Why John Fox Excelled Where Eric Mangini Screwed Up

Matthew GilmartinSenior Analyst IJanuary 11, 2009

Eric Mangini, former coach of the New York Jets, appears to have made a costly mistake that caused his team to divide. That division could have played a big part in the Jets' fall from Super Bowl contender to not even making the playoffs. 

He played favorites. Remarks from Jets teammates showed that, most notably running back Thomas Jones.

"The reality is, you throw interceptions, I'm (ticked) off, I don't like it," Jones said. "You know what I'm saying? I don't like it, and I know everybody else on the team doesn't like it.

"If somebody is not playing well, they need to come out of the game. You're jeopardizing the whole team because you're having a bad day. To me, that's not fair to everybody else. You're not the only one on your team," after the Jets' loss to the Dolphins in the final week of the season.

Other anonymous teammates publicly criticized Favre, too.

Jones may have only come out with the public comments after the Dolphins game, but it sounds like that was just the last straw. That clinched the Jets' fate in missing the postseason, and it may have provided the last bit of frustration that Jones needed to feel like he wanted to say something.

But what Jones is getting at is that Mangini played favorites with Favre. He didn't take the former Packers legend out of the game when he was having another bad day full of interceptions when the sake of the team depended on it most. 

His team's late-season collapse from 8-3 Super Bowl contender to 9-7 team that missed the playoffs probably had something to do with that. Combine the devastating effect of countless turnovers (which take away potential points and give the other team excellent field position) with a team cursing their quarterback and head coach under its collective breath, and you have a recipe for disaster because nobody is on the same page. A team with no unity doesn't win in the NFL.

A perfect example of a coach who did the right thing when his star player acted out and was detrimental to the team is the Carolina Panthers' John Fox.

Early in training camp, on Aug. 1, wide receiver Steve Smith sucker-punched cornerback Ken Lucas during a team drill and started a fight that left Lucas with a broken nose. Fox sent Smith home that day and didn't allow him to return until he had cooled down. He also swiftly suspended Smith for the first two games of the regular season and told Smith he had to stay away from the team entirely for those two weeks.

Smith and Lucas each did their respective parts to heal the relationship and eventually became friends. The Panthers ended the regular season 12-4, won the NFC South, and earned the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs (although they easily could have been the No. 1 seed). 

Because Fox acted quickly and decisively and Lucas forgave Smith, the team came together rather than splitting apart. If Fox and Lucas hadn't done their parts, the team would have divided before the regular season even began. 

No one would have been on the same page, and everyone would have played favorites. The Panthers wouldn't have played like a team in the way that they did all year—there would have a handful of players trying to do everything themselves. 

And there's absolutely no way that they would've had as successful of a season as they did if they hadn't played as a team.

Ken Lucas played a big part in the team getting over Smith's uncalled-for violence toward him. He forgave him, which allowed the rest of the team to do so as well. 

But even so, if Fox hadn't lowered the hammer on Smith like he did, the team still would have been mad at him. No one would have wanted to play for him except Smith. But one man, even a man as good at football as Smith, doesn't make up a team.

Fox did the right thing where Mangini didn't. And just look at the difference in the way their teams' seasons turned out.