Eric Mangini’s football coaching career began in inauspicious fashion from 11,000 miles away.
Mangini became a football coach in Australia while he studied there for two semesters in the early 1990s.
He eventually became a Cleveland Browns ball boy after he earned his bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University, the same school that produced the legendary Bill Belichick.
Before long, Mangini and Belichick worked together on the coaching staffs of the New York Jets and New England Patriots from 1997 to 2005.
With Mangini coaching New England’s defensive backs from 2000 to 2004, the Patriots won three Super Bowl titles in four years.
Mangini went on to become head coach for the Jets and the Cleveland Browns in subsequent years.
The man known as “Mangenius” certainly had his share of controversial moments, including his fallout with Belichick and the infamous “Spygate” scandal in 2007, when he achieved his dream of becoming an NFL head coach.
This is Eric Mangini’s inspiring football story.
Early Life and College Days with the Wesleyan Cardinals
Eric Anthony Mangini was born in Hartford, CT on January 19, 1971. He attended Bulkeley High School in his hometown.
Mangini suited up for the Bulkeley Bulldogs as a linebacker from 1985 to 1989.
Mangini excelled in the classroom and on the high school gridiron. He earned the Brian Piccolo Award, as well as Athlete of the Year and Scholar Athlete of the Year honors as a senior in 1988.
Eric Mangini remained in-state and attended Wesleyan University in Middleton, CT from 1989 to 1993. It’s the same school that produced current New England Patriots head coach and Mangini’s mentor, Bill Belichick.
Mangini played nose tackle for the Wesleyan Cardinals and finished his college football career with 36.0 sacks—the most in program history.
He earned consecutive Eastern College Athletic College (ECAC) and New England Division III All-Star honors in 1992 and 1993. Mangini also became a NESCAC All-Star in 1993.
Eric Mangini got his football coaching career off the ground from the opposite side of the globe during his college days at Wesleyan.
In 1992, Mangini spent two semesters at the University of Melbourne in Australia working toward his bachelor’s degree. Under his leadership, the Kew Colts reached the regional title game twice.
According to The Boston Globe‘s Jerome Solomon, Eric had followed his older brother Kyle, an investment banker who relocated Down Under.
Before long, Eric Mangini traded his suit and tie for a coach’s clipboard.
Mangini’s football coaching career began serendipitously. The opportunity fell into his lap while he was bored waiting for the school year to kick off.
His brother Kyle’s female co-worker met an American football coach named Stan Long at a sporting goods store one day. She told Kyle about the coach when she got home, and he told Eric about the encounter.
Eric wasted no time in tracking down Long. The latter offered him an assistant coaching position, which cured Mangini’s boredom once and for all.
Although the team Mangini coached ceased operations after a few months, he did a credible job to the point his players thought he could work for the expansion team Kew Colts.
— Eric Ludwig (@Coach_Lud) May 16, 2014
Mangini took the opportunity, put in the work, and became the Colts’ head coach. Mangini helped the Colts win 22 of 26 games over two years.
Eric Mangini, the football coach who would earn the moniker “Mangenius” in later years, was officially born. It was a massive stroke of fortune for somebody who had no previous inkling to coach football.
Although Mangini’s foray into coaching during his college days was a successful one, it had its share of awkward moments.
In the summer of 2005, Mangini told Solomon that his inexperienced players had a tendency to resort to unusual tactics.
It wasn’t unusual for the Colts to go for it on fourth down, though they were in the red zone. Sometimes, the Kew football team did that from their own 20-yard line.
A befuddled Eric Mangini could only shake his head.
It wasn’t surprising considering the semi-pro football players were not full-time athletes. They had day jobs that included butchers, lawyers, policemen, and bouncers.
Not only that, but some of them hailed from faraway places such as Serbia and Croatia.
Eric Mangini thought the diversity of the Kew Colts worked to his advantage. Thirteen years later, he told The Boston Globe that the coaching experience in Australia taught him how to relate to various personalities on an NFL sideline.
