‘Fam’ still ‘the man’

Fambrough main draw at fund-raising event

Kansas football coach Mark Mangino, left, shakes hands with former Jayhawk coach Don Fambrough after presenting him with a KU football helmet. Fambrough was honored for his service to Jayhawk football at An

Fans and former players alike came together Thursday night to celebrate the cornerstone of the past 50-plus years of Kansas University football — former coach Don Fambrough.

“Coach Fam,” as he’s affectionately known, is a giant in that world. As player and coach, he helped KU reach five bowl games and gained recognition for 12 players becoming All-Americans during his 36 years with the team. His time as assistant and head coach in the ’70s and early ’80s is fondly regarded.

For half a decade Fambrough has lived in Lawrence, just west of Iowa Street.

KU’s current team sees him regularly when he shows up casually to observe practices.

But Thursday night’s Holidome gathering — “An Evening with Coach Fam and Friends,” a benefit for the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center — was a reunion of sorts for lettermen, coaches and trainers who now are spread all over the country.

While chatting with friends, former Kansas University football coach Jack Mitchell laughs uncontrollably. Former KU football players, coaches, friends and family shared stories and memories at An

Pepper Rodgers, head coach from 1967 to 1970, took time away from his executive position with the Washington Redskins to attend. And Jack Mitchell, head coach from 1958 to 1966, was on hand, visiting from his Phoenix home.

“He’s a real dedicated football man with a tremendous amount of empathy,” Mitchell said of his old friend.

The two played college ball together in Texas before both were drafted for the war in 1943.

“He knocked me on my ass so many times, we became very close,” Mitchell recalled about their Texas days, chuckling.

He wasn’t the only one with fond memories. Two time All-American Gale Sayers remembered his days of playing under Fambrough in the early ’60s as being well rounded.

“He cares for the team, not only for them as football players, but their education too,” Sayers said. “An athlete’s time is limited, whereas the education you get will last you a lifetime. He made sure I knew that.”

The Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center had been planning the annual fund-raiser for about 10 months. Ticket sales for the gathering, at $95 a pop, will bring in about $50,000 for the Bert Nash endowment trust.

And it wasn’t just athletic-department bigwigs who paid to attend. There were avid fans, too.

Linda Smith, an Overland Park retiree, joked that she and her husband’s dedication to KU sports borders on obsession.

“We’re die-hards, that’s for sure,” she said, while watching current coach Mark Mangino talk on-air for the “Hawk Talk” radio show that was broadcasting from the banquet.

Smith ticked off on both her hands the number of coaches, players and KU celebrities she had met while traveling to away football and basketball games and using the season tickets the couple have bought since 1985.

“It’s a hobby, yes,” she said, her eyes darting around the room, hungrily taking it all in. “We’re not big joiners, but KU sports … it’s something that anyone can get into.”