Everything was going along fine for the NFL’s youngest head coach when he first arrived in New York in 2006, and even more so, two years later, when New Yorkers uttered the names “New York Jets” and “Super Bowl” in the same sentence, and actually meant it.
Yes, former Jets’ head coach Eric Mangini, the disciple of the highly successful Bill Belichick, was often called “Man-genius” after turning the 2005 Jets, who finished 4-12 under Herm Edwards, into the playoff-participating 10-6 Jets of 2006, during Mangini’s rookie season as an NFL head coach.
And, even after losing to Belichick’s New England Patriots in an AFC wild-card playoff game that year, and suffering through a huge falloff right back to 4-12 the following year, Mangini wasn’t criticized as much as he was praised for exposing Belichick in the highly publicized Spygate scandal involving the Patriots illegally filming and stealing Jets’ defensive signals.
A year later, during the very short-lived Brett Favre-as-a-Jet era in 2008, Mangini’s Jets handily beat the then-undefeated, 10-0 Tennessee Titans to go 8-3, causing many in the New York area to dream realistically of a potential Jets-Giants Super Bowl matchup, as both New York teams were very serious contenders in their respective conferences.
Yup, Mangini was the right coach at the right time to lead the Jets to their first Super Bowl in nearly four decades, and he would keep them highly competitive thereafter, for years to come.
However, then came the huge collapse.
Favre, who had 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions during the Jets’ 8-3 start last year, threw just 2 touchdowns and 9 interceptions, hampered by an injury to his throwing shoulder over the final five games last season. The Jets lost four of those games to finish 9-7, and they were very fortunate to get their lone win during that stretch, being outplayed by the Buffalo Bills in a 31-27 victory at home.
Mangini’s in-game decision-making and motivational skills were scrutinized in a way only the pressure of performing in the New York fish bowl can provide. The Jets went from Super Bowl bound to missing the playoffs, and the “Man-genius” suddenly didn’t know what he was doing anymore.
After being fired by the Jets the day after the 2008 season ended, Mangini has since faced similar, perhaps even worse condemnation after an 0-4 start in Cleveland this year.
So, what have the Jets done in that time to get back on track toward being a contender since Mangini’s departure?
Well, after cutting ties with Mangini, they released Favre after he retired yet again, before recanting again, and continuing his career with a 4-0 start to the 2009 season in Minnesota.
Quickly, the Jets have begun to put key pieces into place. First, the brilliant defensive mind of another rookie head coach, Rex Ryan, was added in the offseason. Then, USC star quarterback Mark Sanchez, with a seemingly huge upside, was acquired in the 2009 NFL draft. And now, this week, finally, the Jets get a long-awaited, big-play, deep threat in Braylon Edwards, via a trade, giving Sanchez a legitimate number one option at the wide receiver position.
So far, Sanchez hasn’t been spectacular, and he’s made some typical rookie mistakes, especially in the Jets’ only loss of 2009, in New Orleans last week. However, Sanchez overall, has already exceeded expectations and has for the most part, played winning football while leading the Jets to a 3-1 record so far this season.
Now, Sanchez and the Jets should get even better with Edwards. While he’s a risk with some reported attitude issues and off-the-field incidents (mostly recently this week, allegedly punching a friend of Lebron James outside a Cleveland nightclub), Edwards, getting a fresh start, leaving one of the NFL’s worst teams, coming to a contender in New York, might change the controversial receiver for the better.
In fact, he’s already at least saying all of the right things, as he disclosed to Associate Press reporter Dennis Waszak. “It can definitely take the joy out of the game,” Edwards said of losing in Cleveland. “It weighs on you. Coming here to a team that’s doing well with a new head coach that has them going in the right direction and just freeing myself of the situation and coming to another situation, I think it’s a fresh start and a clean slate.”
Football-wise, there’s no denying that the 26-year-old, 6-foot-3, 215-pound former first-round pick by the Browns with 238 career receptions for 3,697 yards, and 28 touchdowns in 5¼ seasons is a previously missing piece that the Jets sorely needed to ultimately contend for a Super Bowl — whether that happens this season or if it takes longer.
And, whom might the Jets have to thank for their good young foundation on which to build their passing game, possibly for the next several years?
You guessed it, the former “Man-genius.”
Without the earlier Mangini era in New York, the Jets might have been able to trade their number 17 pick to Cleveland for the number five pick in the first round of last April’s draft, in order to grab Sanchez. And, they might have been able to work out a deal to bring in Edwards for seventh-round pick, wide receiver Chansi Stuckey (with 43 career receptions in 19 games) plus undrafted linebacker Jason Trusnik (with 24 career tackles and no sacks in 17 career games out of Ohio Northern), and a couple of undisclosed draft picks.
But, don’t count on it.
It’s a lot more likely that the Jets used their ties with Mangini to swing both deals, first to land Sanchez in April, and this week, to seemingly steal Sanchez’s brand new primary target.
You have to feel for Mangini. It’s been pretty rough for him ever since last year’s Super Bowl talk in New York ended. But, through his dealings with his former team from his new home in Cleveland, he may yet, even if unintentionally, deliver that Super Bowl for the Jets.