Michael Lombardi’s Unsupported Claims about Eric Mangini’s Last Season with the New England Patriots

by Cleveland Frowns on December 16, 2009

One of the most incredible lines we hear from Eric Mangini’s critics is the one that tries to minimize his nine years of experience working under NFL coaching legend Bill Belichick, including Mangini’s promotion by Belichick to defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots in 2005.

Of course, one might reasonably conclude that a coach as successful as Belichick would have surrounded himself with competent help, and that a promotion by the likes of Belichick to a coordinator position should speak especially highly of a coach’s ability. For those who’ve been impressed with what Mangini accomplished in his short time with the New York Jets* and with the rebuilding project he appears to have effectively under way here in Cleveland with the Browns, it’s easy enough to see why Belichick would have held Mangini in such high esteem.

To get around this fact, Mangini’s critics have taken to arguing that a coordinator position under Belichick is a do-nothing job, as if Belichick would have filled such a  position with a bum off the street. Along these lines, they’ve taken to comparing Mangini to former Belichick coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel, ignoring obvious differences, including that neither of these men was known as Belichick’s protege like Mangini was.

Perhaps recognizing that the argument needed fortification here, one of its most enthusiastic proponents, former NFL player personnel exec Michael Lombardi who now writes at the National Football Post, recently tossed a new stone in Mangini’s direction. In attempting to dismiss Mangini’s ability to consecutively land a defensive coordinator position and two NFL head coaching jobs as “luck,” in what was otherwise a cookie-cutter Mangini hit-piece, Lombardi claims that:

[Mangini] sold the Jets and his good friend, general manager Mike Tannenbaum, on the fact he was a bright young coordinator and a budding star when the reality was, at the time, Mangini was removed from his defensive coordinator responsibilities while he was in New England.

So the truth is, according to Lombardi, that Mangini was not in fact a bright young coordinator, but actually just a con who told lies about his resume in order to land jobs with the Jets and then the Browns. Note the contrast here with Josh Cribbs’ recent comments about a “family oriented” guy whose values are rubbing off on the team, and also note both that Belichick didn’t promote anyone to the offensive coordinator position that same year on Crennel’s and Weis’ departure, and that Mangini turned down the defensive coordinator positions in Cleveland, Miami, and Oakland before taking the Patriots job in 2005. So on Lombardi’s view, these franchises were all duped, along with Randy Lerner, Mike Tannenbaum and the Jets, and Belichick, the NFL coaching legend who had worked with Mangini for eight years before elevating him to the coordinator position.

There is no evidence of Lombardi’s claim that Mangini was “removed” from defensive coordinator responsibilities anywhere else on the internet.

So where did Lombardi get this information?

He’s not telling.

Emails from Lombardi confirmed that his source is anonymous, and that he won’t reveal it, other than to say that it’s “someone who knows very well.” (The emails I got back from Lombardi are something else. “Where did you learn football,” he repeatedly asks.)

Lombardi then went on to point out, as he did in his Mangini hit piece, that:

The Patriots [defense] under Mangini in 2005 gave up too many big plays down the field and were so poorly synchronized that head coach Bill Belichick was forced to take over the defense in mid-stream. Every time Mangini was given more responsibility in New England, he was not successful.

One might wonder especially about that last sentence, and why anyone who was so repeatedly unsuccessful would have so repeatedly been entrusted with more responsibility. No word from Lombardi on that.

But even worse, Lombardi fails to say a word about the personnel losses that decimated the Patriots defense in 2005.  It seems to be at least worth mentioning in criticizing the coach of a defense that “gave up too many big plays down the field,” that that same defense lost its best player to injury, safety Rodney Harrison, in the season’s third week.  Those Pats also lost Pro Bowl CB Ty Law in a cost-cutting move, LB Tedi Bruschi to a pre-season stroke, LB Ted Johnson to surprise retirement on the eve of training camp, as well as perennial starters Roman Pfifer (LB) and Keith Traylor (NT).

Also notable, “unlike past Patriots offseasons, the 2005 offseason did not bring the arrival of any would-be full-time starters.” And that even despite this personnel shakeup, these Patriots won their division with a 10-6 record, finishing with a five game winning streak before resting their starters in the season’s final game.  The Pats’ defense even remained stout in the team’s playoff loss that season, giving up only 286 total yards to a Broncos team that was the beneficiary of five turnovers by the Patriots offense.

