Jets owner Woody Johnson gives the keys to the Jets to 24 year old Eric Mangini. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Eric Mangini has spent three of his last four birthdays eyeballing game tape and choreographing defenses for playoff games. This year will prove to be slightly different. When Mangini turns 35 on Thursday, he will be standing before the same mountain his mentor, Bill Belichick, ran and hid from.
Mangini’s new undertaking is to turn the Jets into the new beasts of the AFC East. And make no qualms; retooling the Jets is no mole hill. The Jets most successful coach in history rode into the Kansas City sunset with a mediocre record of 39-41 in five seasons. Herm Edwards – my apologies if his name still makes Jets fans cringe – had three playoff appearances, but never finished better than 10-6. He wasn’t exactly Vince Lombardi on game day, either.
At his inaugural press conference on Tuesday, Mangini’s words were laced with confidence and more than once he underscored discipline – a concept at times foreign to the Edwards regime. Mangini, a stickler who is cut of the same thread as Belichick and Bill Parcells, even talked about “changing the culture” of the Jets. The media-savvy Edwards spent entire press conferences trying to convince us these weren’t the same old Jets, but the here-we-go-again mentality never went away.
In some ways Edwards was right, in others he fell short. The Jets crumbled under the weight of expectations following playoff seasons in 2002 and 2004 and combined for a 10-22 record in following years. Edwards also used injuries as a caveat for losing this past season, which allowed his players to mail it in.
Those will be no-no’s under Mangini. Winning three of the last four Super Bowls has instilled a winner’s mentality which will immediately garner respect from the players. As for injuries, the Patriots had their top three cornerbacks on injured reserve, played two rookie offensive lineman and started 43 different players through the course of the season. They still managed to go 10-6 and make it two games shy of an unprecedented third-consecutive Super Bowl.
Like all new coaches, Mangini talked the talk at his introduction, but now is posed with the same quandary the 13 previous Jets head coaches before him faced: making the Jets a perennial contender.
He has the pedigree to follow through more than any of the other candidate the Jets ushered in-and-out of Weeb Ewbank Hall. The Jets can beat their chest about interviewing eight candidates for the opening, but when their brass traveled to New England to meet with Mangini, it showed how highly they thought of him. Mangini is the protégé of two Hall of Fame coaches, and that carries clout.
But this renovation likely will be unlike any unruly chore he dealt with as an errand-boy for the Cleveland Browns in 1995. Washing jerseys and jock straps as a ball boy could be as dirty a job as getting the Jets to the Super Bowl for the first time in 36 years. To do so, he must immediately eliminate potential foils.
Under Edwards, the inmates ran the asylum. Published reports this season stated Edwards didn’t mandate players on injured reserve to attend meetings, which is mind-boggling. Cornerback Ty Law, some reports said, was often a thorn in the coaches’ sides and acted on his own accord. Well, Law won’t be here, but Mangini is unrelenting in his team-first, team-only mentality and won’t “sacrifice these beliefs for any short-term goals.”
“We need smart players, players that are disciplined, and players that are dedicated to the team,” Mangini said. “I’ve got a long-term commitment…I want to build a team fans can be proud of.”
If that’s the case, Mangini must get his hands dirty with personnel decisions. In New England, Belichick stamped the final approval on all roster moves. Executive decision-making caused the schism that led Parcells to high-tail out of New England for the Jets in 1997. If Mangini has absorbed any lessons from those gurus, hopefully he’ll get quality players that will buy into his message.
“I have all final blame on personnel decisions,” Bradway told WFAN when asked about the chain of command. “As a team we make the best decisions for the Jets.”
And there is plenty of blame to go around. Bradway’s lone Pro Bowler had an MVP-like year…for the Washington Redskins. The Santana Moss-for-Laveranues Coles swap last offseason blew up in Bradway’s face, as did trading up for DT Dewayne Robertson (who has not nearly lived up to the hype) and selecting Bryan Thomas in the first round (Ravens All-Pro safety Ed Reed was on the board, just to name one). Bradway also sold his soul to Chad Pennington, investing $64 million into an injury-riddled quarterback.
Mangini wouldn’t comment on the Jets personnel, but since we’re on the topic, let’s point out Pennington is no Tom Brady. Mangini and Bradway must find a veteran quarterback to compete for the starting job while retooling the offense.
Mangini must also squelch concerns about his age. This shouldn’t be an issue since the Jets are one of the youngest teams in the NFL and last season carried just eight players with over 10 years of experience, but today Mangini referenced legendary 49ers coach Bill Walsh.
“He said you’re never quite ready for your first head-coaching job no matter how old you are,” Mangini explained. “And I think that’s true. I think the same is true for parenting. I’m not to naďve to think there won’t be bumps along the way, but we’re going to grow together.”
Bradway agreed, saying: “We’ve watched Eric closely in action for the past couple years and we think he’s ready [to be a head coach. He’s very smart and very detailed, but don’t expect him to be Bill Belichick.”
For once, Bradway’s right. Belichick felt he mold the Jets into a powerhouse. To Mangini, the challenge is the opportunity he’s always wanted.