Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Mangini Risks Fury of Scorned Hoodie


Published: September 18, 2007

There is Coach Hoodie, and then there is Coach Hoodwink.

Coach Hoodie is the PatriotsBill Belichick. He answers with growls, is hardwired to be ruthless, and would have lost a congeniality contest to the dearly departed Leona Helmsley. He comes as is: obsessive, cold, and brazen enough to have cheated with his video spy games out in the open of a sideline.

Coach Hoodwink is the Jets’ Eric Mangini (pictured). He replies to questions in his library voice, visits Sesame Street in his downtime and readily reveals his soft, fatherly side. He comes off as duplicitous: paranoid, brutal, and nakedly ambitious enough to have double-crossed the organization that nurtured his career.

Mangini didn’t just flip on Belichick, costing his former mentor a celebrated image that has been reflected in a shelf-full of Lombardi Trophies, as well as a $500,000 fine and a prime draft pick. He did more. He also humiliated the respected Patriots owner and league power player Robert K. Kraft.

That sin has left Mangini toxic to some team executives. After all, would you trust him? Is there anyone — a player, assistant, general manager, owner or mascot — that he wouldn’t betray in a pinch?

Bad karma can be a career killer. It took Ted Nolan years to land his current gig as the coach of the Islanders after he was blackballed, in part because he was labeled a traitor of management during his Sabres days.

False righteousness can boomerang. The track coach Trevor Graham once said he anonymously mailed the syringe that started the Balco circus in an effort to clean up the sport, but a grand jury witness told a different tale: He did it to implicate athletes and coaches that his runners competed against. Graham is awaiting trial on charges that he lied to federal agents about the distribution of performance-enhancing drugs.

Videogate isn’t a criminal issue — it’s more of a punch line by now — but it does cast shadows on the league’s integrity.

There is no doubt Belichick’s video trickery was wrong, hubristic and a below-the-belt maneuver of reckless proportion. Commissioner Roger Goodell — the N.F.L.’s overtaxed moral warden — was right in delivering a punitive blow as a scare tactic to a league full of teams that seek a competitive edge by tapping into their inner MacGyvers. Even Kraft understood Goodell’s logic, even if it took him a while.

“I must tell you I was quite upset and perturbed when I saw the penalty, because I didn’t think that the incident deserved this kind of punishment,” Kraft told NBC on Sunday night. “Over the last couple of days, I’ve been thinking about it and have cooled down. I realized he wasn’t just sending a message to the New England Patriots, he was sending it to all 32 teams.”

Belichick wasn’t alone in this race to the bottom of sports ethics. Mangini was very likely, at one point in his Patriot days, the spy who loved Hoodie.

How will we ever know? Maybe the lens will be the judge. In order to eliminate any competitive advantage Belichick might have tucked away in his film files, the Patriots said yesterday that they would comply with Goodell’s request to provide their videotape archive.

How about popcorn and a movie with Goodell? Imagine what’s on those old tapes. Is that Mangini holding the Cheat Cam in 2004? Is that Mangini wiretapping Bill Parcells’s headset in 2003?

A question to Jets officials yesterday about Mangini’s possible role in New England’s spy ring was greeted with the organization mantra: “It’s a league matter.”

The matter has revealed more about Mangini than Belichick. Already, Mangini was known for attempting to raid the Patriots’ cupboards upon his exit in January 2006. He slithered around Foxborough as if he were pilfering Whoville, trying to lift players, assistants and secretaries.

He wanted everything but the picture hooks on the walls. He also wanted to claim Belichick’s mind as his own intellectual property.

But who knew how far he would go for a gotcha of Belichick? Maybe Mangini’s betrayal was a little something he learned from Belichick’s school of calculated callousness. In a way, the two almost deserve each other. Someday, Belichick and Mangini may look up and realize teams can win — and play in Super Bowls — on the strength of a coach’s humanity, not his ability to humiliate.

Belichick is who he is. Mangini is the one with an identity crisis. He wants to portray himself as the anti-Bill — oozing charm when talking family values — and yet he longs to be Hoodie, to be known as wickedly smart.

Calling out his mentor lacked thought, though. It is not the wisest idea to mess with the N.F.L.’s version of Zeus. The wisdom of Mangini’s decision to flip Bill will play out all season — and maybe beyond. So far, it’s Coach Hoodie, 2-0; and Coach Hoodwink, 0-2.

E-mail: selenasports@nytimes.com


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