EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) – For a decade, Eric Mangini has learned the coaching game from Bill Belichick. He couldn’t have chosen a better mentor.

So when Mangini faces Belichick for the first time as a head coach Sunday, there will be a warm reunion prior to the New England Patriots’ kickoff against the New York Jets.

Uh, maybe not.

Mangini says he can’t remember when he last spoke with Belichick. And the Patriots filed a tampering complaint this week with the NFL over the Jets’ behavior in pursuing a trade for Deion Branch, whom New England sent to Seattle instead.

That only added to a history of animosity between the franchises that seemed to peak when Bill Parcells left Foxborough to become coach of the Jets in 1997, then Belichick took the opposite route in 2000.

“I wouldn’t call it odd,” Mangini said of the lack of contact with Belichick. “There were points my mom was mad at me because I had not returned a call. And (wife) Julie, there’s some nights where she’s a little frustrated because I don’t get to the phone quite early enough. I just think that sometimes that happens where you’re extremely busy and you’re trying to get the things done that you need to get done.

“I don’t necessarily put any guidelines on friendships.”

And the tampering issue, which adds some spice to the matchup of 1-0 teams?

“It’s just business. We’re always going to do the things that are best for our organization,” Mangini said. “That’s the way that (general manager) Mike Tannenbaum and I view it, and it’s really, you know, part of operating in the NFL. Each team is going to try to do the things that will make them the most successful.”

Under Belichick, the Patriots not only have been quite successful against the rest of the league (three Super Bowl titles in five years), but they have won six in a row and eight of the last nine vs. the Jets. Many of those victories came with Mangini as one of Belichick’s lieutenants.

Now, Mangini is sleeping with the enemy.

So Belichick barely acknowledges Mangini’s coaching acumen – or his past role with the Patriots.

“I see coaches as coaches. I ask them to do things in our organization that help us win,” he said. “I’m more concerned about us doing well. Really, I don’t sit around the league cheering for everybody else. I cheer for the Patriots. That’s my team. I want to see us do well and I want to do everything I can to help us do well, and that’s really where my focus is. Everybody else is on their own, just like I’m sure we’re on our own.”

Not much warmth there. How about the other Patriots? How do they feel?

“I remember Eric and I talking about it,” Tom Brady said of the Jets’ offer to Mangini back in January. “He was very excited about the opportunity. He put himself in position for a while for a team to come calling. He’s a great coach and it’s obvious why any team would want him as the leader of the franchise.”

And this from cornerback Ellis Hobbs:

“When he did get the job I knew he could do it just from the qualities that he showed here. Just that calmness about him and nothing really pressures him. He has a nice, quiet command about him. People respect him. That’s the No. 1 thing that you want to be as a head coach. If you’ve got no respect among the organization, you’re not going to win too many ballgames.”

The winner of this ballgame will have a leg up in the division, and both have difficult stretches coming up. Obviously, given their record against New England this decade, the Jets rarely have enjoyed success in head-to-head meetings.

But the Mangini factor adds some intrigue – and perhaps a bit of help for the Jets, who at the very least must know a little more about the Patriots than before their new coach arrived.

“I think it’s pretty funny,” Mangini said of the matchup with Belichick. “I’ve seen us both play football and it’s not pretty. Nobody wants to watch that. Those fans are too good of a group to watch that matchup.

“It’s Patriots vs. Jets and that’s the important thing. It’s a division game. For Bill and I there won’t be any passes thrown or balls caught or tackles made; it’s the team.

“None of that matters,” Mangini insisted about recent meetings between the teams. “What matters is how well we prepare this week, how well we practice and how well we execute, and understanding our opponent, and that’s what’s important. Everything else is really just history.”

Ah, but only fools ignore history and don’t learn from it, right?

AP-ES-09-14-06 1447EDT


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.