On September 10, 2007, it became clear to New York Jets then-head coach Eric Mangini that the New England Patriots, the team that once employed him as their defensive backs coach, was trying a little too hard to figure out what the Jets were doing -- in fact someone from the New England organization was videotaping the Jets' signals in an attempt to decipher them. Mangini's corresponding report to NFL Security led to the Spygate scandal, and the public realization that depending on who you wanted to believe, Pats head coach Bill Belichick had employed illegal videotaping of his opponents that may have gone back to the year 2000. The league fined Belichick half a million dollars, dinged the organization for $250,000 more, and stripped the Pats of their 2008 first-round pick. The league also allegedly destroyed the tapes, which got some unwanted attention from Congress.
That's all public knowledge, and it came up again when Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh told a local radio station on Tuesday morning that the Patriots' three Super Bowl titles in the 2000s were stained and had an asterisk next to them. Not that he was suggesting this was the way it should be; simply that the perception is real. Harbaugh later retracted the statement, despite the fact that pretty much anyone who doesn't have a Patriots logo tattooed on some part of his or her anatomy would probably agree to some extent.
Mangini, who was fired by the Cleveland Browns in January 2011 after two straight 5-11 seasons and did an estimable job of game analysis for ESPN through the 2011 season, now says that in the wake of Harbaugh's comments, and former Patriots linebacker/ESPN colleague Tedy Bruschi's reaction to them, he wishes he'd never turned his old boss in. This is what he said on ESPN's Tuesday "NFL Live" show, with Bruschi (a Patriots defender on a no-matter-what basis, as one might expect) in attendance:
"If there is a decision I could take back it's easily that decision. Never in a million years would I have wanted it to go this way. It's disappointing whenever it comes up ... It's regret, it's disappointment, it's all of those things. Because I know what it took to win those Super Bowls and I have so much respect for the people that were involved there. I'm disappointed that this is what it's translated into."
At the time, Mangini said, he wasn't trying to get after Belichick, whom he's known since the two men worked together in Cleveland in the early 1990s.
"Never in a million years did I expect it to play out like this. This is one of those situations where I didn't want them to do the things they were doing. I didn't think it was any kind of significant advantage, but I wasn't going to give them the convenience of doing it in our stadium, and I wanted to shut it down. But there was no intent to get the league involved. There was no intent to have the landslide that it has become."
It must have been uncomfortable for Mangini to be sitting with Bruschi, who also teed off on Harbaugh for stating the obvious.
"To have guys like Tedy have to defend the championships that we earned in New England, and to have anything taken away from the Kraft family, from Coach Belichick, and the players and coaches that have meant so much to me, never in a million years did I think it was going to translate into what it was going to translate into. It doesn't tarnish what we achieved there. It doesn't tarnish what they achieved after the fact. I think when you look at the history of success that they had after that incident, it's pretty obvious that it didn't play any type of significant role in the victories we had or the success that we had."
To be honest, I'm unsure about Mangini's real motivations here. He has to know that what he did, right or wrong, probably put him on the "Do Not Hire" list of some NFL teams, and after a year doing the ESPN thing, he might be getting the coaching itch again. This kind of mea culpa can only help him in that endeavor, whether be believes it or not.