Are we supposed to believe that Mangini had no fingerprints on the defense by that point in the season? Even with Belichick coaching without an offensive coordinator? It makes one wonder what Lombardi’s vague phrase “removed from responsibility” means, as Belichick might simply have decided to turn more attention to the defense in view of the hefty personnel losses. How much more attention, who knows? But when you run an NFL rumor mill based on anonymous sources, there’s apparently very little need to ask the hard questions.

But the fact remains that not only does Lombardi’s report come with nobody else willing to stand behind it, but the claim itself is undermined by highly relevant facts that Lombardi chooses to ignore. And given that there’s no love lost between the Belichick and Mangini camps, and that the source remains anonymous, there’s no reason to view the rumor as any more credible just because it might have come from Belichick’s corner (if not Belichick himself).

It’s all plenty to make one question the motives of a reporter who held a player-personnel job in the NFL as recently as 2007, and probably wants back in the League. Given the deal that Mangini’s gotten from the press, nationally and in Cleveland, it looks more than anything else like Lombardi smells blood, and might even still be sore about Mangini turning him down when Lombardi was sent by the Raiders to woo Mangini for their defensive coordinator position. Anyway, it’s impossible to read Lombardi’s criticism of Mangini without thinking it’s based in something personal.

———-

*From an excellent post on Mangini’s firing in New York by thejetsblog:

The truth is that he was a damn good football coach just into his fourth year of high level coaching experience (coordinator and up). He’s going to make mistakes, but this is not Rich Kotite who doesn’t learn from his mistakes. Mangini was a smart man, as evidence by the fact that he was 10-6 in his first year with a 5-11 team. Truth be told, his only under-.500 year was due to front office mismanagement and a lack of players to fit the 3-4 defense he so desperately needed to make this team a constant contender.

Did he need to air out the garbage? Yes. But that should have been done with a 2-year extension (in name only; in reality just a year to see if he could right the ship) and the removal of both coordinators or at least Bob Sutton. Oh, and the firing of one of the true culprits of the Jets’ late season collapse: Brett Favre. Look, if Favre plays a SMIDGE better in those final four weeks, Mangini finishes at the magic 10-6 and he’s got his extension and can continue to build this team towards a better future. Instead, they’re now out chasing the next big thing.

The truth is that this was a coach who was beloved by most of his players — even the cantankerous Laveranues Coles. All you had to do was read, listen to and watch the exit interviews with the media to see that this team wanted Mangini back, not Favre. Not only that, he had winning seasons in two of his three seasons and a team on the uptick in the grand scheme. He and Tannenbaum had begun to build the franchise into something more than the butt of a bad Giants Stadium joke. But, alas, it’s not good enough, because someone’s head had to roll — but it shouldn’t have been Mangini’s.

* * *

Here we had a coach who wasn’t winning with smoke and mirrors, who wasn’t winning with someone else’s players (Hey, Herm, here’s looking at you). Here was a coach who had instilled his system, his way of doing things and had shown an abiltity to adapt at times (Shortening of practices and altering of camp). Don’t tell me he wasn’t enough of a players coach. Then why were so many players clamoring after he was fired, “He was the reason I came here.”

Read the whole thing.

And from a commenter at the same post:

“100% agree. I dont believe he lost his players. All I have heard and read was how Jenkins, Faneca, Rhodes, Cotchery, TJ. Leon etc.. were behind him. You have actually heard more negative comments towards Favre and how he was handled wih kid gloves (Woody’s policy) Something would have come out already if he lost his locker room. He was saddled with Favre and the last 5 games Favre was a out of control train wreck.”

In this light, it’s easy to see that Lerner might have had a good reason to end his head coaching search as abruptly as he did.

  • smittypop2

    Can we just change the name of this blog to ManginiFest or something?? I mean don't we have something else to talk about? Tiger, Baseball trades, NBA, anything else??

  • Biki

    but since we're talking about the 2005 Patriots defense led by Mangini and only by Mangini… in 2004 they were ranked 9th, in 2005, when Mangini took over DC, they were ranked 26th. So they dropped 17 spots because of Teddy Bruschi's stroke???

    keep the ManginiFest going, it's seeming more and more obvious that he will not be around next year. I mean what happened to Mangini being a part of the search process like he said he would be right after he kicked his old buddy George to the curb? Seems like he didn't get the memo from Randy that he was not going to be a part of the search process and that was confirmed by Eric yesterday.

