- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Who was that guy on the phone?
He was funny and engaging. He was self-deprecating. He was upbeat.
It was Eric Mangini, the same Mangini who made people drowsy with his duller-than-watching-paint-dry news conferences in New York. The same Mangini who was fired by the Jets, in part, because he alienated people in the organization with his dour and secretive nature.
"I know this may sound crazy, but some people actually think I have a good personality and I'm a little funny," the Cleveland Browns' coach told New York-area reporters Wednesday on a conference call. "It's just letting more of that out. It's being who I am ... It's less scripted for me."
Mangini, fired after a 9-7 record in 2008 (the same mark that landed Rex Ryan a contract extension), has lightened up in his second incarnation as a head coach. After surviving his first season in Cleveland -- barely -- Mangini has made a concerted effort to be more personable and less rigid. On Sunday, he will face his first team for the first time.
In a wide-ranging interview, Mangini laughed about still owning a home in New Jersey. He bought a $1 million-plus house in 2008, about 20 minutes from the Jets' facility, and hasn't been able to sell it.
"If you know anyone interested in real estate, I'd love to move on from that," he cracked. "Great location. I thought Rex, after his extension, might buy it. I don't know what he's waiting for."
Mangini splurged because he thought he'd have a long future with the Jets, the team that plucked him from anonymity in 2006. He was an unheralded assistant under Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots and made the playoffs in his first year with the Jets, earning the moniker, "Man-genius."
It was all good, but the Jets finished 4-12 in 2007 and collapsed in 2008 after an 8-3 start. About five hours after the season ended, Mangini was fired with a phone call from GM Mike Tannenbaum, a close friend.
In a candid self-evaluation, Mangini admitted he may have tried to be too much like his mentors, Belichick and Parcells. It wasn't a conscious effort, he claimed, but that was what he knew. As a result, he was Belichick Lite -- bland and calculating. It didn't work, as the players chafed under his no-nonsense approach.
"I don't think it's like trying to be like one person, like Belichick or Parcells, but those were my football fathers," Mangini said. "I watched them in that role for multiple years. [That approach] has won a lot of Super Bowls, and it's been very successful.
"As a 34-year-old young guy going into a new environment, it's hard to look at an extreme body of work -- which has produced results -- and do it totally differently. What you realize is you can take a lot of good stuff, and do it in your style."
Mangini believes he had begun to change his style during his latter days with the Jets, and he's convinced he would've eventually loosened up. But owner Woody Johnson, who poured big money into the team in 2008, lost patience and fired Mangini.
It took him only 11 days before he landed the Browns job. By then, friends and family were imploring him to relax, to let his personality show in public settings.
"Sometimes, when you have spinach in your teeth, your friends will tell you that you have spinach in your teeth," he said. "Other people, who aren't your friends, will laugh at you and point it out to the guy next to him."
After an 0-3 start, Mangini has the Browns (3-5) playing his style of football. They're not flashy, but they're disciplined and tough, having gone 2-1 with rookie quarterback Colt McCoy. The former Texas star probably will start Sunday, although it's not yet official. Seneca Wallace (ankle) returned to practice Wednesday on a limited basis, but all signs point to McCoy.
Mangini claimed he harbors no bitterness toward the Jets.
"None at all, because I've sat across that desk enough times and told guys they couldn't be part of a team anymore," he said. "In this business, at some point, someone is going to sit across the desk and tell you the same thing. Even though you may not agree with the decision, you respect it.
"They gave me my first chance at a very young age to be a head coach," he continued. "I think I'm a better person for it, and a better coach for it."
Eric Mangini has lightened up in his second incarnation as a head coach.