Who truly knew what Eric Mangini would be when he was hired by the Jets in January?
Do you think Woody Johnson really knew for sure, even after interviewing him?
Sure, he had an idea, liked Mangini's pedigree and his presence when he met him. But who ever knows for sure what they're getting when they're making such a critical hire?
Mike Tannenbaum knew Mangini better than anyone, having worked with him back in the Cleveland days when they'd hang out at the over-sized and outdated copy machine they nicknamed the "Queen Mary'' and talked about what each other's respective futures held.
But not even Tannenbaum, the newly-appointed Jets' general manager, could have known exactly how quickly Mangni would earn the respect of a locker room full of players who are only a few years younger than he is.
Though he'd never admit it, Tannenbaum couldn't have expected that Mangini, in his first season with a turned-over roster and a question mark at quarterback the size of Texas, would already be challenging the supremacy of the three-time Super Bowl-champion Patriots and their stranglehold on the AFC East.
If the Jets' 17-14 win over the Patriots Sunday in Foxboro told us anything it showed that Mangini's players believe in him and are ready, willing and able to follow his lead.
"We truly believe in what the guy's saying," running back Kevan Barlow said. "Guys are buying into it and it's showing on the field."
It certainly is.
The Jets are beginning to mirror the things that Mangini preaches _ discipline, consistency, dedication and hard work in preparation. All of that surely played out on the Gillette Stadium field on Sunday and, given the success it brought the team, you figure that should motivate the players to duplicate what they did against the Patriots for the rest of the season.
"He's a great motivator," fullback B.J. Askew said of Mangini. "His approach is the same every week, it truly is. It doesn't change at all. 'Stick to your fundamentals, make the catch, make the tackle, don't make excuses for yourself.' ''
Mangini has made a believer in even his most skeptical players, such as receiver Laveranues Coles, who has been the one player outspoken about such things as the grueling training camp and some of the things the Jets do in practice.
"Eric is probably the smartest coach I've ever been around,'' Coles said. "He wouldn't want me saying this, but yeah, you wanted it a little bit extra for Coach. You know how much hard work and time he put into it. Guys were saying that (Patriots' coach Bill) Belichick refers to him as 'the other guy.' Any time you come out and you disrespect our coach, of course guys want to step up and play a little harder for him.
"This was important for the organization," Coles went on. "We're moving in the right direction. This shows when we put our heads together, we can come out and play with anybody."
Linebacker Matt Chatham, who played under Mangini in New England and now with the Jets, said, "Eric has all the respect in the world for (the Patriots') organization and has a lot of respect for the players on that team, so it's hard when you feel like all those people have turned their backs on you _ at least that's the perception. So for him to kind justify what he's doing down in New York was great for him.''
Great for Mangini, great for the Jets, bad for Belichick, the Patriots and the rest of the AFC East in the future.
Mangini, after the game, probably endeared himself to his players even more strongly when he refused to take credit for what was obviously a masterfully-coached game, instead deflecting all of his praise to the players.
"I was most satisfied (Sunday) because of the way that we've been working,’’ Mangini said. “Since I got here, these guys have been working hard and have been preparing. We missed a couple things there, whether it was the Colts game or the Cleveland game, but this was a big game, tough team to play, division opponent, and we hadn't been that successful in the recent past against them. So I was just really happy for the players and coaches and the organization because I think we made some progress.’’
When asked how he felt about so many ringing public endorsements from his players, Mangini said, “It's always nice that they would say that. If it helps us win, I hope they say it every week. It's really about them and what they did. They worked hard and they played hard and they competed. That's what I'm really proud of.’’
INSIDER EXTRA POINT
Jets’ receiver Jerricho Cotchery caught a total of 25 passes in his first two NFL seasons. When Eric Mangini arrived here as Jets head coach, he had it in his mind that Cotchery should be used a lot more than the Jets had used him.
That Mangini thought came from game-planning against Cotchery when he was Patriots’ defensive coordinator. He always thought Cotchery was a tough player who was difficult to deal with on special teams and on offense.
When Justin McCareins lost his starting job to Cotchery in training camp too many people looked at McCareins has having had a poor camp instead of looking at the outstanding camp Cotchery had.
In fact, Cotchery’s training camp actually began in the offseason workout program, where he excelled so much he opened Mangini’s eyes. Mangini called him the MVP of the offseason program.
That has all carried over into this season, with Cotchery justifying his starting status, having caught 41 passes and four touchdowns through nine games.
Cotchery’s marvelous fourth-quarter over-the-shoulder scoring catch with Patriots’ cornerback Ellis Hobbs actually in better position to make the catch secured the Jets’ victory Sunday in New England.
For the game, Cotchery led the Jets with six receptions for 70 yards and the touchdown.
"I'm benefiting from being on the other side of Laveranues (Coles) right now," Cotchery said. "I said earlier in the year there are going to be a lot of opportunities for me this year. Chad (Pennington) has been dialing my number and he's leaving it up to me to make plays. I'm going to try to keep making plays for him."