    Mr. Mangini, I do appreciate you giving us cap space and coaching us bad enough to get us another Top 5 pick next season, but your terrible, i mean, TERRIBLE draft has done enough damage to set this franchise back another year due to your ineptness. Let's just keep our guys healthy and you can go on your way.

  • Cleveland Frowns

    Do you think that keeping Mangini out of public view in the GM discussion will make it easier for witch-hunters like you to stomach it when the new GM signs off on another year for him? Glad to see you're buying in.

  • Cleveland Frowns

    I can't say I understand the headline here, but this is a good article.

    http://www.cleveland.com/browns/index.ssf/2009/12/cleveland_browns_leaving_eric.html

  • Cleveland Frowns

    And sorry, Smitty. I like talking about the Browns. Maybe you should start your own website?

  • Biki

    witch-hunters???? i've been closely following the guy for 3 fricking seasons as a head coach, his record is 11-30 in that span. how is that witch-hunting????

    of course there's a chance for him to be the coach next year, depending on who the new GM is, but if it's Holmgren, it seems impossible for him to be able to make it. they just have way too many differences in philosophies, etc. we've already had problems with romeo and savage not being on the same page, we can't have it ever again. it just doesn't work.

    i think we all can agree that we want the browns to be a winning team. if you want to keep mangini, you need a "czar/gm" who has the same offensive and defensive philosophy, otherwise it won't work. and that guy is not holmgren. is it floyd reese? i know they ran a 3-4 in ten when he was there, so maybe he would be a better fit.

  • Cleveland Frowns

    I have no idea why Holmgren and Mangini wouldn't be able to work together.

    Also, I get Grossi's headline now, that the Browns are "leaving it to Mangini" to talk about Holmgren's visit. Seems encouraging.

  • Biki

    so you don't think there is anything that could be lost in translation for the Prez to think west coast offense is the answer and 4-3 is the best defense? when things do not go as planned on the field, you don't think that there is at least a possibility of finger pointing and the blame game or second guessing of what direction the team should go it???????

    REALLY??? you are right, you really have NO IDEA

  • Cleveland Frowns

    I don't see why the two wouldn't be able to come to an agreement on what offense and what defense is the best. Mangini seems confident that they can get on the same page. I know you'd love to see him run out of here, so I see why you want to assume it's impossible.

  • Cleveland Frowns

    By the way, if you've been following Mangini so closely for three years, why is your assessment of his tenure with the Jets so different from the one by the folks at thejetsblog that's posted here?

    Interesting that you have nothing to say about that.

  • Biki

    and what assessment is that? that they jets were impatient and fired him only to hire a better coach??? i mean the numbers don't lie frownie. the jets defense is THE NUMBER ONE DEFENSE IN THE LEAGUE! (20th, 18th, and 16th in the 3 years under mangini)

    They have had growing pains with their rookie QB, but a couple plays here or there and they are 9-4, but shoulda could woulda..

    bottom line, you'd be hard pressed to find many people in NY that miss Mangini as the head coach and they are much happier with the product.

    and this is a jets team that has played nearly the entire without the most explosive offensive and special teams players in the league, leon washington, and one of the most explosive/disruptive defensive players in the league, Kris Jenkins.

    and btw, back to your point yesterday, who are the 2 pro bowlers that Rex brought with him to the Jets??? i've looked at the Pro Bowl roster, i saw 2 guys who were pro bowlers last year on the jets who have been hurt most of the year (leon and jenkins), but no ravens that came over to NYJ.

  • Biki

    cavs got iverson tonight!

  • Biki

    11-30 in his last 3 seasons.. how can you sit there with a straight face and say that this is the guy you think will turn around the franchise????

  • Biki

    my bad 15-30

  • Ryan

    The best thing about this blog is that Frowns actually spends more time trying to make a case for Mangini to keep his job than Mangini does.

    The definition of "witch hunt" goes like this:

    "an intensive effort to discover and expose disloyalty, subversion, dishonesty, or the like, usually based on slight, doubtful, or irrelevant evidence." (Source: Dictionary.com)

    With that in mind, isn't it accurate to conclude that you have launched your own witch hunt against those who you claim to be doing the same against Eric Mangini? Does that make you a hypocrite?

