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Mangini Not Afraid To Let Guard Down


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From Ohio.com....


There's more than meets eye on coach

Mangini not afraid to let guard down in visit to his hometown

By Marla Ridenour

Beacon Journal sports columnist


Published on Sunday, Jun 13, 2010


HARTFORD, CONN.: As Browns coach Eric Mangini listened to his assistants speak at his annual football camp at Bulkeley High School eight days ago, he stood with his arms folded in his football general pose that borders on Napoleonic.


But minutes later, Mangini was smiling and mugging for the camera with his mother, Nancy; sister Brenda and son Jake.


His extended family in Hartford insists that's the only Mangini they know. Around them he is not the tight-lipped taskmaster, as he has been characterized during his four seasons as an NFL coach, three with the New York Jets. They say he's easy-going, funny and inquisitive about their lives.


''I don't know if people realize the guy is hilarious,'' said John Cancian, an engineer for Pratt & Whitney and the scholarship administrator for Mangini's foundation. First a friend of Mangini's brother, Kyle, Cancian met Mangini when he was 12. ''He is knock-you-out-of-your-chair funny if you get him going.''




Graham Martin, Mangini's football coach at Bulkeley, hears the same criticisms of Mangini that pepper Clevelanders' conversations.


''People I know who don't know Eric always say, 'How come he's stern?' '' Martin said. ''That's a business up there. Eric's got a great personality, and he's got a gift of dry humor.


''That young man is always thinking. I guess that's one of the reasons he is where he is right now. He's always been special to me. He baby-sat my kids. We have a place in Rhode Island; him and his buddies used to come down and hang out and go to the beach. We've had a great relationship for a long time.''


Frank Hauser, Mangini's defensive coordinator and coach at Wesleyan University, said Mangini lets his guard down when he comes back to his hometown.


''We know the real Eric,'' Hauser said. ''He's personable, he likes to have fun, he's got a great sense of humor.''


Martin and Harry Bellucci, an assistant football coach at Bulkeley when Mangini attended, became even closer to Mangini after his father, Carmine, died when he was a sophomore. Bellucci, a bachelor, used to give Mangini rides home after practice. When Mangini went to Wesleyan, Bellucci drove the 20 minutes down state Route 9 for his games and sometimes brought Mangini back with him, even if it meant a return trip on Sunday night.


Then before Mangini's final college game, Mangini invited Bellucci to his family cookout. Bellucci said, ''I'm like, 'Five minutes, dude, and I'm outta there.' '' In those five minutes, Bellucci met his future bride, Brenda Mangini.


''He calls me after football games on Friday nights, 'Can I get a score of our game?' '' said Bellucci, now coaching at Hartford Public High School. ''He's always calling to see if I got a kid in college or find out what I'm doing. He stays in contact with all his friends. He doesn't want people to think he's a big-time guy.




''You can see it with my kids, he's so relaxed, loves kid stuff. He talks to our girls about 'What was your day like in school? How was your soccer game? How was your lacrosse game?' He likes his kids to stay connected to our kids.''


Devotion to charity


All spoke of Mangini's devotion to charity, a passion of Carmine Mangini. Cancian first saw that in the Mangini boys when Kyle bought a homeless man a meal at a Hartford fast food restaurant.


Cancian can't forget the night he and his wife were dining with Mangini and Harry Bellucci at Noble's in New York, a restaurant Cancian said he could never afford.


''We're all kind of chatting in front of the restaurant and Eric disappears,'' Cancian said. ''There's a homeless guy; he goes right into one of these markets and buys him groceries. I don't know how much he spent on this guy. But there's this feeling of needing to help people.''


Bellucci remembered it, too, saying: ''He sees this guy and walks him into the store. 'C'mon, what do you need?' He bought him a sandwich, drinks, some coffee. It wasn't like, 'I'm the head coach of the New York Jets.' He doesn't want any notoriety for that.''


Mangini seems to be trying to open up more this year. Bellucci pointed to Mangini's comment that rookie defensive lineman Cliff Geathers ''needs to be careful with the smaller kids on the playground'' after he leveled punter Jon Thoma in a kickoff drill.


In Cleveland, Mangini seems most willing to share his other side through stories about his 6-year-old son, Jake. At his football camp, Mangini's eyes lit up as he talked about visiting his old house at 170 Exeter St. the day before. Apparently the irrepressible Jake has his father's sense of humor.


''We used to have to paint our house,'' said Mangini, who has four siblings, including two brothers. ''My dad would scrape it down, we'd paint. Jake's like, 'The house seems kind of small, Dad, probably not that hard to paint.' ''


Negative publicity


The Hartford clan was especially hurt last season by the national blitz of negative publicity against Mangini. It started with an uproar over Mangini busing the Browns' rookies 10 hours each way to his football camp and continued with the story of the $1,701 water bottle fine levied on habitual offender Braylon Edwards and questions surrounding a season-ending practice injury to running back James Davis. The capper was a scathing column in Rolling Stone penned by a former Patriots fan.


''Since he's been coaching, it's a very serious deal,'' Cancian said. ''It's hard. I don't understand what it's like to be a celebrity, but I imagine every single thing he does is scrutinized.''


Martin obviously was paying close attention.


''I'm of the school of this: If you're firm, fair and consistent in your dealings, everything will work out for you,'' Martin said. ''I know he was getting bashed, it was brutal. You're selling seats; weren't they boycotting? I'm not sure where it came from. But he's a tough kid. He persevered.


''How much fact was it? I can say to some kid, 'Go on home,' and everybody says, 'Martin sent the quarterback home.' Maybe there was more reason.''


Holmgren to help


Martin believes Mangini will thrive with the addition of new president Mike Holmgren, an NFL coach for 17 years.


''Now Eric is coaching,'' Martin said. ''If you get good people to surround you, to support you, then you don't have to worry about that. I think that's the case right now with Mike Holmgren.''


Bellucci said he didn't discuss last year's firestorm with Mangini, but said, ''I think I see him relaxing a little bit.''


''He really likes Mike,'' Bellucci said. ''He's able to go upstairs and say, 'Hey, Mike, I've got a situation here, what do you think about it?' It's a nice option he didn't have before. And from what I've heard, Mike is great at offering advice.''


But one Hartford friend wishes Mangini were comfortable enough around Browns headquarters that he'd go a step further.


''I wish he'd show up one time in a Holmgren mustache or something,'' he said.




Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohiomm.com/blogs/browns/. Follow the Browns on Twitter at @ABJ_Browns.

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