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Berry Tramel: Mike Leach, Mark Mangino incidents demonstrate that coaching requires delicate balance

by Berry Tramel Modified: December 30, 2009 at 10:15 am •  Published: December 30, 2009

EL PASO, Texas — In football, every day is third-and-one. Every day, coaches push players, seeking their limit. It’s a military mentality; break them down to build them up.

"Football’s an intense game,” said Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables. "Every day’s intense. Energy and intensity is part of the game. I don’t think it’s a cerebral sport.”

Not cerebral, but a fine line. Anyone who believes coaches never cross that line has their head in the Astroturf. So is the head of anyone who believes players are the same as they used to be.

Mark Mangino is out of a job at Kansas and Mike Leach is suspended at Texas Tech, both for alleged mistreatment of players.

Both were Oklahoma assistants on Bob Stoops’ original 1999 staff, as was Venables.

Venables is like the rest of us. He doesn’t know what happened in Lawrence or Lubbock. Doesn’t know what happened with Leach and Tech’s Adam James, the player who says he was forced to stand at attention in a dark shed, because a concussion kept him from participating.

"It’d be inappropriate for me to comment on those situations,” Venables said, "but I know those are two great men and terrific football coaches, good friends. The extreme nature of some of the reporting, accurate or not, would totally surprise me.”

Mangino was hard on players in Norman and no doubt in Lawrence, too. Leach is quirky. The truth is almost always in the middle, so who knows?

But this we know: Coaches push players, and the wonder is not that these allegations have surfaced. The wonder is that allegations like these don’t surface more often.

"This is a tough, combative, competitive game,” said OU offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, who coached with neither Mangino nor Leach.

"You’re trying to teach guys how to play hard every day. That’s a foreign language in our world, to come to work and do your best every day.”

Call it a clash of cultures. Coaches haven’t changed much over the decades; homes have. Discipline is less, respect for authority is less, accountability is less. Then Coach Drill Sergeant starts yelling, and the field’s on fire.

"More than anything we live in a society where kids aren’t challenged as much,” Wilson said.