  • Cleveland Frowns

    Ryan, no, because my arguments aren't based on slight, doubtful, or irrelevant evidence, like bus rides, water bottles, and bad arguments about Savage's quarterback mess.

    Biki: I don't know if there'd have been a "Train Rex" headline in the NYPost this season if the Jets were playing so well, but if you want to hail such a mediocre performance against such a crappy schedule, that's your right.

    Again, what's the combined record of the opponents of these Jets, 50-80?

  • Ryan

    Frowns,

    With all do respect won't you feel like you wasted hours upon hours of time if Mangini ends up getting fired afterall?

  • Biki

    there you go again with the false facts. jets opponents schedule to date is 82-87, that is right in the middle of the pack of the nfl, exactly in the middle to be exact. but you obviously do not have any regards for stats or facts.

    of course there have been negative headlines, you would expect that to happen when you've lost several games in a row, but again, they lost some very close games that coulda gone the other way, but of course, at the end of the day it's the record that counts, but despite all the injuries, he's got the team in position to make the postseasn, and playing shutdown defense. i mean it really is a joy to watch them play defense. you should try watching sometime.

  • Brownie

    Bart Scott signed with the Jets from the Ravens. He's a pro bowler. I don't know who the second would be.

    I guess it's just popular to hate Mangini. If you honestly can't see anything good happening to this team from week 1 though now, then there probably won't be any arguing with you.

  • Biki

    yes, you are correct, bart scott made pro bowl as an alternate after the 2005 season. 4 seasons ago.. that's a long time in LB years..

    have their been improvements? not sure i can say that they are consistent improvements. besides most of the guys are fresh off the practice squad and are hungry to make a team next season.

    i've never said that mangini is the worst coach ever to walk the planet. i just think we can and should do better than him and I'm not confident that he is the guy that can get us to the super bowl.

  • Teddy G’s

    Whoever comes in here, one thing must be changed. The Browns should not be a 3-4 defense. They do not have anything near the type of talent/speed that 3-4 linebackers should have in that scheme. This is one of the biggest flaws of the 'Belichick' guys is that they are trying to instill a 3-4 defense with Cleveland. Again, they need to adapt to the players the browns have, which is the trouble with our defense since Romeo- and now Mangini.

  • Titus Pullo

    Since we're now resorting to cherry-picking unatributed statements from a NY Jets blog to manufacture support for Mangini, maybe a few more recent selections would draw a clearer picture of how Jets fans are pining away for dear departed coach:

    http://www.thejetsblog.com/2009/11/02/news-gm-george-kokinis-fired-in-cleveland/

    http://www.thejetsblog.com/2009/10/01/link-the-worm-turns-already-in-cleveland/

    http://www.thejetsblog.com/2009/09/16/stangini/

    Belichick promoted Mangini to def. coordinator and, when he saw that the ship be sinking, he replaced him. And this is bad how? When people make mistakes they correct them. They don't let them linger. Kind of how when you hire a coach and he's failing you should consider fixing the problem.

    So Mike Lombardi is now the latest person to have an "agenda" with Mangini? How is it that this "family-oriented man" (whatever that means) has so many people conspiring against him? How is it that they are all wrong and he's right?

    Lombardi sticks to one of the basic foundations of journalism by protecting a source and somehow this casts doubt on his argument? No offense, but just because he wouldn't tell you Frownie who his source is doesn't really mean anything. It's not like you're 60 Minutes and you have Mike Wallace outside his door looking for info.

    And, right or wrong, everyone from the Belichick coaching "tree" is going to be evaluated together. You can't dismiss Weiss and Romeo just because they prove that being a coordinator under Belichick is not a predictor of success as a head coach. You have to take the good with the bad.

    McDaniels may turn out to be the Sonny to Belichick's Godfather. Sadly, we went from Clemenza to Fredo here in Cleveland.

  • Cleveland Frowns

    Fact: Anonymous sources are less credible than sources that go on the record.

    Fact: It seems plenty likely that the current Jets would be somewhere around 11-2 if Mangini would have been left to coach this team that he built. I doubt they'd have lost to the Bills, the Jags, or the Raiders, anyway. And probably would have gotten at least one from those Dolphins.

    Really, other than Favre's meltdown at the end of last season, I don't see Mangini teams lose to less talented teams.

