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Q&A With Eric Mangini


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Q. and A. With Eric Mangini



BEREA, Ohio – For this article on Eric Mangini that I wrote last Sunday, I spent a day at the Cleveland Browns’ facility two weeks ago. Mangini gave me a few hours of his time, some of which we spent touring the facility, most of which we dedicated to an interview. The gist of that day is in the article, but there was a lot of quotations, ideas and themes I did not have the space to get into. Excerpts are below.


Question: How difficult was it to deal with the push-back you got initially in Cleveland? You weren’t exactly popular.

Answer: “People want things to be better, but they don’t necessarily want to go through the hardships to make it better. And it’s never going to be comfortable. And it’s new. And people don’t understand the why. And as much as you try to explain the why, it’s hard to really understand it until you’ve gone through it. So you go through this rocky period of change to create progress. But you’ve got to be able to weather all the turbulence, all the stuff that goes with it, and you’ve got to be consistent, and you’ve got to be, you’ve got to believe in something and be able to deal with the difficulties of getting to that point.

“And it was no different from the first year in New York. It was tough. Because there was a lot of push-back. Why are you doing this? Why is this so important? Because all the little things are important. Because little things eventually become big things, and big things are a lot harder to take care of than all the little things that came up beforehand.


“And one of the things I did is I said the same thing to the group in my first meeting here that I said in New York. I said, there’s going to be times where you’re going to think I’m tough. There’s going to be times where you’re going to think I’m unreasonable. There’s going to be times where you think I’m crazy. But I can promise you that all the things I’m doing, I’m doing to make sure that you achieve your potential, that you become the player you should be, that we become the team we should be, and that’s my job. That’s my responsibility.”


Q: You said in another story you feel like the “cleaner” character for Pulp Fiction?

A: “What I’m hoping is that you have enough time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. You don’t want to be the guy that comes in and gets everything the way it should look, and then someone else comes out and drives the car. But you deal with the job that you have in front of you. And you can’t be, and I probably learned this from Bill (Belichick) in a lot of ways, one of the things I really respect about Bill is, he’s going to make the decisions he thinks are best for the team. And there’s going to be fallout from that. But it’s those hard decisions that often made us better. I remember a ton of them, where as an assistant coach, you don’t get it.

“Parcells and I talked early on, and I almost wanted to apologize to him and Bill for some of the things that I thought as an assistant coach. Because I got why they did it now. I didn’t get it for a long time. But I got it then. And it was like, God, Bill, that totally makes sense to me now, what you said and what you did, when it wouldn’t have made sense to me in a million years, because I had no frame of reference. And there’s no, you don’t get a manual for this job. There’s no class that you go to. It’s like, here you go, son. Good luck. And you’ve got to make decisions.”


Q: What do you remember about your first stint here, as a ballboy?

A: “This experience was fundamental in shaping my decisions on players. Now, this was one component of that, and the New England-New York Jets experience, with Bill-Bill, was what really clarified it for me. Because I was in the locker room in 1995, and in 1994, I was around players a lot more, and when things got tough, the group of guys we had, I didn’t think it was a great group of guys. And it was placing blame. It was deflecting criticism. Instead of coming together and saying, O.K., we’re going to make this right, it was, he’s wrong, he’s wrong, he’s wrong, I’m O.K. And I saw that about as clear as anybody’s ever going to see it. Then I’d go to New York with Parcells, and see the players he commits to. Then I go to New England with Bill, and see the players we commit to. And now, it was like, when things got tough, everybody looked here first” – points at his chest – “and said, what can I do to make this better? How can I improve individually? And we weren’t the best collection of talent, but we were the best team. And that’s why we won.”

“It didn’t just happen. It happened because all of the things that happened before. And when I became a head coach, it’s like, this is what wins. This is what wins. That’s why we have our core characteristics. To me, that’s what winning is, that’s what wins in football and baseball and basketball, whatever sport. And it was due to the experience here, where I got this incredible firsthand look at what can happen with adversity when you don’t have the right guys, versus what can happen with adversity when you have the right group of guys. And I just said to myself, I’m committing to that. I believe in that.”


