- Associated Press - Thursday, November 11, 2010

CLEVELAND (AP) - When Browns coach Eric Mangini, with a generous dip of chewing tobacco ballooning his lower lip, looks across the field at the New York Jets‘ sideline this Sunday, he’ll see his past _ what was, and what might have been.

Mangini will see players, and friends, who meant a lot to him and still do.

The Jets are no longer Mangini’s team, but they were for three seasons and if not for a late-season collapse in 2008, when quarterback Brett Favre lost his touch, the coach once dubbed “Mangenius” by tabloid headline writers, might still be Gang Green’s boss.

“That was two years ago,” said Browns linebacker David Bowens, who followed his coach to Cleveland. “He’s here now. We’re having a ball.”

Meet the new Mangini.

Criticized for being aloof, controlling and rigid with the Jets (6-2), Mangini has loosened up with the Browns (3-5), who are coming off back-to-back shocking upsets over New Orleans and New England. After coming close to losing his job last season in Cleveland, he had little choice. He changed but not by being anyone other than himself.

During a conference call with New York media members this week, Mangini explained his transformation.

“I know this may sound crazy, but some people actually think I have a good personality and a little funny,” he said. “It’s just letting more of that out. It’s just being who I am. It’s less scripted for me. It’s more that I know what I want to say. I know the points I want to get across, not reading it as much as just feeling it and getting the same point across, but from the heart.”

Part of the change in Mangini can be traced to the influence of Browns president Mike Holmgren, the Super Bowl-winning coach who felt Mangini deserved another year so his system could take deeper root in Cleveland. Just a few weeks ago, that decision seemed to have backfired.

But wins over the Saints and Patriots, has renewed faith in Mangini.

Last week, the focus was on his relationship with his mentor, Patriots coach Bill Belichick. They shared their latest frigid postgame handshake and went their ways with Mangini carrying the satisfaction of a 20-point win over his alienated friend.

Mangini joked afterward that this two-week span of games against his former teams was like his own version of the movie, “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.”

He’s not looking for lost love or revenge, but the Jets present another chance at vindication.

“It’s going to be special and last week was special too,” he said. “With New York, I had my first opportunity to be a head coach. It was a great time for us professionally and personally to have that, but in Rex (Ryan) coming there, things are obviously different.”

The Jets are indeed Rex Ryan’s team, but Mangini’s handprints are all over the squad.

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