Mangini was also wet behind the ears as a football coach. His brother Kyle remembered him calling his college football coach at all hours of the day asking for advice.
Since Mangini did that from almost 11,000 miles away, he racked up a $400 phone bill—no small feat for a first-year head football coach in the mid-1990s.
Eric soon got the hang of coaching on the gridiron. Kyle lauded him for his ability to prepare the Colts and get them in tip-top shape before game day.
“He did a tremendous job of organizing a real defined practice regimen and even early on, he did a terrific job of pulling guys together,” Kyle Mangini told The Boston Globe in 2005.
It was a good sign for Eric Mangini. Before long, he embarked on a pro football coaching career that spanned two decades.
Football Coaching Career
Eric Mangini began his pro football coaching career as a Cleveland Browns ball boy in 1995. It was the only job Eric could get after he earned his political science degree from Wesleyan University.
Mangini got the job because his former Wesleyan Cardinals head football coach Kevin Spencer coached the Browns’ special teams unit that year, per Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot.
His mother Nancy was incredulous at the thought of her son working as an NFL ball boy.
“My mom at the time says to me, ‘You have $25,000 in student loans and you want to be a ball boy?'” Mangini told Gang Green Nation’s Thomas Christopher in the summer of 2021. “I had to explain to her that this was an opportunity to see what pro football was like.”
Similar to him reaching out to football coach Stan Long just three years earlier in Australia, Mangini took a risk that paid huge, long-term dividends.
By the time Mangini entered an NFL locker room for the first time in the mid-1990s, he wanted to become an NFL head coach someday.
“I’d see their names on the lockers and I thought, ‘My name is going to be there someday,'” Mangini told Newsday (via Cleveland.com). “It seemed so far away—it was hard to envision—but that was the goal.”
Mangini put in the work and eventually landed a spot in the Browns’ PR department before earning a promotion as an offensive assistant.
Among Mangini’s duties as a PR man included transcribing press conferences, collecting and pasting hundreds of news articles, arranging conference calls, reaching out to players for interviews, and delivering pizza to the team’s media room.
When the Browns promoted Mangini to offensive assistant, head coach Bill Belichick taught him how to dissect film. Mangini also brewed coffee and picked up the coaches’ dinner at various delis.
Mangini’s first year on the job in Northeast Ohio had historic implications. It was the original Browns’ last year before they relocated to Maryland and became the Baltimore Ravens.
It was also Browns head coach Bill Belichick’s last year at the helm. Cleveland won just five of eleven games in 1995 and missed the postseason for the fifth time in the past six years.
Mangini would cross paths with his mentor Belichick in subsequent years with the New York Jets and New England Patriots.
Eric Mangini literally got his hands dirty in his first year on an NFL coaching staff. Onlookers saw him pick up dirty jerseys in the Browns’ locker room.
“The only thing I was running was the laundry,” Mangini told The Boston Globe in the summer of 2005.
Mangini’s impressive work ethic caught the eye of Belichick. The 23-year-old assistant made a profound impression on the Browns’ head coach, who, in turn, would help Mangini’s football coaching career gain traction in subsequent years.
Mangini was part of the Baltimore Ravens’ inaugural season in 1996. He served as offensive assistant in head coach Ted Marchibroda’s staff.
Regrettably, the Ravens own just four games in their first NFL season. Consequently, they finished last in their division.
When the New York Jets hired Bill Belichick as their assistant head coach and defensive coordinator prior to the 1997 NFL campaign, he brought Mangini, his former assistant with the Cleveland Browns, with him.
The Jets made Eric Mangini their defensive assistant—a position he held for the next three seasons.
New York averaged ten wins per season with Belichick and Mangini working on the Jets’ sideline from 1997 to 1999.
Behind the exploits of stalwarts such as Vinny Testaverde, Curtis Martin, and Keyshawn Johnson, the Jets reached the 1998 AFC Championship Game against John Elway’s Denver Broncos.
To Mangini’s dismay, the Broncos prevailed, 23-10. Denver went on to win its second consecutive Super Bowl title.
