San Francisco 49ers

Difficult to see 49ers’ logic in hiring Eric Mangini as defensive coordinator

Eric Mangini SF 49ers

At the risk of angering the “wait and see” brigade (which hasn’t been all that difficult lately) … I’ve been scratching my head so often after moves made by the 49ers, I’m close to drawing blood. Here’s the latest: Eric Mangini is the team’s new defensive coordinator after signing a three-year deal.

This is a hire that probably will get next to no national pub, either positively or otherwise. “Oh yeah, I remember that guy. ManGENIUS, LOL. He’s got experience as a head coach and defensive coordinator, and should be able to help Jim Tomsula.” The 49ers also hired another guy with head coaching experience to coach their tight ends in Tony Sparano.

Mangini = SYNERGY (apparently)

Mangini seems like an interesting choice after taking a look back at what Trent Baalke said in the 49ers locker room, minutes after Tomsula’s now-infamous press conference.

“I think, when you look at building staff, once again, it’s synergy. You get too many people with too much experience, that all, maybe looking for the next step, that doesn’t always work either,” said Baalke.

Mangini and Sparano both want to become head coaches again. This is undeniable, and perhaps they represent “in case of emergency” choices if Tomsula falters. So maybe Baalke plans on getting some younger and/or less established coaches to fill in some of the staff’s remaining gaps.

Defensive Rankings

What’s weird about this hire is that Mangini’s defenses haven’t been extraordinarily productive. Actually, that’s being kind. The top of this list signifies Mangini’s first and only year as a defensive coordinator (2005), followed by three years as head coach of the Jets and two as Cleveland’s head coach.

Mangini defensive ranks

— Mangini was the Patriots’ defensive backs coach in 2004, and New England finished second in points allowed and ninth in yards allowed. Mangini was named defensive coordinator in 2005, and they dropped to 17th and 26th, respectively, in those categories. Mangini became the Jets’ head coach in 2006, and the Pats’ defense zoomed back toward the top of the rankings (second in points, and sixth in yards).

— In the season before Mangini took the helm in New York, the Jets finished 23rd in points allowed and 12th in yards allowed. In Mangini’s first year, the Jets finished 20th in yards allowed and sixth in points allowed. We’ll call that a slight improvement, since points are more important than yards. After a three-year run with the Jets (which ended with New York finishing 18th in points allowed and 16th in yards), Mangini was replaced by Rex Ryan, and they finished first in both categories.

— In 2008 the Browns finished 16th in points allowed and 26th in yards allowed — not great. In 2009, after Mangini became the team’s head coach, they dropped to 21st in points allowed and 31st in yards allowed. They improved to 13th in points allowed and 22nd in yards allowed the following year, then they improved to 10th in points and fifth in yards the following year (after Mangini was fired).

A couple things to point out:

  • These rankings don’t take personnel changes into account.
  • Mangini’s job as a head coach was to win games, not boost defensive rankings.

One could take the half-full view (Mangini prepared the Patriots, Jets and Browns defenses to soar in the years after he left) or half-empty (defenses were never very strong statistically when Mangini was in a leadership role).

Contributions to the 49ers

In 2013, Mangini served as the 49ers’ “senior offensive consultant.” No one outside the organization had a clear handle on what else he did, but one of his responsibilities was to determine whether Jim Harbaugh should throw his challenge flag to review questionable calls made by officials. The 49ers’ record on replay challenges in 2013: two successful out of eight (25%), which put them in a tie for 25th in the NFL. Six botched challenges put the 49ers in a four-way tie for most lost timeouts in the NFL.

Mangini switched jobs in 2014, this time coaching the tight ends. It was his first time in that particular role, and the 49ers’ tight ends were dreadful, as the best thing to come from that position was Vance McDonald’s run blocking (seriously). Who exactly knows what was going on with Vernon Davis after his weird and not-at-all-lucrative holdout, but 39 receptions, 433 yards and two touchdowns combined from the position in 2014 was embarrassing. Heck, it would’ve been considered weak in 1984!

***

Perhaps it’s a good thing that Mangini is switching back to defense, and he’d probably tell you his offensive experience (and I mean that purely in a “trying to score” sense) with the 49ers makes him a more complete coach. I’m tempted to opine that Mangini’s ability to land job after job is due more to the relationships he’s forged than anything tangible he’s done, but that’s not fair. Maybe he’ll inherit a defense that — under Vic Fangio, who is now the Bears’ DC — finished in the top-10 (usually top-five) in the categories we focused on earlier, and maintain or even build on that excellence.

That brings us to what should be the 49ers’ slogan in 2015.

Move over, Levi’s. You had your turn, and “COME TO PLAY” is played out. Make room for “YOU’LL JUST HAVE TO WAIT AND SEE.” This slogan barely edged out “WE RAISE SUPER BOWL BANNERS” and “WINNING WITH CLASS SINCE JANUARY, 2015.”

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