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Thursday, November 11, 2010
Mangini ready to face some friendly ghosts

By Tim Graham

Eric Mangini
A week after beating one former employer, Eric Mangini sets his sights on another in the N.Y. Jets.
BEREA, Ohio -- Like a proud father flipping through a photo album of his children, Eric Mangini leaned forward in his office chair to display the New York Jets' offensive and defensive depth charts to a visitor seated across from his desk.

Mangini pointed at player after player after player after player. These were the guys he once coached. As he rattled them off, he tacked the phrase "was with me" after each name. Mangini articulated the names with an emphasis that reflected their importance to him.

"You go right on down the list," Mangini said from his spacious office that overlooks the Cleveland Browns' practice fields. "It's a core group of guys, and you know so much about these guys. You've had so many shared experiences with them, and now you're playing against them."

Mangini is in between games against his previous employers, referring to these two weeks as his personal version of the film "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past."

He gleefully embarrassed the New England Patriots last week and will coach against the Jets for the first time since joining the Browns on Sunday.

Mangini unwillingly departed the Jets 22 months ago. They fired him after a 9-7 season that began with a promising 8-3 start and Super Bowl chatter but disintegrated along with Brett Favre's right arm.

An outsider might assume the games create similar feelings for Mangini. They don't.

Mangini has faced his former mentor, Bill Belichick, several times. They've exchanged many frigid handshakes. Mangini, a former defensive assistant ruled a turncoat for joining the Jets, has a long history with the Patriots. The subsequent Spygate scandal drove the wedge deeper.

Still, the Patriots and Belichick are in his coaching DNA. Mangini is from them, of them.

"Being with Bill as long as I was there," Mangini said, leaning back in his leather chair and eating purple grapes from a cup, "you understand things change and parts change there each week, but philosophically it doesn't change."

His three years with the Jets were more of an association. Unlike his time with the Patriots, though, he had ownership of the Jets' roster. Those were his guys, and many of them remain on Rex Ryan's squad.

"Those are guys that I was instrumental in bringing in and developing and coaching and teaching," Mangini said.

"I told those guys when I left -- I got to address the team -- and I said 'Look, fellas, we were close here, and we made mistakes. There's a new head coach coming in here, and you guys have worked too hard to fight that guy and set yourself back. Embrace that guy and allow him the opportunity to achieve things we could have achieved.'"

Mangini didn't know at the time the Jets would hire Ryan, a gregarious figure who made the transition easier for the players. Most of them quickly embraced Ryan on his own merits, but the fact that he was a stark contrast to Mangini's austerity helped.

Rex Ryan
Eric Mangini's successor, Rex Ryan, took the Jets to within one game of the Super Bowl in his first year in New York.
The Mangini-Jets breakup has worked out for the Jets. They made the playoffs last year -- with the same 9-7 record that got Mangini fired -- and are considered among the NFL's top few teams, a Super Bowl contender.

It must be noted Mangini played a significant role in giving Ryan a roster to work with. Still, Mangini insisted he's not bitter about his exit. He has acknowledged the concept of the fall guy, and one was necessary. He remains close friends with Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum.

"It's cool to see them doing as well as they're doing," Mangini said.

Mangini claimed that what's happening in Cleveland has made this week's preparations for the Jets less emotional for him.

Mangini barely survived his first season with the Browns. They went 5-11 but won their last four games. The Browns hired Mike Holmgren to oversee football operations. Holmgren stripped Mangini of some duties, but the product seems to be improving.

The Browns are 3-5 and enter Sunday's game against the Jets with back-to-back victories over the New Orleans Saints and Patriots.

"This has been pretty satisfying," Mangini said. "Getting the job was great because it meant somebody recognized the great work we did in New York. We had a tough last year, but we developed. This year, we're competitive and we're making more steps. It's starting to pay off to some degree."

Mangini's disparate feelings for the Jets and Patriots are evident in his personnel moves.

He and Tannenbaum have made notable trades.

The Browns sent Braylon Edwards to the Jets last year for receiver Chansi Stuckey, linebacker Jason Trusnik and two draft picks. The Jets were able to get quarterback Mark Sanchez through a blockbuster draft-day trade that sent quarterback Brett Ratliff, defensive end Kenyon Coleman, safety Abram Elam and two picks to the Browns for the fifth overall selection.

Mangini, whether with the Jets or Browns, never made a trade with Belichick.

That fractured relationship is unlikely to heal.

"I appreciate what he did for me," Mangini said. "He was a huge part of my life. We were very close friends for a long time. When things started to go south, it sucked.

"Whether it'll ever get to that stage where we're close friends again, I don't know. Maybe, maybe not. But at no point will I ever stop appreciating what he's done. I feel I know who the guy is as a person, and hopefully at some point the friendship will resume."

That's why the Jets and Patriots are different for Mangini.

But he wants to beat them just the same.