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Thursday, November 4, 2010
Mangini-Belichick divide still strong

By James Walker

Eric Mangini and Bill Belichick
Former colleagues Eric Mangini and Bill Belichick had an ugly falling out that lasts until this day.
BEREA, Ohio -- Cleveland Browns head coach Eric Mangini recently embraced the idea of mending fences with former friend and mentor Bill Belichick.

But based on the response this week from the New England Patriots' coach, Mangini shouldn't hold his breath.

There is still a frosty divide that separates the teacher and former pupil. The two coaches will meet for the eighth time Sunday when Belichick and the Patriots (6-1) travel to face Mangini's Browns (2-5). Including the postseason, Belichick is 5-2 against Mangini dating to Mangini's days as head coach of the New York Jets.

And New York is where Mangini's relationship with Belichick took a turn for the worse. In September 2007, the Mangini-led Jets filed a complaint with the NFL against Belichick stating that a Patriots cameraman was taping New York's defensive signals. That prompted a lengthy investigation by the NFL -- famously known as "Spygate" -- that resulted in a $500,000 fine for Belichick, a $250,000 fine for the Patriots and a loss of their 2008 first-round pick.

The investigation also found that Belichick had been taping signals since 2000. It was a major hit to Belichick's reputation, and the blow was dealt by a team coached by Mangini, whom Belichick had taken under his wing as a former ball boy in Cleveland and gradually developed into an NFL head coach.

Mangini and Belichick haven't been on speaking terms for several years.

"I'd say never say never," Mangini said of a possible reconciliation. "Obviously, he was very important to me and I respect him, very important to my family and all those things. But we'll see. Time will tell."

At this week's conference call, not for one second did the Patriots' coach care to entertain the thought of making up with Mangini.

Belichick was asked to describe the relationship with his former pupil.

"We're both coaching teams that are going to play on Sunday," said Belichick, ignoring the topic.

If Mangini reached out, would Belichick be receptive to it?

"Right now I'm really receptive to working on the Browns and trying to get our team ready to play," Belichick responded.

Where did the two coaches go wrong?

"I'm just trying to get our team ready to play this week, just like I do every single week," Belichick said.

Ouch!

It's pretty clear where both parties stand: Mangini remains optimistic that time will heal this wound, and Belichick isn't interested in being friendly.

But why now for Mangini? After letting things fester for several years, why has Mangini gone public in trying to patch things up?

The most prevalent theory in NFL circles is that Mangini realizes he's on the hot seat. After "Spygate," his firing in New York, and an unceremonious breakup last year with another friend in former Browns general manager George Kokinis, Mangini doesn't have the best reputation around the league.

If Mangini doesn't win enough games this year -- the Browns are on pace to win only four or five -- Cleveland president Mike Holmgren could go in another direction. And for Mangini to get another shot as a head coach or coordinator in the NFL, an image makeover may be necessary. Mangini also has been noticeably more personable with the media this season.

Belichick's tree looms large in the NFL forest, as Mangini knows.

"I am really happy that I had that chance [to work under Belichick], because I think he's arguably one of the best, if not the best, coaches in the league," Mangini said.

Bill Belichick and Eric Mangini
Eric Mangini was an assistant coach under Belichick for nine seasons with the Jets and Patriots.
On the field, Mangini was able to have some degree of success against Belichick, because Mangini had more veteran talent in New York. For example, two of Mangini's wins against New England came with Chad Pennington and Brett Favre at quarterback.

This week the Browns have the tough task of trying to beat the Patriots with rookie quarterback Colt McCoy. The third-round pick is expected to get his third straight start as veteran quarterbacks Seneca Wallace and Jake Delhomme recover from ankle injuries.

McCoy has shown accuracy and potential in splitting games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints. Belichick was more open to discussing McCoy than he was Mangini.

"He looks like he's an athletic kid and a good competitor," Belichick said. "He's been on the road in two tough places to play, and it looks like he's hung in there pretty well."

Will Mangini and Belichick ever be what they once were pre-Spygate? Probably not.

But if Belichick is willing, Mangini has offered an olive branch. He's open to repairing this broken friendship.

"I think everything takes care of itself over time," Mangini explained. "He's had a lot to focus on. I've had a lot to focus on. So it's just one of those things right now."