- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2007

The NFL stretches from Miami to Seattle, but the league’s coaching ranks truly are a small world.

Washington Redskins Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs is the only head coach who isn’t one or two degrees of separation from the Dallas Cowboys’ Bill Parcells, the San Diego Chargers’ Marty Schottenheimer or San Francisco 49ers’ Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh.

Just look at the eight coaches whose teams will be on the field in this weekend’s playoffs.

Eric Mangini of the New York Jets got his start in the NFL as a ballboy for Bill Belichick, a Parcells protege, when Belichick coached the Cleveland Browns. Mangini later worked for Belichick again on the New England Patriots.

The relationship is frosty now, at least on the part of Belichick. He tried to avoid a postgame handshake with Mangini after the Jets upset the Patriots Nov. 12.

Mangini, however, has remained respectful.

“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what Bill has done for me and my family, how kind he’s been throughout our relationship and the opportunity that he’s given me,” said Mangini, who was a 24-year-old with only semipro coaching experience in Australia when Belichick made him an assistant in 1995. “I care about him deeply, and I respect him as a coach and as a person.”

Kansas City Chiefs coach Herman Edwards got his first coaching job by succeeding Tony Dungy as the defensive backs coach for that franchise in 1992, when Schottenheimer was head coach. Dungy then hired Edwards as his assistant head coach when he took over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996.

The second playoff duel between those coaches comes tomorrow in Indianapolis, where the Chiefs meet the Colts in a first-round matchup. The coaches also met in the 2002 playoffs, when Edwards was with the New York Jets.

“Tony has done a great job of taking teams to the playoffs,” Edwards said. “Maybe I learned that mentality from Tony once I went to [the Jets]. We had a little bit of a run there. We want to start that here.”

The NFC matchups pit the Philadelphia Eagles of coach Andy Reid against Tom Coughlin and the New York Giants and Mike Holmgren’s Seattle Seahawks against Parcells and the Cowboys.

Too bad the matchups couldn’t be the other way around: Parcells is a mentor to Coughlin, and Reid is a disciple of Holmgren — and both of those men trace their coaching roots back to Walsh.

Record-breaker Ryans — Houston Texans linebacker DeMeco Ryans made 156 tackles this season, the most by a rookie in the last 20 years. Ryans also led the league with 126 solo stops, and he tied the Packers’ A.J. Hawk with a rookie linebacker-high 31/2 sacks.

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