As a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Belichick, where courses include Advanced Lack of Personality and Fundamentals of Being Tight-Lipped, Eric Mangini was among the NFL coaches least likely to have a second act as a TV analyst. But the former Browns and Jets coach has proved to be an intelligent and thoughtful analyst for ESPN, providing fans with digestible insights into coaching and player decisions. And the most surprising development? Mangini actually has a personality. He approaches his analysis with an intellectual bent. He doesn't bluster or yell but rather explains why a play succeeded or failed or why a player was successful or screwed up.
"I thought Eric would be like he was as a coach, but when I spoke with him he said, 'That's not me,'" says Seth Markman, who hired Mangini and oversees ESPN's NFL studio shows. "I think he was trying to be someone else when he was coaching, and that's what the media and fans saw. Off-camera, he's not only smart but funny and engaging. I was hoping that would come across on camera."
Mangini appears weekly on a combination of studio shows including NFL Live, SportsCenter, SportsNation and First Take. He stays at ESPN's Bristol, Conn., headquarters from Sunday through Tuesday, before returning home to his wife, Julie, and three young sons in Cleveland. "I like the ability to explain what happened," Mangini says. "I think a lot of times, instead of saying, This is who you should be mad at, or, This person is at fault, I can say, This is what the decision was, and whether you agree with it is your decision"
After being fired by the Browns in January 2011, Mangini was invited by ESPN to be a guest analyst for the Jets-Patriots divisional playoff game. Along with correctly predicting a New York win, Mangini impressed the network's brass with his candor and intelligence. He has a multiyear deal, but at 41 he's young in the coaching profession, and it's reasonable to assume he'll want to get back on the sideline. "There have been times this year where I thought broadcasting is something I could do long-term, and there have been times I thought, God, I'd love to be coaching right now," Mangini says. "I don't think I have totally answered that question myself."
This week in Richard Deitsch's Media Circus at si.com/mag:
• ESPN's Samantha Steele on balancing journalism and being engaged to an NFL quarterback.
• How NFL pregame shows cover off-field tragedy.