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A Jet all the way

Mangini's switching sides is latest chapter in rivalry

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Eric Mangini sat behind the L-shaped wooden desk, clutching a paper cup in his right hand. His black short-sleeve jacket served as a reminder of his new allegiances, the letters "J-E-T-S" inscribed over a green oval below his left shoulder.

It all happened so fast.

There was the Patriots' playoff loss in Denver, the long flight home, the interview in New York, then the final word that he'd landed the job. He left his Medfield home at 6:30 in the morning to head to New York, and hasn't been back since.

``It was such a whirlwind," said the 35-year-old Mangini.

Mangini's journey from first-year Patriots defensive coordinator to first-year Jets head coach will draw plenty of attention this week, with his team set to host the Patriots Sunday at Giants Stadium. Mangini spent 10 of his 11 NFL seasons working under Bill Belichick -- with the Browns (1995), Jets (1997-99), and Patriots (2000-2005) -- and now faces him for the first time as a head coach.

It's yet another chapter in a Patriots-Jets rivalry that seems to come up with a new soap-opera twist whenever it appears the drama might be waning.

Mangini said he hasn't spoken with Belichick for months (``we missed each other a couple of times over the summer") and acknowledged that ``this probably won't be the week we'll be chatting too much."

The change, as they often are in coaching, was sudden. One day Mangini was on the Patriots' plane following a playoff loss, and only a few days later he was in direct competition with his former boss.

``Bill has always been very supportive of the things I've done, and has helped me throughout my career," said Mangini, who broke into the NFL coaching fraternity under Belichick in '95 with the Browns, and spent his only year without Belichick in '96 when he followed the Browns to Baltimore. ``I can't thank him enough for the opportunities he's given me.

``There are so many things you can learn from him. He's incredibly smart, he's extremely hard-working, and it doesn't matter how much success he's had, he approaches things the same way week in and week out. His focus is amazing."

But their relationship has taken on a new form, with Mangini noting, ``It's always difficult when you go within the division."

The sides already have been at odds regarding Deion Branch. The Jets made the receiver an offer, but the Patriots didn't negotiate terms of a trade. In turn, the Patriots filed tampering charges against the Jets, claiming they provided Branch and his representatives knowledge of the trade talks, thus compromising their negotiating position. (Branch subsequently was traded to the Seahawks.)

Echoing the words of the man he used to work for, Mangini said the Jets' pursuit of Branch was simply an effort to improve his team. And in many ways, Mangini is attempting to build a team similar to the one he left. He has former Patriots Matt Chatham, Tim Dwight, and Bobby Hamilton to help bring that blueprint to life, while the coaching staff includes former Patriots players Corwin Brown (defensive backs), Bryan Cox (assistant defensive line), Sam Gash (assistant running backs/special teams), and Rick Lyle (assistant strength and conditioning).

And that doesn't include the team's director of physical development, Markus Paul, a former assistant under Patriots strength coach Mike Woicik.

``It's amazing how much things are the same," said Chatham, a linebacker who played with the Patriots from 2000-05. ``You do all the same things, but it's just a green tent rather than a red-and-blue one. It's silly to say you want to be the Patriots, but you want to be part of that formula and have a similar product. We're trying to win that same way -- being smart, tough, and physical."

As for Mangini, Chatham said, ``His M.O. from the Patriots was as a very detail-oriented coach, someone who taught technique and would roll up his sleeves and teach the intricacies of what we're doing. He's been very much that as a head coach. He's still a teacher at heart.

In addition to the on-field product, Mangini has taken many of Belichick's off-field staples with him to New York.

In the days leading up to the Jets' season opener at Tennessee last Sunday, Mangini showed his team videotape of last year's lightweight boxing title match between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo, a bout in which Corrales rebounded to beat Castillo after being knocked down twice in the 10th round. Then, when the Jets blew a 16-0 lead and found themselves tied at 16 in the fourth quarter against the Titans, Mangini told his players to remember what they had seen, and the Jets handed Mangini his first career win, a 23-16 decision.

Mangini also had former world class decathlete Dan O'Brien speak to the Jets, with the team later adopting O'Brien's ``five-second rule."

``If you do well or you do bad, you have five seconds to celebrate, or five seconds to forget it," said Mangini. ``Life moves on, and if you focus on the task at hand, everything takes care of itself."

In addition to Belichick, Mangini said, ``There is a long list of guys I've learned from," and it's a who's-who of coaches that includes Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, Fresno State's Pat Hill, Virginia's Al Groh, Notre Dame's Charlie Weis, the Browns' Romeo Crennel, former Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda, and current Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.

Of his time with the Patriots, Mangini said it was ``such a positive experience with an outstanding group of people who are organizationally exceptional -- from the Krafts, to Scott [Pioli] and the front office, to Bill, and the players that were there."

New England was also where Mangini was married, and where he and wife Julie had their first child, Jake. Shortly after Mangini was hired by the Jets, the couple had their second child, Luke.

Summing up the week ahead, Mangini sounded a lot like his former boss. When asked how he would approach Sunday's game against Belichick, Mangini reminded the questioner that neither of them would be suiting up.

``Bill and I both went to Wesleyan," he said. ``There is not very good football there."

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