In Biblical terms, this week could be considered as the time when the Prodigal Son returned. And sorry, Braylon – I’m not referring to you. Instead, the buildup to Sunday’s matchup with the Jets has been littered with human interest articles emanating from the world’s biggest media market. The focus of these articles – at least the ones not referencing Rex Ryan’s boundless sense of fun – have been devoted to the New York media’s reflections on just how much Eric Mangini has changed over the past two years.
Of course, to appreciate such sentiments, one has to recall just how despised Mangini was during his tenure as Jets’ head coach. Despite two winning seasons and a playoff appearance from 2006-2008, Mangini was often characterized as anything from “aloof” to “paranoid.” Contributing to Mangini’s declining popularity was his seemingly endless behavioral emulation of his coaching father, the always clandestine Bill Belichick.
By the time the demise of Mangini’s Jets’ tenure coincided with Brett Favre’s epic December 2008 meltdown, the coach who was initially coined as “Mangenius” had experienced a massive public relations tumble towards the fringes of NFL society.
Replacing the fallen coach in New York was Mangini’s antithesis, the boisterous Rex Ryan. Ryan’s omnipresent personality and brash style of coaching quickly made New York forget about Mangini and gave their collective media outlets endless amounts of newsworthy material.
To the New York media’s credit, Ryan is the kind of oversized personality that makes a reporter’s job easy. Despite the fact that the Jets backed into last year’s playoffs, Ryan was celebrated as the Second Coming, while Mangini was easily discarded as a bust. Of course, it’s worth noting that Ryan essentially co-opted the roster that Mangini had built en route to a surprise playoff run.
But this is a small detail in the narrative that has unfolded over the past couple years.
The larger point is simply how quickly people forget….especially those who have the biggest voice.
According to most of the articles focused on Mangini this week, it’s quite possible that our current coach simply vanished into a fog after leaving New York. In most respects, Mangini has only resurfaced over the past few weeks as his Browns have taken out two of the league’s top teams.
The tone of these articles could easily be translated as nothing more than a curious “are you still here?”
As it turns out, Mangini is alive and well.
Perhaps the best example of this New York-centric worldview comes from the New Jersey Star-Ledger’s Dave D’Alessandro.
But he was young — just 11 years removed from a ball boy job when the Jets hired him — and at 35, far too young to be a curmudgeon.
He admits he is different now, and at the risk of sounding naïve, you believe him. Moreover, you’re happy for him. Maybe, in the end, Jersey never really did get to know him.
Better late than never.
Of course, such sentiments are easy to make now.
Rex Ryan’s Jets have emerged as one of the AFC’s top contenders this season and the team’s current roster is star-laden from both an actual production and personality standpoint.
Also, it’s obvious that Ryan gives the media that covers him much more than Mangini offered.
It’s just funny: If Mangini showed the charm and candor he shared with a dozen reporters Wednesday, he just might have collected enough allies — within the organization, and out — to stay in Jersey a lot longer.
We don’t ask a lot of our coaches around here — just that they be capable of teaching young people that sports isn’t life but a mere celebration of it, win a playoff round once in a while, tell a decent story about the people they’ve met along the way, maintain some civility when the fans and media around him inevitably lose theirs, and not analyze each game like it’s the damn Battle of Otterburn.
Naturally, this begs the question….if this supposed “new” version of Mangini had done all of the above, would he still be coaching the Jets?
An uninterrupted Mangini Jets’ tenure would now be closing in on five years. In terms of the average NFL head coaching tenure, this would be a remarkable number. Without a Super Bowl championship to his credit, even the most optimistic of us could not envision such a scenario playing out.
Much like his former players who grew tired of him, it’s obvious that the New York media would have eventually turned on Mangini. Despite the revisionist idealism laid throughout this week, it’s highly unlikely that anyone with a media voice would have tried to “get to know” Mangini.
And Alessandro’s piece – like many others before him – would basically read the exact same way.