05 Sep 2007
Mangenius. For highly educated, highly intelligent, highly apprenticed NFL coach Eric Mangini, the nickname almost wrote itself. The Jets head coach's appealing nickname was featured on the Sopranos. Likely as a result of that, it is now used by the most prominent NFL writer, Peter King. Here at Football Outsiders, we have been using it since the middle of last season. The name seems to be used with no hint of tongue in cheek after the Jets surprising 10-6 season last year. Consider me skeptical of the anointing of Mangini as a great NFL coach.
Mangini was hired by the Jets at the age of 35 after only one season as the Patriots defensive coordinator. His primary qualifications, I believe, were bearing a resemblance to Bill Belichick and having attended the same college, Wesleyan, as the sweatshirted one. In reality, he has trained for a long time under Belichick who is the best coach of this generation. Sadly, however, Mangini never flashed any of his own coaching talent to warrant a head coaching job. The Patriots had their worst defensive DVOA of the Belichick era the year that Mangini was coordinator (and of course bounced back to a high level the year after Mangini left).
That low ranking was due at least in part to injuries and will be an afterthought if Mangini is a successful head coach. In the only statistic that counts, wins, Mangini got off to a roaring stat coaxing a 10 win season from a team with limited talent. If you go even one step beyond wins, however, the team was extremely lucky. Furthermore, the improvement was largely a function of having a healthy Chad Pennington.
First things first, the Jets were not a good football team. They had an overall DVOA of -4.7% which ranked 19th in the league. They won a grand total of one game against an opposing team with a winning record, or if advanced stats are your thing, one win against a team with an above average DVOA. While they beat the Patriots once, they lost two other times and were outscored 75-50 over the course of three games.
The weak schedule allowed the Jets to go 10-6 despite the negative DVOA. They are only the fourth team in the 11 years of DVOA to win 10 games with a negative DVOA. Atlanta previously won 11 games with a -2.7% DVOA in 2004. Indianapolis won 10 games with a -2.0% DVOA in 2000. Minnesota won 11 games with a -2.5% DVOA in 2000. Two of those three teams have yet to win 10 games again. (The Colts, of course, have won at least 12 games every year since.)
Of course, it is better to win 10 games against a weak schedule than lose 10 games. The problem is that going even deeper gives nothing else to recommend Mangini's work. Six of the seven worst teams according to DVOA changed coaches after the 2005 season. The improvement from woeful to below average was effectively shared by Houston, St. Louis, Buffalo, and New York improving between 14.9% and 17.7%. New Orleans took an amazing leap. The Lions, of course, brought suckiness to a new level by actually getting worse. Mangini's improvement ranked fourth among these six and was hardly revolutionary.
A closer look shows Mangini should get even less credit. Take a look at the changes in DVOA by unit between the last year of Herm Edwards and the first year of Mangini.
Mangini, whose background is in defense, actually oversaw a decline in defense. The offense, meanwhile, improved markedly and basically was the reason the Jets were so improved. Obviously, Mangini as head coach deserves some credit for that improvement. Still, the return to health of Chad Pennington is an even more likely reason.
Starting in 1999, the Jets have had a positive offensive DVOA each season where Pennington has started nine games and a negative offensive DVOA in every other season. The disastrous 2005 offense was led by Brooks Bollinger and Vinny Testaverde. Somehow I doubt the Jets would have had a positive offensive DVOA with those two at the helm last season.
None of this means that Mangini is a bad head coach. My point is merely that it is WAY too soon to start anointing him more than an intriguing coaching prospect. He has accomplished nothing in his career out of the ordinary. He oversaw a poor defense in his one year as a defensive coordinator. As a head coach, his team improved no more than similarly situated teams, and that improvement may largely be attributable to the return to health of his starting quarterback.
We have no way of knowing whether Mangini will succeed any more than Jim Mora, Jr. did. Mora was a young defensive coach who feasted on a weak schedule for 11 wins as a rookie head coach. He never saw the playoffs again. All we still really know is that Mangini is a smart guy who once worked for Bill Belichick. Give Romeo Crennel a call to find out how much success that guarantees.
32 comments, Last at 08 Sep 2007, 7:55pm by glenn212
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