Q: Anything you would compare that to?

A: “It was like, it was like throwing a turkey into a microwave. O.K. Part of it was cooked. And it looked O.K. And then as you dug down a little bit deeper, and everybody was waiting to eat, it was raw. And it got sick in a hurry. We all got sick in a hurry. But when you do it the right way, it’s a pretty good experience.”


Q: What was it like when you took over the Jets?

A: “Nerve-wracking. It was nerve-wracking, because everything’s a first. Everything, it’s your first meeting, it’s your first staff meeting, it’s your first practice schedule, first OTA’s, it’s your first press conference. I had done one press conference, before I stood in that auditorium in New York, and the press conference I did was attended by about 3 people. Because it was on a slow day during training camp, and I was like, O.K., here’s your training, O.K., here’s 100 cameras sitting in the back of the room, plus an auditorium full of people. Go be successful.”


Q: But it’s not just the media. You’re addressing a team. You’re involved with the offense. You’re setting the travel schedule.

A: “Yeah, it’s really tough. And you have to think, also, I’m 34 years old, about to be 35. But it’s not like I was 20 years in the league. I was a younger guy. And I equate it a lot to parenting. Because I find it more with Jake, my oldest. When I discipline him, or when I do something, or when I parent, I heard my parents’ voices in my head. And it’s natural. But as you get to your second child, and you’ve made some mistakes, and you’ve made some good decisions, it starts becoming your voice. It starts becoming your philosophy. And I had two very strong football fathers. Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick, who have won however many Super Bowls. How do you argue with what they did? How do you sit there and go, you know what, they’re pretty good coaches, but I’m probably better here at 34? I haven’t won a game, but that’s probably the way to go. And what I’ve learned over time is you take all these different influences that you have, but then you deliver them in the way that you deliver them. You take what you think is the best part of it, the most successful components of it, and that becomes your system. But it’s hard to, it’s hard to fight all that success, all those goods things that have happened, and have the confidence to do that right away.”


Q: When did you feel the 2008 season, when you started 8-3, slipping away?

A: “Talking to (Eric) Barton, who’s here, during that time frame, we lost to Denver. We had a bunch of guys late to meetings that week. So we get smoked. And I said, what did you think was going to happen? You think because we’re 8-3, teams are going to play worse against us? They’re going to play better against us. And what’s going to happen, however many weeks down the road, it doesn’t matter if we don’t take care what’s in front of us now. And then as things continued to be difficult, I said, at some point, we’re going to be sitting on our couches, watching the playoffs, and some team that we beat this year is going to make us feel real bad. Well, Arizona. And Barton was watching the Super Bowl and text messages me and says, I’m sitting on my couch feeling really bad.”


Q: Do you take pride in what the Jets accomplished last season, after you left?

A: “Sometimes, I feel like Pete Best. He was a big part of putting that band together, but he never enjoyed Beatlemania. He was just Pete Best, the other Beatle. And yeah, I did take pride in it. Like I take pride in seeing Dustin Keller be as successful as he is. Or Revis. Or David Harris. It’s exciting, the things that Leon’s doing in Seattle. I couldn’t be happier for Leon. He’s a great guy. Right on down the line. The strides that Nick Mangold made. The strides that D’Brickashaw Ferguson has made. That’s great stuff. They’re going to be good players for a long time.”


Q: Rex Ryan gets a contract extension. Mike Tannenbaum gets a contract extension. Is it human nature to say, why me?

A: “Well, you look at it that way, and you also look at it as being thankful that Randy (Lerner) recognized the good things that I did to get another opportunity so quickly. I was unemployed for 6 days, or 8 days. And that was nice. And the difficult thing was, I had kind of seen the movie before. And now, to go through all the stuff again, you have to knock the house down, you have to dig the basement, lay the foundation. There was going to be setbacks. There was going to be labor problems. There was going to be subcontractors that didn’t come to work. But that’s just the way it was.”


