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Eric Mangini: Still a Bad Coach With Potential

One thing that drives me crazy is the theory Eric Mangini was an innocent victim unfairly fired by the Jets. The theory lays the entire 2008 collapse at the feet of Brett Favre. It's frankly ridiculous. Favre was very bad down the stretch. He played a major role in the collapse. So did Mangini, though.

Mangini was the head man when the Jets constantly spread the field and threw on third and short with a shaky Favre and the conference's leading rusher. He was the head man when the team consistently refused to give the team's biggest playmaker, Leon Washington, so many as 5 offensive touches down the stretch. He was the head coach of a defense with a pass rush so anemic, play calling so conservative, and blitzes so poorly designed that it did not register a single sack against a Seattle team whose entire starting offensive line was on injured reserve. He kicked a field goal instead of going for a touchdown on fourth and goal from the one with said conference's leading rusher. He punted instead of letting Jay Feelytry a makeable field goal in that game. Feely hit a kick through the uprights with more than five yards to spare. The Jets were called for a penalty, and Mangini punted instead of giving Feely a chance.

He has a career 24-32 record in four plus years as a head coach. He has made the Playoffs once and lost his only game. This is a bad coach, people.

More after the jump.

People made excuses for Mangini after the collapse. They said the game planning problems were with his coordinators. That was fair enough. Isn't the job of the head coach to correct assistants when they are doing things incorrectly and guide them in the right way? Wasn't he the guy who hired the coordinators to begin with? Didn't he deserve blame in particular on the defensive side of the ball for not firing his defensive coordinator when the same conservative style and poorly designed plays were evident in the two years before 2008?

The Jets had a contender in 2008. I have heard revisionists say it wasn't realistic to have expected that team to win it all. I say nonsense. That team blew out both the eventual NFC Champion and the top seed in the AFC Playoffs. Many of the same pieces got to within a game of the Super Bowl a year later with a new head coach and a less effective passing game. Mangini's failure to get that team to the Playoffs was a disaster, particularly considering New England did not have Tom Brady.

The issues with Mangini were not all from 2008. How about his insistence on installing a 3-4 defense that didn't fit the guys on the team. He put Dewayne Robertson at nose tackle. He ran the same two gap system he ran in New England. If you insist on putting a guy like Robertson in the 3-4, not a good idea to begin with, give the defensive linemen one gap a piece and let him play to his strengths penetrating like Jay Ratliff in Dallas. How about the way he alienated Pete Kendall in 2007 by demoting him over a contract dispute and sticking him in the rookie dorms in camp? That ended any hope of a peaceful resolution. Adrien Clarke became the starting guard, an unmitigated disaster.  How about the way he needled reporters with absurd secrecy when it came to things like the depth chart? Maybe you don't want to totally give things away, but Mangini took it to new lengths.

There is no question Mangini left the Jets better than he found them with the guys he brought in. I think he gets too much credit, though. Mike Tannenbaum was the guy pulling the trigger, and he has continued to bring in high level players since Mangini left. In the first Draft after Mangini left, Tannenbaum landed three players, Mark Sanchez, Shonn Greene, and Matt Slauson, who figure to be above average starters for a long time.

The irritating thing, though, was how evident Mangini's potential was. Despite all of the frustrating moves, he came up with some of the most brilliant game plans in this decade in the NFL. He was always good for one or two masterful games per year. Think back to the 2006 game in Foxborough, where he outcoached Bill Belichick. How many times has that happened? How about a year later when the Jets played the undefeated Pats a heck of a lot tougher than they should have? There was the Pittsburgh game earlier that year, and the Titans game a year later. The Jets came out defensively with an incredibly confusing look in many of these games. Guys lined up in different spots. They walked around before the snap. Linemen didn't put their hands down until the last possible second to confuse blocking. This stuff worked like a charm.

Why didn't Mangini come up with this kind of creative stuff all the time? I think it was simply he was too young and inexperienced. He didn't fully understand what went into being an NFL head coach. The best analogy might be Bill Belichick in Cleveland. Nobody could question his knowledge of the game. He just did not have the consistency week in and week out. He didn't have the experience to know that he had to be himself at all times. He tried too much to imitate Belichick in New England. That's why he put in that ineffective defensive system. It's why he was so difficult with the media. It's why he used the same team approach with Kendall.

These things weren't what made Belichick successful, though. Belichick ran the 3-4 because it was the best system for his talent. During his first Super Bowl run with the Pats, he ran a 4-3 because that scheme better suited his talent. His relationship with the press was more the kind of thing a coach who had won three championships could get away with instead of a magical recipe for success. Those championships made guys tow the line and buy into the team concept. They also allowed the Pats to have replacements for those who didn't.

Mangini isn't Belichick. He never was. He never will be. He seems like a nice guy. Belichick has no personality. He's a calculating guy. He's true to himself. That's why he's successful. Rex Ryan is successful in the same way because he is himself. They are very different styles, but both work. Belichick probably wouldn't be successful imitating Rex. The reverse is true.

This is why I am not surprised the Browns are 3-5. It is also why I'm not surprised they crushed the Pats and developed such a masterful game plan last week. Mangini is a guy who still has not figured out to put it together, but he is brilliant when he can focus.