On football

Mangini’s hand has been a bit shaky at helm

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / November 4, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — The last time Bill Belichick and Eric Mangini did their postgame hand jive as opposing head coaches, Mangini was riding high.

His New York Jets were walking off the Gillette Stadium turf with a 34-31 victory over the Patriots on Nov. 13, 2008. Mangini had just his second win in seven tries (including one playoff game) against Belichick, his former mentor.

The Jets, with Brett Favre as quarterback, improved to 7-3 and would notch another victory the following week.

What a long, strange trip into humility it has been for Mangini since then.

The Jets lost four of their final five games to finish out of the playoff picture, and Mangini was fired.

He quickly was snapped up by the Browns and given ultimate power by owner Randy Lerner. The Browns started 1-11, which prompted Lerner to look for a “serious, credible leader’’ for the moribund franchise.

It definitely wasn’t Mangini, who by that time had ousted general manager George Kokinis and reportedly had lost some of the locker room.

In stepped former Packers and Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren as team president, as the Browns won their final four games to finish 5-11. After two days of meetings with Mangini, Holmgren decided that Mangini, who was signed through 2012, would be the coach “in 2010.’’ But he no longer had personnel control (Tom Heckert was hired), and nothing beyond 2010 was promised. That hasn’t changed.

“Any coach will be judged at the end of the season,’’ Holmgren said this week. “I think it’s important that you take some of the emotion out of it if you can.

“At the end of the year, everyone catches their breath a little bit, thinks about it, and hopefully makes an intelligent decision. Wins and losses are not the only criteria. The crummy part of our business is that, most of the time, it is the main one.’’

Holmgren didn’t clarify what the other criteria were.

“You know what? I’m not sure I can tell you that right now,’’ Holmgren said. “It’s premature at this point. Let’s let the season play out and then I’ll make the decision at the end of the year.’’

The Browns started 1-5 this season, then pulled off a huge 30-17 victory over the Saints in the Superdome before their bye week. Four of the losses have come by 10 points or fewer.

“I really feel that we’re improved,’’ Holmgren said. “Our record’s what it is, and I’m not particularly happy with that, but we are improved.

“The most encouraging thing is I honestly think we have been in most of the games, and you could make the argument, I think, we had chances to win the games. It’s also the most discouraging thing because we lost the games.

“The competitiveness, I like all of that stuff. I like how we are competing, I like the effort, I like all of that stuff, but it hurts like crazy to lose the football game.’’

It’s a whole different world now for Mangini, who zoomed to hot-shot coaching candidate status after five seasons as Belichick’s defensive backs coach (2000-04) and then defensive coordinator (2005).

Mangini was given his own kingdom by the Jets at age 35, and by the Browns at 38. Now he has to take orders from Holmgren.

And his situation is made more interesting in that he’s almost in a foreign environment. For the 12 previous seasons, Mangini was in or ran his own ship straight out of the Bill Parcells/Belichick East Coast-style of football, in which defense is king.

Holmgren, though, is a direct descendant of Bill Walsh and the West Coast offense.

Mangini looks at that as an advantage, not that he has a choice.

“It is kind of exciting because being in one family for as long as I was, you don’t get exposed to a lot of the other ideas and ways of doing things,’’ Mangini said. “So, to have that, and to be able to ask questions about that — about philosophies, how things developed, practice schedules, approaches — typically, you don’t get a chance to do that. So that has been real good from a development standpoint for me.’’

In the back of his mind, Mangini probably knows that coming from a different coaching tree could be his downfall in Cleveland. When Parcells was hired into a similar position as Holmgren with the Dolphins, he quickly moved in Tony Sparano as coach and others from Parcells’s staff with the Cowboys.

Tom Brady may joke around with Mangini on a conference call — as he did yesterday — but Belichick still doesn’t mention Mangini by name, not after the “Spygate’’ information reported to the league by the Jets. So many will probably be analyzing the type of handshake Mangini and Belichick share after Sunday’s game.

“I am sure it will be firm and brisk,’’ said Mangini. “You know, textbook. I haven’t gone through the range of shakes that are available. I might have to seek an outside consultant.’’

“Hopefully I’ll have a smile on my face,’’ Belichick said. “That’s what I’m hoping for.’’

But the truth is, Mangini has bigger things to worry about this time around. Such as winning games to save his job, and whether he’ll get another head coaching job should Holmgren terminate him after the season.

That’s certainly a long way from where Mangini was the last time he triumphantly shook Belichick’s hand.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard.

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