1-year reunion: Favre, Mangini meet again

Sep 12, 2009 - 4:01 AM By TOM WITHERS AP Sports Writer

CLEVELAND(AP) -- Their relationship, or so they both say, runs much deeper than the typical player/head coach union. Eric Mangini and Brett Favre, who spent one tumultuous, headline-making season together in New York before a high-profile breakup, have a special bond.

They insist they're close. Still.

"I consider him a friend," Mangini said.

In fact, Mangini has always been a huge Favre fan. Before he coached No. 4 with the Jets, Cleveland's first-year coach promised the iconic quarterback he would name his youngest son after him. Zack Brett Mangini was born last Oct. 10 - Favre's 39th birthday.

"Stranger than fiction," Mangini said.

Freaky, too, that their paths are about to cross again.

On Sunday, Mangini will make his coaching debut for the Browns against Favre, who ended his latest whirlwind summer romance - and second retirement - by signing a two-year contract with the Minnesota Vikings, a decision that stunk worse than limburger to Green Bay's devoted Cheeseheads.

Favre will square off with Mangini, his ex-coach who had the Jets in position to make the AFC playoffs last season before they nose-dived down the stretch with a 1-4 slide that many blamed on Favre's arm injury.

Playing despite a torn biceps tendon, Favre threw nine interceptions in New York's final five games. His ineptitude cost the Jets a postseason berth and led directly to Mangini being fired.

Favre was asked if he feels he cost Mangini his first head coaching job.

"I would surely hope not," said Favre, entering his 19th season as a pro. "I thought Eric did a great job. We went from four wins to nine wins, and at one point people were considering us one of the best teams, if not the best team, in the AFC. That's not too bad. We faltered down the stretch, but he didn't coach any different than he did when we were 8-3.

"I thought a lot of him at the start of the year and I thought a lot of him at the end of the year."

It was those weeks in between that may not have been so pleasant.

As the season progressed, there were reports the headstrong Favre wasn't happy with Mangini's obsessive game-planning. A freewheeler who has always found ways to improvise on the field, Favre didn't find it necessary to spend hours watching video of opponents.

There was also word that Favre didn't care for Mangini's heavy-handed brand of discipline. He fined players for various infractions, made them run laps for mistakes in practice, and subjected them to pop quizzes to make sure they knew their assignments.

Maybe time and a new team has given Favre a different perspective on Mangini. This week, he was effusive in his praise for the coach who went from "Mangenius" when he led the Jets to the playoffs in 2006 to "Canned-gini" when he was shown the door after last season.

Favre believes Mangini will be a success in Cleveland.

"He's good," Favre said. "People can say what they want about personalities, and a player's coach or having fun or being rigid or whatever. His coaching style was different from what I was accustomed to. Yeah, it's different. But it comes down to the players and buying in to what the coach is doing.

"He's extremely sharp and leaves no stone unturned, and he kind of keeps his stamp on things. He wants to breed this concept that we're all in this together, and I think that's a good thing."

Although they're no longer together, Favre and Mangini were still making news this week.

Favre caused a ruckus when he revealed the Jets were aware of the severity of his arm injury late last season, but failed to list him on the injury report. New York general manager Mike Tannenbaum acknowledged he made a mistake by not reporting the injury to Favre, who had offseason surgery.

The Jets could face disciplinary action from the NFL for keeping Favre's injury under wraps. It's unclear if Mangini, who learned the art of secrecy from Bill Belichick, may be reprimanded for his role in the matter.

For every compliment Favre fired in his former coach's direction this week, Mangini returned the flattery in equal doses.

The perception that Favre asked for and received special treatment in New York is untrue, Mangini said.

"He wasn't looking to be anything but part of a team," said Mangini, who inherited a 4-12 team in Cleveland. "That's what makes him a special guy. He likes hanging out with the O-linemen. He likes being with everybody. He's a fun guy to have around, not because he isn't serious, but because of the way that he treats everybody, the way that he approaches things. There was never anything but a real team-first attitude from him."

Browns defensive end Kenyon Coleman, one of seven former Jets brought to Cleveland by Mangini, said Favre was the perfect teammate.

"Awesome," Coleman said. "Obviously, he's Brett Favre, bigger than football. But if you didn't know that about him, you couldn't tell by his demeanor. Just a humble guy."

Mangini has spent the past week scheming for Favre, whom he says still possesses one of the game's elite throwing arms.

"I didn't really get it until I saw it and until I heard it," Mangini said. "You hear the ball fly out of his hand. It's not like a 'poof.' I mean, you hear it. It's not necessarily traditional. It may be across his body, it may be off his back foot. That thing is loaded."

Mangini will get to hear Favre's passes whiz again - from the opposite sideline.

There's irony in Favre and Mangini meeting so soon after they parted, and their presence certainly spices up an otherwise bland matchup. But Favre doesn't find it strange his first game in purple and gold will come against a friend who is now a foe.

"It's still football," he said. "The bottom line is you still have to put the uniform on and play people who are chasing you. All that stuff doesn't matter when you line up and play. I don't think it will be that awkward."

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