FLORHAM PARK, NJ – It took him nearly five years, but Eric Mangini thinks he’s figured it out.
After an over-priced New Jersey home, a spot in the Sopranos where he was proclaimed the “Man-Genius”, three gut-wrenching years, and one SpyGate conspiracy, Mangini seems to be at peace with himself and his team, the Cleveland Browns.
“I’ve found this with my kids. When Jake was born, my oldest, I would talk to him in my father’s voice because that’s all I knew,” Mangini said in a teleconference on Wednesday. “Now I’ve got two more and I’m really comfortable being a dad. I try to take the best things from my parents and apply it my kids in my own way.”
The metaphoric statement was a response to the question of how he has changed since leaving the Jets. Getting brought under the wings of Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick, it was easy for Mangini to try and replicate their successes and hope the outcome would be the same. But, as he found out, success isn’t found on a carbon copy.
“I think the thing that I’ve learned is to take the best things from the people that I’ve been with who are outstanding but do it in my own way. It’s more effective. It’s more authentic,” said Mangini.
When he first got to New York, he spoke and acted like a Belichick clone; offering very little to the media, while implementing strict rules with his team. But he began losing control of his team after a Brett Favre-led Jets team failed to make the playoffs after starting the 2008 season 8-3 and hailed as Super Bowl contenders.
His second chance was given in Cleveland, where he went 5-11 in his first season, but rattled off four straight wins to close out the season. And this year, he has lead a resurgent Browns team to a 3-5 record; impressively posting back-to-back wins against the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots.
So what was the turn-around? He developed a sense of humor. Something that was non-existent during his time in New York.
“I know this may sound crazy, but some people actually think I have a good personality and little funny,” he said. “It’s more that I know what I want to say. I know the points I want to get across.”
He told the media stories of him and former Patriots defensive coach, Rob Ryan, Rex’s brother. Stories of the two of them wrestling on the floor during Super Bowl week only to sheepishly look up at a disapproved Bill Belichick. Or how Ryan would hide Snickers bars in his socks when the two were dieting together.
The humor has always been there, it was just a matter of finding a happy medium of work and play. And it could be that level of ease that is propelling the maturation of baby-faced Colt McCoy or the emergence of the bruising Peyton Hillis.
For year’s, Mangini was labeled almost as a direct by-product of Belichick, supplying short, cliche answers without giving anything away to his opponents or the media for that matter. But today, as he paused to catch his breath from thoroughly answering question after question, he was asked about the status of his New Jersey home.
“We took it off the market for a little bit, but it’s back up now. I thought Rex, after his extension, might buy it, but i don’t know what he’s waiting for. It’s a great location.”
He was trying to get the point across that he is, for the first time as a head coach, comfortable with himself.
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