    Pullo: Those three posts from the Jets blog don't seem particularly damning. The one about Kokinis seems especially measured, and I do like that one of them simply cuts and pastes from Posnanski's argument that Posnanski himself has recognized my counter to as cogent and respectable.

  • Pittsburgh is for Man Lovers

    I still can't figure out why everybody hates the guy so much. He had 2 winning seasons in 3 years with the Jets. If he came in here and did that, he'd be canonized. There is overwhelming support outside of the media that he isn't a butthead and really, did anyone deep down think we were going to do anything this year? I've seen enough progress to say he definitely deserves one more year. This team put the D in Dysfunction before he arrived and while I don't think we're out of the woods, a philosophy and vision is in place. Michael Lombardi definitely seems like he has an axe to grind with Mangini. If this means I am a Frownie apostle, then so be it. Kool Aid tastes great.

  • Malcolm Mathers

    Frownie,

    I used to view you as a person with a alternative albeit irrational view. Now I look at you like one would look at a Hamas Jihadist; I`m curious how your going to twist and miscontrue every peice of news and evidence.

    Not saying I don`t agree a tiny bit, but lets just say I started reading this blog for analysis and now read it for entertainment.

  • Cleveland Frowns

    So you used to read because you found the posts irrational, and now you read them because you think I'm a freedom fighter?

    I guess I'm glad you read, anyway.

    I'd love to know what you suppose is misconstrued here.

    Is it my failure to acknowledge that Mangini should have done better with a defense that was so decimated by injury? Or that such a fact wasn't relevant to Lombardi's 'analysis'?

    Or is it my failure to acknowledge what a solid argument it is to suggest that Mangini TRICKED Belichick, the Browns (twice), the Jets, the Raiders, and the Dolphins into giving him high level NFL jobs?

    Hard for me to tell from here.

  • Biki

    so this year doesn't seem dysfunctional to you?? mangini divorces his hand picked GM and best friend halfway through the season, also fires another close confidant. the QB controversy and bumbling, and then all the other issues with players starting the first week he was here with Shaun Rogers and most recently with Jamal Lewis. i'm not saying i think these are all valid issues to have against mangini, but to say that there was no dysfunction in this team this year is the understatement of the year.

  • Bryan

    "Fact: It seems plenty likely that the current Jets would be somewhere around 11-2 if Mangini would have been left to coach this team that he built. I doubt they'd have lost to the Bills, the Jags, or the Raiders, anyway. And probably would have gotten at least one from those Dolphins."

    That statement is a lot of things, but it ain't a fact, my friend.

  • Cleveland Frowns

    Really, it is a fact. A fact that Mangini LIKELY would have had this Jets team (his Jets team) at 11-2. Maybe not a very provable fact, but a fact nonetheless.

    Mangini tends no to lose to teams that are worse than his unless he has a gunslinger firing picks at a rate of 3 per game. A fact on which the above fact is based on.

  • Biki

    "mangini tends to not lose to teams that are worse than his"

    REALLY?

    2006 – he lost to 3 teams who had a worse record than his.

    2007 – they lost 12 games, enough said

    2008 – out of their 7 losses, 5 of them were to teams with inferior records and in only 1 of those losses did he throw 3 picks. in fact he only threw 3 picks in a game 2 times all season and they went 1-1 in those games.

  • Cleveland Frowns

    I think I might have been exaggerating about three picks per game, but I would be curious to know what the record was when Favre threw two.

    And the folks at Jetsblog already explained that 2006 "was due to front office mismanagement and a lack of players to fit the 3-4 defense he so desperately needed to make this team a constant contender."

  • Biki

    Jets went 2-3 last year when Brett threw 2 picks..

  • Bryan

    Saying that it is a fact something is likely is like using an anonymous source, only not calling anyone and admitting it.

    I basically agree with you on this Lombardi stuff, but no.

  • Cleveland Frowns

    I'm skeptical of the notion that it can never be a fact that something is likely.

  • Bryan

    Because saying something is likely is a judgment call, no matter if you couch it in "fact" or not. That is, the second I disagree that it's likely the Jets would be 11-2, it ceases to be a fact, no matter what you think. That's not how facts work.

    I maintain that I agree with you on all of this Lombardi, but I find it difficult to believe you don't understand this distinction and you're just being difficult.

  • Cleveland Frowns

    Who invited the semantics police!?

    :O

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