alporcini Posted November 7, 2010 Report Share Posted November 7, 2010 New Mangini Embraces Old One By GREG BISHOP BEREA, Ohio — Perhaps Eric Mangini reached his lowest point in January. He was eating too much, sleeping too little and wrestling with a chewing tobacco habit. His job as the Cleveland Browns’ coach was fraught with uncertainty. He faced a daily barrage of criticism. His weight climbed to an embarrassing level, and he kept thinking that his father had died of a heart attack at 56. Even his old nickname, Mangenius, resurfaced to mock him. “I’m telling you, it was as miserable as could be,” Mangini said. “It was like being on the treadmill, Level 15, every single day. So I decided, I’m going to change this.” The new Eric Mangini will now take center stage in an N.F.L. version of “This Is Your Life.” On Sunday, his Browns host New England, with whom he won three Super Bowls as an assistant; a week later, they host the Jets, who fired him after the 2008 season. Since January, everything has changed. Mangini, 39, weighs less than he did as a college senior at Wesleyan. With an overhauled roster, the Browns practice in a remodeled facility, for a reconfigured front office, for a man who lost all job titles except coach. Mangini remains meticulous and thorough, obsessive even, but seems, if not gentler, then more relaxed. Mangini returned to his core principles, just coaching, as the same guy, he insisted, but more firm in his beliefs. His Jets tenure provided a painful lesson in what happened when he deviated. He ignored his instincts when quarterback Brett Favre went on the trading block in August 2008. Favre was the kind of player Mangini wanted to avoid. He was a hired gun, a quick fix. The Jets’ executives desperately wanted Favre. They assured Mangini that regardless of the outcome, his job was safe. So Mangini helped seal the trade, researching hunting in New Jersey, even giving his third son the middle name Brett. Favre led the Jets to an 8-3 start but hurt his arm and tossed multiple interceptions as the team stumbled from contention. Mangini failed to disclose the injury properly, which later prompted a $25,000 fine. The night the regular season ended, Mangini watched television on his couch, preparing for exit interviews, compiling an off-season checklist. General Manager Mike Tannenbaum called at 11:40 p.m., charged with the unpleasant task of firing one of his best friends. Mangini kept returning to one thought: he had compromised, sold out. “I get that someone had to pay,” Mangini said. “And it was me.” After a week of unemployment, Mangini, to the shock of N.F.L. insiders, landed with the Browns. It made a cute story: disgraced coach receives second chance with the organization that once employed him as a ball boy. After that first start with Cleveland, Mangini eventually followed Bill Belichick to New England, where he witnessed a Patriots dynasty built on character and his beloved core characteristics. From Belichick, he borrowed the stiff, paranoid manner that defined his time with the Jets. He required players to take copious notes, and they still remember the rustling of notebooks opening as meetings started. (Tight end Dustin Keller said he scribbled more in one week than in half a semester at Purdue.) Now, they choose their words carefully in regard to Mangini. On one hand, they described his brilliant football acumen, which produced two winning seasons in three years. On the other, they said that Mangini created an atmosphere of fear throughout the organization, that he ruled with the heaviest of hands, that he humiliated players and assistants. Draconian, one played called it. “He was tough,” Keller said. “But if you ask, everyone would agree he’s by far the smartest coach any of us have been around. It was almost psychotic how much he knew.” The Jets made Mangini the youngest coach in the N.F.L. in 2006, hiring him two days before he turned 35. Immediately, the jokes started: the Jets were the only team that needed a sandbox; he and Tannenbaum were the only N.F.L. executives who got birthday balloons. Mangini described the experience as nerve-racking. He had conducted only one previous news conference. He had never drawn up a practice schedule or run an entire team. Looking back, his time with the Jets reminded him of parenting, in that he parroted his mentors (Belichick and Bill Parcells) and did not sufficiently speak in his own voice. In his first season, Mangini made the playoffs and a cameo on “The Sopranos” (Artie Bucco: “Hey, Tone. You know who’s in tonight? Mangenius.”) Yet there he was last January, in Walt Disney World with his family on the weekend of the conference championships. The Jets played in the first game. Favre played in the second. “That was the perfect ending to last year,” Mangini said. “How could it end any other way? That was my personal ‘Hard Knocks.’ ” One afternoon last month, Mangini played tour guide at the Browns’ headquarters here. When he arrived in January 2009, he found dried banana peels on the floor, broken equipment, chairs stained with sweat, dark lighting and concrete walls. It felt like a prison. Mangini changed all that, conducting his first training camp amid construction. His image problems followed him to Cleveland, magnified when he fined players for not paying for water bottles in hotel rooms, or when he sent his rookies on a 10-hour bus ride to Connecticut for his football camp. Players grumbled, and it seemed that instead of being humbled by his termination, Mangini had failed to change, that he was Belichick without the pedigree. But to Mangini, these incidents spoke instead to a lack of organizational respect. “This place was a disaster,” said Rob Ryan, Mangini’s defensive coordinator, adding, “Vince Lombardi wasn’t going to come in here and win.” Cleveland closed the 2009 season with four victories. But when the Browns hired Mike Holmgren as their president, he stripped Mangini of all front-office responsibility. Mangini did not prepare for their initial conversation. He believed, more firmly than ever, in his philosophy, the work accomplished. Mangini’s touch is evident throughout the headquarters, in the lockers randomly assigned and the quotations lining the walls and the messages players pass on their way to practice (be on time, pay attention, work hard). This is the Mangini way. Now, Mangini said, he hears more of his own voice. “I’m going to do things the way that I feel they should be done,” he continued. “I’m going to rely on those experiences, but I’m going to be who I am, no exceptions.” The core remains, but Mangini is significantly lighter in weight and in approach. He said that his first year here “wasn’t even in the same stratosphere of hard.” He added, “But compared to what they were used to, it was ridiculously hard.” Longtime confidants like his offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll, say the gap between Mangini’s private and public personas is closing. He seems more comfortable in meetings, less dry, more himself. “He’s been more of the Eric I’ve known since 2000 in front of the group,” Daboll said. “Tells funny stories. Doesn’t rule with as hard an iron fist. He’s got a little bit more trust, and a little bit more experience, too.” The Browns’ record, 2-5, remains dismal, and Mangini’s job is as tenuous as ever. He and Holmgren are schooled in two of the most successful coaching philosophies in league history, but Bill Walsh’s and Belichick’s are diametrically opposed. Holmgren can empathize with Mangini. His lost his front-office duties in Seattle, and shortly after, in the 2005 season, the Seahawks advanced to their first Super Bowl. Mangini said Holmgren gave him advice on everything, including practice schedules and parenting. But that has not diminished Holmgren’s wish to return to coaching. For all the changes — better roster, improved facility, four losses by an average of 5.5 points — football is zero sum. Mangini insisted it would be hypocritical to look toward the future and ask his players to focus on the next game, but victories more than progress will ultimately decide his fate. Sometimes, Mangini worries about becoming like the “cleaner” character from the movie “Pulp Fiction,” fixing the salary cap and jettisoning problem players and instilling those core characteristics — for someone else to coach the team he built. For now, the new Eric Mangini moves forward, his future uncertain, his approach a life preserver in another season filled with turbulence. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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