After Bill Parcells left his head coaching position with the Jets following the 1999 NFL season, he appointed Belichick as his successor.
In a strange turn of events, Belichick resigned on the same day the Jets promoted him on January 4, 2000.
Several weeks later, Belichick became the New England Patriots’ head coach. The Patriots had to surrender a 2000 first-round draft choice to the Jets so they could hire him.
Before long, Eric Mangini joined his mentor on the New England sideline. Belichick appointed him his defensive backs coach, a position Mangini held until the 2004 NFL season.
Eric Mangini joined the New England Patriots organization at the perfect time. His arrival coincided with that of former Michigan Wolverines quarterback Tom Brady, the 199th overall selection of the 2000 NFL Draft.
With Belichick, Mangini, and Brady on board, the Patriots became a juggernaut in the early 2000s.
After Brady took over starting quarterback duties from the injured Drew Bledsoe, New England won three Super Bowl titles in four years from 2001 to 2004.
Eric and his brother Kyle established the Carmine & Frank Mangini Foundation (CFM) in his third year as Patriots defensive backs coach in the summer of 2002.
According to the foundation’s official website, its mission is “to create opportunities for under-resourced kids by providing experiences that will unlock their true potential and provide optimism about the possibilities beyond their borders.”
Before the 2005 NFL season, the Cleveland Browns, the first NFL team that had hired Mangini ten years earlier, tried to lure him back to Northeast Ohio when they hired Romeo Crennel as their head coach.
The Miami Dolphins also sent Mangini feelers that year. On the other hand, the Oakland Raiders had him on their radar for their vacant defensive coordinator position in 2004.
Crennel also tried to lure Mangini to Cleveland and become his defensive coordinator in 2005.
Mangini opted to stay in New England and become the Patriots’ defensive coordinator for the 2005 NFL season. It was Mangini’s ninth year working with Belichick.
Mangini told Solomon he loved the Patriots’ winning tradition. New England was coming off back-to-back Super Bowl titles. Mangini had earned all three of his Super Bowl rings as a coach with New England from 2001 to 2005.
Mangini took over Crennel’s old defensive coordinator position in 2005. The latter helped the Patriots win three Vince Lombardi trophies before he accepted the Browns’ head coaching position in 2005.
Vince Wilfork, one of the greatest defensive linemen in Patriots franchise history, thought Mangini was more aggressive than his predecessor.
“If anything, Eric is more aggressive (than Crennel),” Wilfork told The Boston Globe in 2005. “Where Romeo was conservative—go to it if we have to—Eric is like, ‘Let’s put the flame out before it starts.'”
With Mangini in charge of the Patriots’ defense, they finished 17th in the league in total defense in the 2005 NFL campaign. New England was a middle-of-the-pack defensive squad that allowed an average of 21.1 points per game that year.
The Patriots won ten games in Eric Mangini’s lone year as their defensive coordinator. Unfortunately, the Denver Broncos beat them in the 2005 AFC Divisional Round, 27-13.
That turned out to be Mangini’s final game on the New England Patriots’ sideline working for his mentor, Bill Belichick.
The plot thickened when Mangini wound up with one of the Patriots’ fiercest AFC East division rivals.
The New York Jets hired Eric Mangini as their head coach on January 17, 2006. The 35-year-old Mangini became the league’s youngest head coach.
After the Jets hired Mangini, his relationship with Belichick has never been the same.
Mangini helped build a Jets core that included Nick Mangold, Darrelle Revis, Damien Woody, David Harris, Mike DeVito, Thomas Jones, Leon Washington, and D’Brickashaw Ferguson.
In the summer of 2017, Mangini admitted to ESPN that he was disappointed when the Jets released Mangold and Revis several years later.
In Mangini’s first year at the helm, he helped the Jets orchestrate a stunning six-game turnaround from the previous season. New York had a 10-6 win-loss record and advanced to the AFC Wild Card Game against his old team, the New England Patriots.
