For the second straight year, the Patriots will be looking for a new defensive coordinator. Last year, Romeo Crennel departed to become head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Last night, according to a source in the Patriots organization, Eric Mangini informed the team that he was taking the head coaching job of the New York Jets.
Final details of the contract were being worked out, but the Patriots source indicated that Mangini would likely receive a four-year deal that could approach an average of $3 million per season.
Efforts to reach Mangini were unsuccessful.
Mangini, who will turn 35 Thursday, will be the youngest head coach in the NFL. He interviewed with the Jets Sunday night in Providence, but the offer didn't come until the Jets interviewed their eighth and final candidate, Mike Tice, in Hempstead, N.Y., yesterday.
Tice, the former Vikings coach, was the fallback for the Jets.
If the deal is finalized, Mangini will be introduced as the new coach today.
''None of us expected Eric would leave this quickly," said the Patriots source. ''It's been tough around here losing good people."
Mangini's biggest ally with the Jets was his friend and confidant, Mike Tannenbaum, the team's assistant general manager and capologist.
The Jets interviewed six other candidates: former Saints coach Jim Haslett, former Rams interim head coach Joe Vitt, Jets offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, Jets defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson, Giants defensive coordinator Tim Lewis, and Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff.
Mangini intrigued Jets owner Woody Johnson because of his ties to Bill Belichick -- with whom he has worked for much of his career --and his knowledge of the Patriots system.
Johnson is not known for paying head coaches top salaries, but Mangini wasn't going to take a discount because of his age and inexperience.
To replace Mangini on his staff, Belichick might opt for linebackers coach Dean Pees, an experienced college coordinator, or defensive line coach Pepper Johnson. Belichick also could go outside the organization.
Mangini, meanwhile, is expected to name former Patriots linebacker coach Rob Ryan his defensive coordinator. Ryan left the Patriots two years ago to become the Raiders coordinator under Norv Turner, but that didn't work out. Mangini and Ryan have remained close friends.
Mangini also is expected to retain Jets defensive backs coach Corwin Brown, a former Patriot.
The real question is whom he has in mind for offensive coordinator. Heimerdinger is still under contract, though he has a close relationship with Denver's Mike Shanahan and may want to opt out to rejoin his friend after offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak leaves the Broncos to become head coach of the Houston Texans.
Mangini will rejoin a team he worked for from 1997-99 when he was a defensive assistant under Bill Parcells. He's familiar with a lot of the personnel, including Curtis Martin.
Mangini is also very close to Jets cornerback Ty Law, who was the NFL co-leader in interceptions with 10. Law, who flourished under Mangini's tutelage when Mangini was the Patriots defensive backs coach, is due an $11 million option bonus and may not return to the team. Then again, with Mangini aboard, the Jets might change their minds.
The Jets lost starting quarterback Chad Pennington and backup Jay Fiedler early in the season, which sent them crashing toward a 4-12 record. After the season, head coach Herman Edwards parted way with the team to take the Kansas City Chiefs job.