Overland Park — An overflow crowd packed Fieldhouse Sports Cafe Monday night to hear Kansas University coach Mark Mangino talk about football.
Mangino spent a good portion of his hour-long presentation talking about character instead.
"You read every day about what's going on in sports," Mangino said at a Big Blue Monday gathering prior to KU's nationally televised men's basketball game. "It's tough. College athletes should not be special kids on the campus; they shouldn't get any special treatment. They have to go to class and earn their grades and do everything right, just like the rest of the students. Stay out of trouble."
Several athletic programs in the Big 12 Conference have had a rough time doing that in the past year. Scandals have rocked the basketball teams at Iowa State, Missouri and Baylor. The Kansas State football team's bowl trip was overshadowed by sexual-assault allegations against quarterback Ell Roberson.
Most recently, Colorado coach Gary Barnett was forced to take a leave of absence amid reports of alleged rape and sexual assault involving CU players.
Mangino declined to comment on the CU situation Monday morning, and he didn't refer specifically to any of the conference's messes Monday night. But his message was clear.
"I can assure you that our kids are trying to do the right things," said Mangino, who said KU's coaches talked to players after every practice about issues such as staying away from drugs and treating women with respect. "And we're trying to get them to do the right things every single day."
Mangino said discipline had been a priority since he took over the program Dec. 4, 2001, but he acknowledged he had "escalated" his efforts during the offseason.
The coach said he was working on a character-building program that would include more community-service projects. The Jayhawks' 2003 summer vacation included helping Habitat for Humanity build a house and spending a day at a soup kitchen.
"Some of our kids, and even one of our coaches, said that was an eye-opening experience in Lawrence, Kan., to see people struggling like that," Mangino said. "Our players need to see that. We all need to see that so we can be thankful for what we have. What we're trying to do is expose our players to the world around them. We want them to see things other than the weight room, the practice field and the locker room."
Kansas senior offensive tackle Adrian Jones will be spending more time in weight rooms and practices, though the lineman's college career is over. The Texan is expected to be taken in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft in April following a standout performance at last week's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
But Jones is one of a select few.
"We're trying to give them a total experience of life," said Mangino, who said his new program also will include an effort to reduce the stress players feel from being under often-intense fan and media scrutiny. "We want our kids to be prepared for life. Some of them will play in the NFL. Most won't. The ones who play in the NFL won't be there long. One or two might be lucky and play a long time and make a lot of money.
"Chances are they'll still have to get a job, go to work and deal with people outside the cozy setting of a college campus and college football."¢
Going but not gone: Contrary to Internet speculation, defensive end Monroe Weekley has not rejoined the team. Weekley, who left the team prior to the Tangerine Bowl along with tackle Chuck Jones, is still enrolled at KU but won't play for Kansas in 2004.
"He's finishing up his semester and getting his grades," Mangino said of the sophomore, whose scholarship will run out in May.