When the Jets hired Eric Mangini in January 2006, expectations were high. The protege of this era's best coach would surely take this cursed franchise to the promised land. Even though his resume was thin, Mangini was bright and well-regarded throughout the league. It appeared the Jets had landed a coaching superstar before he became a hot commodity.
Things were great in that first year. The Jets were a team of scrappy overacheivers with a fearless coaching staff. Mangini was never afraid to roll the dice. Against the eventual Super Bowl Champion Colts, a surprise onside kick almost spurred an upset. A masterful gameplan led to an upset victory in Foxborough that November, New York's first triumph in New England since 2002. Mangini's Jets ended that season 10-6 and in the Playoffs, not bad for a team considered one of the league's worst entering that year.
Even then, there were reasons for concern. Mangini stubbornly instituted a 3-4 defense even though he did not have the players to run it effectively. Dewayne Robertson was no two gap nose tackle. Victor Hobson was no edge rusher. Jonathan Vilma, who had been developing into a star under the previous regime, had his ability to go sideline to sideline taken away. These guys all played adequately, but upgrades for Robertson and Hobson were definitely in order that offseason. There was no indication their play would get any better. The same could have been said for Anthony Clement, a journeyman right tackle, who had been average at best as a starter for the Jets that season.
Even with these needs and abundant cap space, Mangini was fooled by his team's record and did little to address areas of need. The Jets settled for low impact signings such as David Bowens and Kenyon Coleman. Even though they hit homeruns in acquiring Thomas Jones, Darrelle Revis, and David Harris, these question mark positions remained.
Early in the second year, Mangini's actions helped to create a new hole. Left guard Pete Kendall asked for a raise of $1 million. The Jets refused to give it to a team leader. Kendall then childishly started negotiating through the press. Mangini refused to budge and resorted to his own childish antics, demoting Kendall to the second team at training camp and bunking him with the rookies. Kendall was eventually traded to Washington over that $1 million, pocket change to this franchise. Instead of giving in, Mangini gave the starting job to Adrien Clarke, who was not in the NFL the year before or the year after he started 14 games at left guard for the Jets. The results were not pretty. The offensive line became a liability in both pass and run protection. Clarke was abominable, and Clement regressed mightily. The Jets were one of the worst offensive teams in the league because they were always pounded in the trenches and had to throw money at Alan Faneca to fill that hole in the offseason, well more than the $1 million it would have taken to get Kendall to shut his mouth.
The defense also struggled as both Hobson and Robertson played poorly. Worse, Mangini's defensive coordinator Bob Sutton showed little desire to display any creativity or variety in his vanilla schemes. The Jets had to make up for what they lacked in talent with design and execution, however, they essentially stuck with their base defense for the majority of the year and made sloppy play after sloppy play. Inexplicably, Mangini kept Sutton for a third year.
That brings us to this season. The Jets started 8-3. Their win at Tennessee brought back memories of Mangini's brilliant gameplan at New England two years before. However, things quickly fell apart. Brian Schottenheimer refused to establish the run even with a revamped offensive line and a back, Jones, who led the conference in rushing for most of the year. The most explosive player on the team, Leon Washington, got two and one offensive touches in must win games against Buffalo and Seattle respectively. New quarterback Brett Favre started throwing the ball to the other team at a disturbing rate, but Schottenheimer kept the Jets a throwing team Even in obvious running downs, there was not even the pretense of running the ball. Mangini corrected none of this. Sutton's defense played the same way it had in the previous two seasons. It was too late to correct this. As losing continued, Mangini started playing things very conservatively, not trusting his players. Seven Pro Bowlers ultimately resulted in no Playoffs and one collapse.
Everybody knew that Mangini would take some time to learn, but there were killer mistakes he should not have been making three years into his tenure. Had he promised wholesale changes, retaining him would have been acceptable, but ultimately there was plenty of reason to believe that if he had not learned in three years, things would not change in the fourth.
It is tough not to feel bad for Eric Mangini. Many will not shed a tear as thousands of people have lost their job this year without a severance package of over $1 million. However, those people did not lose their dream job in such a public way. Mangini has a young family he will now have to uproot in search of employment. He will undoubtedly find work. Former head coaches with three Super Bowl rings are wanted commodities as NFL assistants. Mangini will likely succeed the next time he gets a chance as a head guy as he has more time to learn his craft and about himself. Distance from this experience will help him assess what he did well and what he did not. Sadly for the Jets, he will live up to his promise with another team.