January 7, 2007
Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots crush Eric Mangini and the NY Jets (37-16) in the Wild Card Round
It was the 1st playoff game played on turf at Gillette Stadium
How was the post game handshake? pic.twitter.com/HonjXLPLQe
— Boston Sports Info (@bostonsportsinf) January 7, 2021
In Mangini’s first postseason showdown against his mentor, Belichick’s Patriots prevailed in lopsided fashion, 37-16.
Despite the loss, Mangini, the man pundits dubbed “Mangenius,” earned 2006 AFC Coach of the Year honors.
Mangini’s popularity soared in the Big Apple in 2006. That year, he even earned a cameo role on the hit crime drama television series, The Sopranos, as a dinner guest.
Alas, Mangini quickly fell out of favor with the fans and local media the following season.
The Jets regressed considerably in Mangini’s second year in 2007. They duplicated their atrocious 4-12 win-loss record from two seasons earlier.
Mangini’s once rosy relationship with Belichick deteriorated further during the fallout of the infamous “Spygate” scandal that rocked the NFL in 2007.
Prior to the kickoff of a Jets-Patriots game at the Meadowlands that year, Mangini told Jets security to watch the Patriots’ sideline closely.
Security personnel obliged and eventually caught 26-year-old Patriots video assistant Matt Estrella illegally videotaping hand signals from New York’s defensive coaches on September 9, 2007.
The Patriots went on to rout the Jets in the 2007 season opener, 38-14.
Apparently, Mangini already knew about the Patriots’ illegal tactics dating back to his days as the Patriots’ defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator from 2000 to 2005.
When Mangini arrived in the Big Apple in 2006, he told the Jets about the Patriots’ sign-stealing tendencies, per the Daily News‘s Rich Cimini.
The NFL came down hard on the Patriots just several days later.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell eventually fined Belichick $500,000 and the Patriots $250,000 on September 13, 2007. The team also forfeited New England’s first-round selection in 2008.
The rift between Mangini and Belichick reached a boiling point during the league meetings in 2008.
According to Seth Wickersham’s book, It’s Better to Be Feared: The New England Patriots Dynasty and the Pursuit of Greatness (via ESPN.com), which hit bookshelves in the fall of 2021, Mangini’s wife, Julie, greeted Belichick after a head coaches’ dinner.
After Belichick ignored her, she told her husband. An irate Mangini flew into a rage and wanted a piece of his former mentor. Other head coaches had to restrain him from swinging at Belichick.
“Hey Bill, F–k you!” Mangini screamed at Belichick.
The two men have yet to reconcile in the aftermath of the “Spygate” fiasco. Mangini hopes that will happen sooner than later.
“Look, Bill is a big part of my life,” Mangini told ESPN in 2017. “Bill gave me a tremendous opportunity, and I enjoyed that experience, and I respect him. It’s disappointing, the way it’s been. Hopefully, it can change at some point.”
It seemed Gang Green was in position to make a deep postseason run with the acquisition of former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre in the offseason.
The Packers traded Favre to the Jets for a conditional 2009 draft pick just one month before the 2008 NFL season kicked off.
The 39-year-old Favre had 3,472 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, and 22 interceptions in his lone season in the Big Apple.
With Favre under center, Gang Green won nine games but missed out on postseason contention for the second straight year.
The Jets crashed and burned after a hot 8-3 start. They fired Mangini on December 29, 2008.
Despite Mangini’s dismissal, he did not harbor a grudge against the Jets organization.
“I loved that experience and I’m proud of what we did there,” Mangini told ESPN in 2017. “If we had one less injury that year, things would be really different.”
Mangini referred to Favre’s torn biceps tendon that played a major role in the Jets’ late-season collapse in 2008.
Eric Mangini did not have to wait long to get his second head coaching job in the National Football League. The Cleveland Browns, his first employer in the NFL, hired him as their new head coach on January 8, 2009.
