AUSTIN, Texas — Kansas coach Mark Mangino has always used football to insulate himself from the outside world. At a time like this, with the entire country speculating about the chances of him keeping his job after a school investigation into his treatment of players, Mangino's expertise in tunnel-vision can come in pretty handy.
The man has his routine, and he will follow it into Missouri week. First, there's the mundane — things like his weekly phone call with reporters on Sunday night and his weekly radio show on Thursday night. Then, there's the unique happenings of a Thanksgiving week game against rival Missouri — things like making sure that every kid on the roster has a place to eat some turkey and enjoying former KU coach Don Fambrough's annual MU week speech.
"There's no reason not to," Mangino said Sunday. "This is what I do. I'm very comfortable doing it."
Talk to Mangino, and it becomes very clear that he intends to fight for the life he's created for himself in Lawrence, one driven by a belief in regimen. Asked whether he felt he had been treated unfairly at any point this week by the way events had played out, Mangino responded, "It hasn't played out. Answering you in an honest fashion, it hasn't played out. That's how I feel about it. So I'm doing my job and getting ready to play Missouri."
In other words, don't give up on him yet. Mangino is a fighter — how else could he have even gotten to Kansas after spending a good chunk of his adult life driving an ambulance on the Pennsylvania Turnpike? If Saturday's game against Missouri is Mangino's last at KU, he will do everything in his power to make sure it's a win.
"That's a big game over in Arrowhead," Mangino said. "It's really important to our players, it's important to our fans, important to our students. That's what my focus is on."
The Jayhawks, losers of six in a row, still need this game to become bowl eligible for the fifth straight season. Even for seniors who seemingly don't have much left to play for in their KU careers, getting a sixth win would make everything feel better.
"It's definitely important," KU safety Justin Thornton said. "We feel like we've been a big part of building this program up. Going into this last game, even if you do win, you (may not) go to a bowl game. We're going to try to win this game in a convincing fashion."
Like their coach, the Jayhawks will keep their routine up until Thursday, when they will have a practice in the morning and then disperse for Thanksgiving festivities. Mangino said players within a two-hour driving distance are encouraged to go home and to bring teammates with them.
"No player spends the holiday alone," Mangino said. "My coaching staff and myself, we'll bring them to our homes and have holiday dinners so no player will spend the holiday alone."
And at some point this week, Fambrough will have the floor. Mangino certainly sounded like he expected to be there when it happens.
"That's our ace in the hole, Coach Fambrough," Mangino said. "I want to tell you something. He was pacing all around the field this week, and I said 'He knows we're playing Texas this week, doesn't he? Because he's got his Missouri game face on a week early.' I'm telling you, when you get ready to play Missouri, he's got his hands behind his back, and he walks around the field about 90 miles per hour, and when he talks, he talks so fast you won't know what the heck he's saying."
Seeing Fambrough at practice is just another thing that has helped Mangino stay in his comfort zone despite an uncomfortable situation.
"He gave me a big hug every day this week when I walked through the gate," Mangino said, "and he's just a great supporter of mine."
Opurum out — Kansas freshman running back Toben Opurum will miss the Missouri game after leaving the Texas game during the first half because of an undisclosed leg injury.
Mangino was asked if the injury was serious enough to require offseason surgery.
"We don't know that yet," Mangino said. "I will meet with the doctors probably Tuesday afternoon after practice."
Mangino said that defensive end Jake Laptad should be ready to play against the Tigers.