LAWRENCE — Kansas football coach Mark Mangino poked senior linebacker Arist Wright in the chest during a Friday practice the day before the game at Colorado, sources told The Eagle on Tuesday evening, triggering an athletic department investigation of Mangino.
On Monday night, KU athletic director Lew Perkins met with the entire football team to discuss concerns relating to Mangino's treatment of athletes. One of those concerns came from Wright, a starting player who sources say told Perkins of his incident with Mangino. At the meeting, where Mangino was not present, KU players were invited to bring information in front of a formal panel that, according to quarterback Todd Reesing, would be unbiased and from outside of the athletic department.
"I can confirm an internal review is under way," Perkins said in a statement. "It involves a personnel matter, and as a result, is confidential. It would be inappropriate for me to provide further information right now."
Mangino said Tuesday at his weekly news conference that he has not lost his team.
"Not one bit," Mangino said. "I may have lost some people around here, but it's not the players."
Yet, with the Jayhawks riding a five-game losing streak into their game Saturday at Texas, it was one of Mangino's players who brought his concerns to Perkins. And former players told The Star on Tuesday that the incident between Mangino and Wright was far from an isolated occurrence.
Mangino has shown a volatile personality at different points during his eight years at Kansas. Early in his career, he was kicked out of his son's Lawrence High football game for yelling at game officials. In 2004, he was fined $5,000 for criticizing the officials after a loss to Texas. In 2007, Mangino grabbed the facemask of Raimond Pendleton after Pendleton showboated during a punt-return touchdown in the season-opener. Mangino verbally lambasted Pendleton, calling him a "hot dog," and the video became a YouTube sensation.
"It's gone on for years, mistreating players like this," one former player said. "I had the worst time I've ever had from when I got there all the way to when I left."
Another former player said: "Mangino has made people who come to the school that loved football leave hating football. And basically it all comes from how he treats his players."
A parent of a former player told The Star there is a large organized group of former players' parents ready to air their concerns about Mangino as well.
Mangino was unavailable for comment Tuesday night about the Wright incident. Wright and Wright's father also could not be reached for comment.
When the incident occurred between Mangino and Wright, the Jayhawks were 5-0 and ranked No. 17 in the country, and they appeared to be on their way to competing for an outright Big 12 North title. Colorado was 1-4 at the time but jumped out to a shocking 24-3 lead over KU in the second quarter. The Jayhawks fought back but lost 34-30.
They have not recovered since, losing five in a row, each with a different cruel twist. On Saturday against Nebraska, KU lost 31-17 despite taking a 17-16 lead midway through the fourth quarter. The Jayhawks are heavy underdogs in their next game, Saturday night at third-ranked Texas. If they lose, they will need to beat Missouri in the season finale at Arrowhead Stadium to finish 6-6 and become bowl eligible.
Earlier in the day, Mangino responded only to the fact that his behavior is being investigated. He said he did not think players would have complained if the Jayhawks were 5-1 in the Big 12 instead of 1-5.
"This is what comes when things aren't going well," Mangino said. "You're going to find disgruntled people. It's a fact of any organization, whether it's sport related, whether it's corporate, any profession you're in.... That's life. It's how it works."
But Reesing, a senior captain, disagreed with Mangino's assertion.
"I don't think this has anything to do with the recent performance or the number of games we've won," Reesing said.
Mangino has proven that winning matters. In 2008, after the Jayhawks went 12-1 and won the Orange Bowl, Perkins and Mangino agreed on a contract extension that would keep Mangino in Lawrence through the 2012 season and pay him $2.3 million annually if he stayed for the length of the deal.
If Perkins were to fire Mangino during or after this season without cause, Mangino would be owed a $600,000 buyout. If there is cause for Mangino's firing, the school would not have to pay a buyout. Mangino said that he and Perkins met Monday night for 10 to 15 minutes about the investigation. He said he was still as focused as ever on beating Texas.
"I'm really not going to be consumed by this," Mangino said. "It's not my nature."