise the money, is largely accountable for the new football complex next door to Memorial Stadium. He's overseen the growth of a program that has been to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history, has been bowl eligible five out of the last six years and set season ticket sales and attendance records for three straight seasons.
But where there's smoke, there's fire. I don't know if he punched anyone in the throat before the Colorado game or any other game, but I have had people I trust tell me that there have been a number of incidents when he's lost his temper and done far more than talk about someone's grandmother and poke them in the chest.
I don't think his defense of his behavior and the program he's built Sports Radio 610 out of Kansas City last week did much to make friends and influence people:
"We are sending kids out into the world prepared. But I can't do the work of some parents, what they should have done before [the players] got to me. Some of these guys are bitter, they are bitter and [the allegations] are about that."
He went on:
"There are some things that happen for 18 years of their lives that I can't change in four years of college. Can't do it. Can't change their behaviors, can't change their attitudes."
"There are people who want to embarrass the program for their 15 minutes of fame."
In one fell swoop, he'd thrown parents of past and current players, along with a number of past players, including good guys (in my opinion) like Joe Mortensen, Dexton Fields and Marcus Herford, under the bus. He said it with the resignation of a coach who understands that people are going to take their shots when you're down. It also came across as petty and childish, maybe even a little desperate.
What was most telling to me, though, was his standard answer to the question, "Did you make physical contact with one of your players?" His answer, "I haven't done anything wrong or inappropriate," speaks volumes without saying much at all.
Finally, I'd like to slap around the media, myself included, for jumping on this story with both feet.
If it was Lew Perkins' intention to drop the ax on Mark Mangino, he didn't have to. We in the media did it for him. The media has done a huge hatchet job on Mangino.
From the first leak of a players only meeting to Arist Wrights' audience with Perkins, the media has speculated about Mangino's alleged improprieties. We've sought out ex-players – some of whom we knew were unhappy about their time at Kansas, others we had no idea – to see just how far Mangino went to motivate his players. I personally texted a player I hadn't had contact with in three years to see if he'd be willing to talk on the record. I know for a fact I'm not alone in that.
By telling the story of what a meanie Mark Mangino was, the media did the dirty work. Whether Mangino punched someone or used someone's family issues as a weapon or not, the media has shredded his reputation to the point that retaining him just isn't going to be possible, even if Perkins and the University wanted to keep him and even if he wanted to return.
Maybe in our haste to get the story out before any of our competitors and give a demanding readership what they want, the media are just as quick to take a side on issues like this as fans are, even though it's in our job description not to.
Once again, I get to reference Phog.net colleague Kevin Flaherty. We were talking prior to Saturday's game against the Missouri Slavers, and Kevin likened the whole situation to a classic horror flick we're all seen a million times.
"The villagers were all really quick to pull out their torches and pitchforks and go find the monster," he said. "Problem is, no one's sure who the real monster is."
We have found the enemy, and he is us.
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