Eric Mangini coaching his final game as Jets head coach yesterday. (JetsInsider.com Photo)
On the morning following the Jets' season-ending loss to the Dolphins which completed a stunning collapse, the Jets fired head coach Eric Mangini at a 10 a.m. press conference.
The Jets began the season 8-3 following consecutive road victories over the Patriots and the previously undefeated Titans, but they dropped four of their final five games and missed out on the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
Owner Woody Johnson and general manager Mike Tannenbaum both said discussions over Mangini's future had taken place over the course of the season and that the final decision to execute the coaching change was made last night.
"Eric's been our coach for three years. He's done some amazing things. Nobody's worked harder. He knows his Xs and Os. He's a good teacher but Mike and I felt that it was time now to make a change," Johnson said. "This is a decision that was basically running through the season."
Mangini was hired by Johnson prior to the 2006 season after spending the previous five seasons as a defensive assistant with the Patriots. In his first season he was hailed as "Mangenius" as he led the Jets to a 10-6 record and a suprising wild card berth. However, Mangini's early success failed to spill over into the following seasons. The team won just 13 of their next 32 games and Mangini's stint ended as former Jets quarterback Chad Pennington and the rival Dolphins an grabbed an improbable division title at the Meadowlands yesterday.
A 4-12 finish last season led to question's about Mangini's job status, but the Jets re-tooled in the offseason by trading for a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Brett Favre and spending nearly $140 million on free agent acquisitions. The team responded with an 8-3 start and with one season left on Mangini's contract, team hierarchy discussed a possible contact extension.
"We discussed that topic, we've discussed a lot of topics," Johnson said.
The firing capped a crippling fall for Mangini, who Johnson called before the season "one of the great up-and-coming coaches in the league." Johnson's appraisal certainly changed after the Jets suffered through an embarassing end to their season.
"It's a judgment. You can't pick a specific area," Johnson said. "I'm not saying that Eric won't be a successful coach in the league. I think he will be. But for the current New York Jets organization...we've made the decision to move on."
Both Johnson and Tannenbaum said the search for Mangini's successor will begin immediately, but both declined to mention possible replacements. Former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher and current Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo have been rumored as successors.
After finishing with winning records in two of the last three seasons, the Jets are looking to build off of Mangini's groundwork.
"Eric has done some amazing things and nobody has been a harder worker. We don't take this decision lightly. We respect Eric for what he has done but we want to build on this successful foundation that he has laid," Johnson said.
Johnson said he did not consider firing Tannenbaum, suggesting that he is "very comfortable" working with him.
"Mike's another guy that works around the clock and is very smart about it," Johnson said.
Update: Players React to Mangini Firing
As a collective feeling of disappointment filled the Jets locker room following yesterday's season-ending loss to the Dolphins, nose tackle Kris Jenkins shouldered the blame for his embattled head coach.
"I don't have anything bad to say about him. You have to understand this man has a position where not only does he have to deal with the coaching staff, but he has to deal with 53 egos every single day," Jenkins said of Mangini. "He's not going to be perfect. I don't care what everybody tries to paint a picture of."
Today Mangini was handed the blame for the Jets' late-season collapse as he was fired following his second playoff-less stint in three years.
The Jets responded to an 8-3 start with uninspiring football over the final five weeks, leading to whispers that the players had begun turning their backs on Mangini. Johnson was approached with that possibility this morning and responded with uncertainty.
"The definition of that's very hard. That's a question we've asked ourselves. We asked ourselves what kind of passion," Johnson said. "If you see people jumping up and down in the tunnel as they're going out to the game, does that mean they have passion for the game or they're just jumping around?"
Despite the late-season struggles, several players dispelled the belief today that Mangini had lost the locker room.
"He didn't lose the locker room at all. Guys went out and practiced hard and played hard," tight end Chris Baker said. "It never got to a point where guys were just like 'I'm not going to play for him."
Wide receiver Laveranues Coles added that "when a team stops playing, a team lays down." He suggested that a lot of the blame "falls on the locker room," and not squarely on Mangini.
Mangini addressed the team after the final announcement was made this morning by Johnson and Tannenbaum. Most players described Mangini as "emotional" as he credited the team for working hard and told them to "stick together."
"He said we're a group of guys and we care about each other. He said that the head coach is going to come in next year and to embrace him and have a relationship with him," cornerback Darrelle Revis said.
As players returned to the team facility to clean out their lockers and head home for a offseason that came sooner than expected, most were both surprised and disappointed over Mangini's departure.
Offensive tackle Damien Woody, who signed a five-year, $42.5 million contract with the Jets in March, explained today that he lured himself to the Jets because of the ideals Mangini possessed.
"I knew what he stood for. I knew the values that he had. I knew the structure," Woody said. "He stuck to it.
"I feel like collectively in this locker room we let him down. It's a tough pill to swallow."
Running back Thomas Jones, who labeled his season as "bittersweet" after leading the AFC with a career-high 1,312 yards rushing and then being voted team MVP, explained that the blame goes beyond just the head coach.
"Everybody is involved. It's not just one guy. All 22 guys who are playing on the field at each particular time have to come through," Jones said. "It's not just one guy-it's not coach Mangini, it's not one guy on the offense, one guy on the defense, or one guy on special teams. It's everybody."
Whether Mangini's dismissal was reasonable or not for a team that was paired among the league's best after a five-game winning streak that carried into late Novemeber, many players suggested that the move was the nature of the business.
"In this league, when you're the head coach or the quarterback and things don't go well, you're going to get a lot of the blame. [Mangini] knows that," safety Kerry Rhodes said. "It comes with the territory."
The clock is now ticking on the Jets' head coaching search.