January 7, 2009: "Mangenius" Returns🏈#Browns hire former ballyboy, intern & defensive genius Eric Mangini as HC. From running errands for Bill Belichick in CLE to winning 3 SB 🏆's as D coach-proved his worth in #NFL. 10-22 record though in CLE, gone 2 yrs later #ManGenius pic.twitter.com/pb4rrd38uu
— On This Day: Cleveland Sports (@CityfanC) January 7, 2022
In January 2022, Mangini told 33RDTEAM’s Andy Hanson that he was sick when Browns owner Randy Lerner interviewed him in Long Island, NY. Mangini threw up before and during the interview with Lerner.
That marked the second time Mangini replaced Romeo Crennel, one of his closest friends in the business. Ironically, the Browns dismissed Crennel as their head coach on the same day the Jets fired Mangini.
Mangini had taken over for Crennel as the Patriots’ defensive coordinator after the Browns hired the latter as their new head coach prior to the 2005 NFL season.
The two men had begun their friendship when they served as Bill Parcells’s assistants with the Jets from 1997 to 1999.
They renewed their friendship when they joined Belichick’s coaching staff in New England several years later.
Mangini and his wife Julie welcomed Crennel and his wife Rosemary into their house for six months while workers were building the latter couple’s house in New England in 2001. That said everything about the tight friendship Mangini and Crennel had developed over the years.
Mangini, who guided the New York Jets to a ten-win season in his first year on the job in 2006, could not help the Browns get over the hump.
The Browns strung together consecutive 5-11 win-loss seasons from 2009 to 2010. Since the 1990s decade began, Cleveland had missed the postseason nineteen times in the past twenty-one years.
While Mangini and his family were vacationing in Disney World, he watched his former team, the New York Jets, advance to the 2009 AFC title game.
On the other hand, his former quarterback Brett Favre led the Minnesota Vikings to the 2009 NFC Championship game against the New Orleans Saints.
“That’s football,” Mangini told ESPN’s Rich Cimini some seven years later.
Browns team president Mike Holmgren fired Mangini on January 3, 2011. Mangini amassed an overall 33-47 (.413) win-loss record in a combined five seasons as New York Jets and Cleveland Browns head coach from 2006 to 2010.
During Mangini’s tenure as an NFL head coach, he told Hanson the toughest part was firing his assistants, especially if he was the one who hired them.
“As the head coach, every coach I had to part ways with felt like a personal failure because I had every chance to research and vet them prior to hiring them,” Mangini said in January 2022.
ESPN hired Eric Mangini as a studio analyst on August 4, 2011. The network assigned him to several programs including NFL Live, First Take, and SportsCenter.
Former Jets/Browns head coach Eric Mangini expected to be hired as 49ers defensive coordinator.
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 22, 2015
After a two-year hiatus from football, Mangini worked for the San Francisco 49ers in various capacities from 2013 to 2015.
He served as the 49ers’ offensive consultant, tight ends coach, and defensive coordinator during those three years. San Francisco averaged eight wins per season and never made it past the NFC Championship Game with Mangini on its coaching staff.
San Francisco released Mangini and the other members of the coaching staff when Chip Kelly took over as the 49ers’ head coach before the 2016 NFL season.
Eric Mangini and his wife Julie have three sons: Jake Harrison, Luke William, and Zack Brett. They currently reside in Eric’s home state of Connecticut.
The couple named them after famous NFL personalities Eric worked with over the years. He and Julie named their first-born son after former New England Patriots defensive back, Rodney Harrison.
They named their second son in honor of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, whose real name is William Stephen Belichick.
Finally, they named their third child after former New York Jets quarterback Brett Favre. Coincidentally, Zach Brett Mangini and Favre share the same birthday, October 10. The former was born on Favre’s 39th birthday in 2008—his first and only year with Gang Green.
Almost two years after his one-year stint with the San Francisco 49ers ended at the end of the 2015 NFL season, Eric Mangini told ESPN he was still interested in coaching football.
Mangini became a member of the Bulkeley High School Hall of Fame in 2020.
Mangini currently works as an analyst for the 33RDTEAM website. He also runs a yearly football camp at Bulkeley High School.