BEREA — Quick with no eye contact. A second hand on the elbow and a few words exchanged. The pull-in to a semi-hug that’s popular in the locker room.
The options are seemingly endless for the postgame handshake between Browns coach Eric Mangini and Patriots counterpart Bill Belichick.
The buildup began Wednesday for the midfield meeting Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium between the former friends turned bitter rivals.
“I’m sure it will be firm, and brisk,” Mangini said when asked about the handshake. “You know, textbook.
I’m sure we’ll be talking about it for years to come.
“I haven’t gone through the range of shakes that are available. I might have to seek an outside consultant.”
“Hopefully, I’ll have a smile on my face,” Belichick said.
Much of Mangini’s news conference was spent discussing Belichick, who gave him his coaching start in Cleveland in 1995, rescuing him from the public relations staff. Mangini has always considered Belichick a mentor and reiterated the influence on his career, even though they haven’t spoken in years after the relationship disintegrated.
Of all the things Mangini copied from Belichick, completely ignoring a line of questioning isn’t among them. Belichick didn’t want to revisit the friendship or breakup and was defiant when asked repeatedly about Mangini during a conference call with Cleveland media.
How would you describe your relationship with Mangini today?
“Today we’re both coaching teams that are going to play on Sunday,” said Belichick, who never referred to Mangini by name during the call. “We’re both going to put a lot into this week and try and win on Sunday.”
Many questions along the same lines were followed by similar non-answers. He did say Mangini “did a good job all the way along” as an assistant coach and “is doing a pretty good job” with the Browns.
This is their first meeting since Mangini joined the Browns last season. Belichick was 5-2 against Mangini’s Jets, including a win in Mangini’s lone playoff game.
Belichick facing the Browns will always be noteworthy because of his history here. He was hired as a 38-year-old by Art Modell in 1991 and proceeded to have one of the rockiest tenures in Cleveland coaching history.
He alienated fans and media with his approach, created a firestorm by cutting popular quarterback Bernie Kosar in the middle of the 1993 season, made it to the playoffs in 1994 and was fired after Modell moved the franchise to Baltimore. He only came to be recognized as a genius in New England, where he’s been to four Super Bowls since 2001, winning three.
Mangini worked under Belichick for 10 seasons until becoming head coach of the New York Jets in 2006.
Belichick reportedly didn’t like that Mangini departed for a division rival, especially the one Belichick jilted to coach the Patriots. The friendship completely stopped when Mangini’s Jets turned in the Patriots for illegally videotaping defensive signals in the 2007 opener.
The NFL fined Belichick a record $500,000 and the Patriots $250,000 and took away a first-round draft pick. Mangini said he’s moved past the incident but the relationship hasn’t recovered. He hopes they can become friends again.
“I’d say never say never,” he said. “Obviously, he was very important to me and I respect him, but we’ll see. I think everything takes care of itself over time.”
Mangini has let more of his personality show this season, but he was criticized in his first years as head coach for being too much like Belichick. He still guards the injury report like a state secret and uses many of Belichick’s coaching tools, but the biggest similarity is how they prepare for a game.
They’re studious, detailoriented and cater each game plan to the particular opponent.
“He was a tremendous influence,” said Mangini, who’s 30-42 as a head coach. “Being able to see his work ethic and his complete knowledge of all three phases, the attention to detail, that left a lasting impression. I am really happy that I had that chance because I think he’s arguably one of the best, if not the best, coaches in the league.”
Belichick certainly didn’t have that reputation when the Browns moved and he had to return to being a defensive assistant under Bill Parcells. Mangini had a frontrow seat for the criticism Belichick received in Cleveland.
“I’ve always been impressed at his ability to make a decision that may not be the popular decision but it’s the right decision, and that’s not always easy to do,” Mangini said. “That’s often very difficult to do and a lot of the best CEOs and politicians and leaders can do that. He’s done it time and time again and been successful time and time again.”
Belichick’s run with the Patriots has made him a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame and put him in the discussion of best coaches of all time. He’s 169-98 overall, 132-53 (.714) with New England. He’s the only coach to win three Super Bowls in four years and won a record 10 straight playoff games from 2001-05. He’s 15-5 in the postseason.
“As a head coach you’ve got to find out what’s right for you and do your best to build a team and coach it as well as you can,” Belichick said. “Coaching has a lot to do with the personnel and the assistant coaches and the players that you have around you, and I’ve been very fortunate to be with a lot of good ones on both counts.”
Mangini’s players said his respect for Belichick is obvious and he doesn’t use beating his old boss as extra motivation. But they know the game carries added juice.
“To go against a guy that you looked up to, inspired you, taught you a lot of stuff, I think he would be motivated to go up against him,” safety Abram Elam said.
“He’s motivated, obviously, to beat his mentor,” left tackle Joe Thomas said. “I wonder if they will shake hands.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.