Eric Mangini Deserved to Be Fired, But He Will Be Tough to Replace

Andrew KaufmanSenior Analyst IDecember 31, 2008

He was supposed to be the Jets’ answer to Bill Belichick.

He was supposed to be the first coach of the Jets to bring stability to the position since Bill Parcells. He was supposed to be a defensive genius capable of motivating his team. He was supposed to be “football smart,” a step ahead of the rest just like his mentor, Belichick.

He was supposed to return the Jets to prominence and challenge the Patriots for supremacy in the AFC East.

Eric Mangini didn’t do any of those things in his three years as head football coach of the New York Jets, and now he’s looking for a new job.

It’s hard to argue that Mangini didn’t deserve what he got. After the Jets raced out to an 8-3 record in 2008, they were widely labeled a Super Bowl contender. Five weeks and four losses later, they will be spending January on the golf course.

And Mangini has to shoulder a fair amount of the blame. In the Jets’ week 12 victory over the then-undefeated Tennessee Titans, their strategy seemed perfect. A mixture of runs and quick-hitting short passes on offense kept the Titans off balance, while pressure defense forced Tennessee to score via the passing game, and the Jets’ defensive backs succeeded in hitting the Titans’ wide receivers at the line of scrimmage and knocking them off their own timing patterns.

But after that near-perfect game, nothing seemed to work for the Green and White. Defenses stacked the box and forced the Jets to beat them down the field, and the Jet offense failed to adjust. And for some reason, the Jets stopped being aggressive on defense, and opposing offenses started to move the ball just successfully enough to win the game.

It’s not like the Jets lost to good teams, either—defeats at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers and the inept Seattle Seahawks (the Jets scored three points in the latter game) are likely what sealed Mangini’s fate. So, even though the Jets won five games more in 2008 than they did in 2007, ownership was certainly justified in dismissing the man once called “Mangenius” by the New York media.

But Eric Mangini isn’t like Al Groh and Herman Edwards—the two other coaches who have failed in the Jets’ top job after Bill Parcells stepped down stepped down nine years ago. He had potential to be one of the best.

And he did some very good things. Mangini is primarily a defensive coach, and he leaves the Jets with several young stars—Kerry Rhodes and Pro Bowler Darrelle Revis in the secondary, Calvin Pace on the line, and linebacker David Harris—around which to build their future defense.

Even more important is that, under Mangini’s watch, the Jets also beat their archrivals, the New England Patriots, on the road two of three seasons—and the third year was 2007, when the Pats went 16-0 during the regular season.

Thus there is reason for optimism in New York. Not that Jets’ fans are ever truly optimistic. Collapses like the one that took place over the past month are the explanation for this consistent negativity. And now the one man who actually looked Bill Belichick in the eye and beat him in two very important games is gone.

Not that he didn’t deserve the axe. But it’s hard to believe his replacement will be any better.