Q: You’re 2-5 (now 3-5). Do you feel like your team is better than that?

A: “I even said that to the players after the Pittsburgh game. I was pissed off, and I said, look, I’m not up here trying to sell you anything. Because if I was trying to sell you something, it would mean I didn’t believe in it. What I’m telling you is the truth. And we are going to beat New Orleans like we should have beat Pittsburgh. And that’s THE TRUTH. O.K. I don’t have to sell you this bill of goods, because it’s not something I’m making up. It’s just THE TRUTH. So as soon as you accept it as the truth, I’m not saying, this is what we have to do, if we follow the plan and operate this way and play this way, we will win football games.”


Q: Are you a different coach now?

A: “The first year, you have to go in hard. The first year, people’s view of what’s hard is based on their previous bar that’s been set of what’s hard. So even though, I was so much lighter my first year here than I was my first year in New York. It wasn’t even close. I mean, it wasn’t even the same stratosphere of hard. But compared to what they were used to, it was ridiculously hard. Now, the other thing that I’ve done a better job of is, it’s less scripted in the sense of, I’m doing, I’m just going to be who I am, I’m just going to, I always go back to the kids. I’m going to be myself.

“The other thing that happened is they’ve changed, too. As much as I may have changed, they’ve changed, too. So you can be different when the group is different. You can do a lot more stuff when the group is different. When you don’t have to worry about it.”


Q: What’s it like to going back to just coaching?

A: “It’s great. Like I would never have been able to go watch the Halloween parade. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it. There’s been so many things that I’ve been able to do this year that I never could have done in previous years.”


Q: Popular sentiment seems to be you will be fired after this season. Are you worried about that?

A: “I’ve never felt that Mike (Holmgren) put some sort of clock on, or that he’s doing anything to separate himself, or disengage, or any of that stuff. If anything, I think he’s trying to help each week, which is consistent with what he said he’d do.”


Q: You have New England, then the Jets, coming into town. What will that be like?

A: “Well, I’ve got all my friends coming back. I’ve got New England the first week. The Jets the second week. This is like homecoming. If anything, my time in New York prepared me for that. My second game of the season was against New England. And really, if you look at the, I remember one of my first games in New England, we lost a high-scoring game to New York at New York, and the DBs didn’t play that well. I remember, it was weird being in New England’s clothes, and coaching New England against the Jets, because I was so vested in the Jets at that point. Then it was really weird being in the Jets clothes, coaching against New England. Because I was so vested in New England at that point. And I just, now, this is my team. These are the guys that, these are my guys. And as much as I care about those other people there and want them to be successful, these are, this is our team.”


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Nice interview, being browns fans mangini has took us through the dark tunnel right along with the team, but as the light at the end begins to become visible and a QB has emerged from the other side to lead us out, it all begins to make perfect yet not perfected sense..

I wont be completely convinced of the conversion process until this club comes for next seasons opener prepared and hungy for the first time in 10 opening games..

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Nice interview, being browns fans mangini has took us through the dark tunnel right along with the team, but as the light at the end begins to become visible and a QB has emerged from the other side to lead us out, it all begins to make perfect yet not perfected sense..

I wont be completely convinced of the conversion process until this club comes for next seasons opener prepared and hungy for the first time in 10 opening games..


Agreed. I think that it's a bit premature to judge this season on the whole but the one thing you can say is that they are one tough team and they have played well every week having lost on only a handful of lapses (i.e., they've been competitive). This has a remarkable feel to it and if you look back at articles written back when the 2008 Jets were 8-3, they sound familiar.


This Cleveland team is not likely at a talent level to compare to that 2008 Jets team which is why it's even more exciting as if to suggest that he's done more with less in a shorter period of time. When you look at the roster, cap room and draft pick shortage that Mangini inherited and cleaned up...it's amazing that they've come this far in a season and a half.


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I'd be really disappointed if Mangini was fired after this season. The Browns are already tons better than they were last year, and I think we're headed for .500 season which is 4-5 more wins than anyone thought we'd have.


Let Mangini do his thing, it's obviously working...

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