Stuckey, Meier come to coach's defense

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Two players defended embattled Kansas coach Mark Mangino on Tuesday as an internal investigation into claims that he mistreated his team entered its second week.

"We look to him to see how he reacts, and the way he's handled everything has been an inspiration to us," said safety Darrell Stuckey. "To see him go out there and be mentally tough -- everything he's preached to us about being mentally tough, to see him live it out, means a lot."

The probe was announced a week ago after athletic director Lew Perkins met with the team without Mangino and said he would look into the allegations. No one has accused Mangino of physical abuse; the complaints center on things he allegedly said in the heat of discussion during games or practice.

Wide receiver Kerry Meier said he and some other players have been interviewed in connection with the probe. He said he gave his coach his full support.

"College football is a tough game and everything that comes with it is tough as well," Meier said. "If you're going to try to get something done, a lot of times you're going to have to raise your voice and say some things to get people moving."

For his part, Mangino vowed to keep his focus on Saturday's regular-season finale against archrival Missouri in Kansas City.

"I'm coaching. And I'm focused and I'm still standing and I'm going to keep going because I believe in what we're doing," he said at his weekly news conference.

The controversy erupted last Monday following the Jayhawks' fifth straight loss. Kansas (5-6, 1-6) can become bowl-eligible with a victory over Missouri.

Mangino dismissed any suggestion that he might be coaching his final game.

"I believe in my players," he said. "I believe in this program. We've got a lot of hard work invested here. This job for me has been something that I've put my heart and soul into making better."

Mangino's contract was extended after he took the team to a 12-1 record in 2007 and runs through 2012. If fired without cause, the school could be on the hook for about $6.6 million. If the university builds a case and is able to fire him for cause, he could be gone with nothing.

With so much money at stake, a compromise could be a possible solution. Perkins has said nothing publicly other than to insist the probe by assistant athletic director Lori Williams will be thorough and unbiased.

Mangino has made it clear that his relationship with Perkins, who did not hire him, has cooled.

"I stated already what my relationship is with Lew," Mangino said. "It's a good working relationship. Perhaps you should pose that question to him. I think that would be fair."

In a terse e-mail to The Associated Press, Perkins echoed Mangino's characterization.

"I agree with Mark's perception that we have a good professional relationship," he said.

Some former players have told stories of Mangino saying what appeared to be terribly insensitive comments. But others have come to his defense and Mangino said he has received support from all over the country.

"I have had overwhelming support from former players, fans, people that I've coached with and coached against, and strangers," he said. "There have been so many e-mails and phone calls and text messages in the last week to me, my family, my staff, my support staff. A lot of parents have contacted the office. My only regret is right now I'm focused on Missouri and I can't return those messages. But I will."