Moments after Eric Mangini addressed the New York Jets a final time this morning, the players addressed the departure of their former head coach.
"It's a level of disappointment," said veteran LG Alan Faneca. "You feel like you ended the season bad and then this happens. You feel like you let him down."
In two of Mangini's three seasons, the Jets finished with a winning record. But they stumbled badly down the stretch in '08, cooling off in December as they went from playoff lock to on the outside looking in.
"That's the NFL. The margin for error is so slim. One or two plays and we're right there in the playoffs," said safety Abe Elam.
Woody Johnson has set a high bar for his team and this was a tough move he felt he had to make. The Jets failed to obtain playoff entry for a second consecutive season and that hadn't happened since the NFL approved Johnson's purchase of the franchise on Jan. 18, 2000.
After winning eight of their first 11 contests, the Jets did not meet their own expectations as they lost four of five. There was just no brake to the slide and Johnson and general manager Mike Tannenbaum made a decision to part ways with Mangini late Sunday night.
"We had a disappointing season based on the personnel and the guys we had in here," said wide receiver Laveranues Coles. "We had a great coaching staff also that gave us a lot of opportunities. You can't put all the blame on the head coach or the coaching staff. I think a lot of that blame falls on the locker room and it starts with me first."
There were no celebrations today at the Atlantic Health Training Center in Florham Park, N.J. Johnson and Tannenbaum praised Mangini for his efforts and thanked him for what he has done for the organization. The players took the high road as well, placing blame on themselves for a lack of execution.
"With the way that we performed with everything on the line, I knew we were doing him in," said a visibly dejected Jerricho Cotchery. "It comes down to making plays in December and beating the man across from you."
The Jets just lost too many battles and Mangini lost his job as a result. Cotchery called the dismissal "the toughest thing" he's gone through in his career. He respected Mangini for giving him a chance on the football field and he knew him unlike many did away from it.
"Getting to know him as a family man, as a dad, as a husband to his wife, I saw the kind of guy he is and I'm really glad I got the chance to get to know him," J-Co said. "He's a really good guy. He's taught me a lot about football and life."
Mangini, often a stoic presence on the sideline, had a soft side that most never got the chance to see. He was a complex figure, fiercely guarded and protective of his team and a man who worked tirelessly. He not only wanted to win football games in the worst way, but he gushed about his family and took on a great community responsibility.
Extremely tough on his players in the early stages of '06, the then-35-year-old set a tone of accountability. Even though he would lighten up along the way with shortened practices and even the use of the indoor fieldhouse this season, there will always be the memory of Brett Favre running a penalty lap at a Hofstra training camp practice.
"When he was being tough on us, it wasn't because he wanted to be a butt, but it was because he wanted to get the best out of us and he wanted to win," Coles said. "Him relaying that message and letting the guys know he truly cared about us was really important."
The hope Johnson and Tannenbaum share is that they'll find a replacement who will build off Mangini's foundation. There is talent here and the Jets will find a good mind to lead them in 2009.
"Whoever they bring in, I know we definitely have a lot of good pieces in place as far as personnel to really have some success," said veteran RT Damien Woody. "I trust that Woody and Mike will be thorough in their search and bring in the right guy so they can take advantage of everything that's in place already."
The final game of the Mangini era was a 24-17 loss to Miami at the Meadowlands. The Dolphins claimed the AFC East with the victory as they completed a dramatic turnaround from worst to first. But the Green & White never quit on Mangini.
On their final play from scrimmage and 96 yards away from the end zone, they attempted to pull out a miracle with a bunch of laterals. If you were at practice over the past three years, you know it was a play practiced by Mangini because he prepared his guys for every possible situation.
"We fought all the way until the last play," Coles said. "When a team quits, you don't have that at the end of a ballgame."
The Jets and Eric Mangini parted ways today. They had a successful relationship but perhaps they'll both grow more now that they're apart from each other.
"I have always believed things will work out the way they're supposed to," said team MVP Thomas Jones. "I think Eric will wind up in a place he's supposed to end up and I think the team will go in a direction it's supposed to go. I think everything happens for a reason."