This is the transcript of Eric Mangini’s Thursday press conference, courtesy of the 49ers’ P.R. department.
“We’re in our normal progression. So, third down today and some red zone work. We’re moving forward.”
Are you worried about offensive coordinator Geep Chryst coaching your players to play tight end this week?
“I’d be happy to allow any of the guys to do that if they could, if he felt like it would help. I’m a big believer in crossover guys. We had different ones in New York, different ones in New England like that. They can be really effective in some of those positions, but he hasn’t necessarily approached me about it yet.”
Is it usually a D-End, outside linebacker that may have done that in the past, that there’s some crossover there?
“When I was in New England I had [former New England Patriots WR] Troy Brown, who played in the slot. Troy had been a receiver I think it was for 12 years. We wanted to have some depth for the game day roster, so we started working Troy inside at the star position. He played great. There’s a guy that towards the end of his career, we asked him to play two roles and he did an amazing job. I’m trying to think who else, tight end we had. [Former New England Patriots LB] Mike Vrabel, outside linebacker, caught a bunch of touchdowns for us in New England. I know they’re doing some of that in Houston now with [Houston Texans DE] J.J. Watt. But, yeah I’m open to it.”
Since that Seattle game, we talked a lot about the intensity and traveling and the defense played well against Arizona and traveled and played pretty well in Chicago. DT Tony Jerod-Eddie said you had mentioned that specifically. Are you seeing your team respond to that message?
“Well, part of the message wasn’t just, ‘Hey, we need to play better.’ A big part of it was each person needs to asses and evaluate what they’re doing in those weeks of preparation when we go on the road and whatever it was, try something different and assess. Be honest with yourself. How is your pattern when we travel any different than it is on the road? And, talked to them a lot about keeping track of that. Mentioned it again today. Look back at last week. What did you do differently? What can you take away from that? And, that’s a big thing, especially for young guys, is not just playing football, but understanding the whole week, the difference between on the road and at home, how long the season is. All that stuff they have to learn and then they have to be able to self-assess and grow from it.”
Are there any examples that you can point to specifically, things that players have done differently during the week?
“What I’m another big believer of is not pressing anybody on that, because when you start probing too deep then guys don’t want to necessarily be as honest and open to try new things. It’s a very personal deal from my perspective.”
Speaking of personal deals, will it be personal for you going back to Cleveland?
“I love Cleveland. My family is actually there. They flew out yesterday so the kids could spend a couple days with friends of theirs that are there. I’ve lived on the west side. I’ve lived on the east side. It gets a bad-rap. I thought it was a great, great place to live, great place to raise a family. I loved the people that we met there. And you meet amazing people wherever you go and you have great experiences wherever you go, but my biggest disappointment was not being able to produce the winner that they deserve there. I have nothing but great things from my time.”
After that experience, you stepped away from coaching. Why, I guess to be a T.V. star, right?
“Look at how well it’s worked. Everybody shows up, they can’t wait to be here. I do standup on Thursday nights.”
Were you just looking for the right opportunity to get back into coaching?
“No, it was one of those things where at that point I’d been in the league or in pro football I think, 18 years, something along those lines. It was an opportunity for me to do something different and to try something different. My kids were young, they are young, so I wanted to be able to spend some time with them. And then even when [former 49ers and current University of Michigan head football coach] Jim [Harbaugh] called me to come here, which was out of the blue, it was another one of those things where, ‘OK, I haven’t worked on offense since the start of my career,’ another chance for me to get out of my comfort zone, another chance for me to grow. So, I wanted to do that. And then, when he approached me about the tight ends job it was really the same decision making is ‘OK, let me experience some other things that I haven’t done to try to see what that’s like and to grow, to grow as a person, to grow as a coach.”
At this point, it seems like the last couple of games in particular, your defense is playing pretty well. Do you think that your message is getting through to the guys now at this point in the season?
“Well, I think what you see is young guys, that they hit sort of the midpoint of the season and there should be jumps. There should be implemental jumps with those guys because they are no longer rookies. Familiarity with the system, familiarity with the players, familiarity with the strengths and weaknesses, all that stuff. There is a learning curve for everybody involved. But, I really do believe that at a lot of points during the season we’ve played really good defense and there’s been some stuff that we had to get corrected. There’s been some times where we obviously didn’t match the intensity that we should have of our opponent. But, to be able to point to one thing, I couldn’t say it’s specifically that, but I do think the growth especially of younger players helps a lot with that. And we’ve got a lot of, there’s a lot of new faces. There was a rep yesterday in practice where I looked out and I think there were two guys that were on the team last year that were taking that practice rep. And then you look at the coaching staff and it’s the same thing. It’s a lot of new people coming together in a situation where everybody has to see things as one.”
Going back to Cleveland, K Phil Dawson is obviously doing that too. There seems to be a real affinity between that fan base and Phil, which is somewhat rare between a kicker and a fan base. Obviously he was there like 30 years, but from your perspective, what was that about, just Phil’s relationship with the ‘Dawg Pound’ and all that?
“Well, I probably contributed a little bit because we had to kick so many field goals when I was there. As you get to know Phil, Phil is a, what a great guy. What a great perspective that he has. He’s seen it all. He’s been through so many different situations, but he is as steady as you can get and in a place that hasn’t had a lot of continuity, there’s a person that’s been there and experienced it. And he’s fiercely loyal to the team that he’s on and the people that he works with. I don’t know what Phil’s going to do after this. He’ll probably kick for a little while longer, but he could do whatever he wants and be incredibly successful.”
What stood out to you about LB Gerald Hodges and his time filling in? He seems like a real high energy guy. Is that something that’s stood out to you?
“He is a high energy guy.”
Do you think that’s rubbed off on the rest of the defense?
“It pops about two minutes after you meet him. It’s sort of like, ‘Hey, it’s nice to meet you,’ and then the volume gets turned up. It’s pretty intense. It’s great. It’s great to have guys like that. He approaches everything the same way. And I’ve talked about [LB] Eli [Harold] that way with his motor. Gerald is a little more vocal with his energy, which is a good thing often as well.”
He transitioned from a 4-3 now to a 3-4. It seems like he’s handled it pretty well. What’s you assessment of that transition for him?
“Yeah, he has handled it well and there are a lot of elements of what we do that have 4-3 components, which was good for him because he had that carryover of things he could relate to. He’s worked really well. And I give [LB] NaVorro [Bowman] and [LB] Mike Wilhoite a lot of credit. They embraced him. They brought him into the team. Situations like that can sometimes be not as open as those two guys have been and Gerald has been open to them as well. So, that’s helped push the learning forward. [Linebackers coach] Clancy [Pendergast] has done a really good job with him also.”