The real reason the 49ers wanted Mangini

Here is my Monday column on Eric Mangini and the 49ers.

Why exactly did the 49ers hire ESPN analyst and former NFL head coach Eric Mangini as an offensive consultant?

Conventional wisdom says Mangini will help 49ers’ offensive coordinator Greg Roman game-plan against opposing defenses. That’s what an offensive consultant is supposed to do, and it couldn’t hurt the 49ers to have a fresh set of eyes on their offensive game plans, which have been good and not-so-good under Roman and Jim Harbaugh.

But Mangini is a defensive coach – he was a defensive assistant for the Jets from 1997 to 1999, a defensive backs coach for the Patriots from 2000 to 2004 and the Patriots’ defensive coordinator in 2005. If the 49ers believed Roman needed help from a consultant, the Niners would have hired an offensive coach to fill that job. Roman has flaws as an offensive coordinator, but he is light years beyond Mangini when it comes to offensive strategy.

Here is the reason the 49ers hired Mangini, and it isn’t for his football acumen. It’s for his two-year stint at ESPN.

Think about what Mangini did at ESPN those years. He had ESPN’s star power to get him return phone calls from any NFL front office or coaching staff, and he was able to avail himself of ESPN’s vast database of analytical statistics and the collective knowledge of Bristol’s NFL Insiders – Chris Mortensen, Herm Edwards, John Clayton and Mike Ditka to name a few.

Located in Mangini’s brain is an encyclopedia of the NFL’s past two seasons, and the 49ers, brilliantly, just bought it. If they could have stuck a zip drive in his ear and directly downloaded his memory bank without hiring him, they would have. Brains don’t work like that.

The 49ers are relatively behind the curve when it comes to knowing what the rest of the league is thinking. Since Harbaugh and his coaching staff took over the 49ers two years ago, they have been an insular group.

They have hired no new coaches, meaning they haven’t been interviewing NFL assistants, either. Interviewing NFL assistants is the go-to way for NFL franchises to cherry-pick information about other NFL franchises. This is known.

It also is known that Al Davis used to interview assistant coaches from different divisions and conferences when he had a coaching vacancy. Sometimes, Davis pretended he had a coaching vacancy just so he could schedule six or seven four-hour interviews with assistants from around the league and pick their brains. You can’t get that type of intimate information from film study, and Davis was a world-class brain picker.

Think of Davis’ four-hour interviews as algebraic leaps in his NFL knowledge. After every interview, he would know a little bit more about one particular team, and what that team thought about the Raiders. By hiring Mangini, who knows all 32 teams, the 49ers have made a geometric quantum leap in NFL knowledge of philosophies and personnel.

The 49ers basically have wire-tapped into the brains of every NFL team. Call it the ultimate information grab.

After Mangini tells the 49ers everything they want to know, he can serve one more function. He can give the 49ers an untainted perspective in the coaches’ meetings.

Harbaugh’s coaching staff is full of “Harbaugh-Guys.” They’ve been coaching under him since Stanford – some have coached with him since his days at the University of San Diego. Greg Roman, Vic Fangio, John Morton, Geep Chryst – they all have been indoctrinated into Harbaugh’s ideologies and theories, and view football the way he does.

Mangini is not a Harbaugh-Guy. He’s a Bill-Belichick-Guy.

Mangini spent nine years coaching under Belichick – three years on the Jets and six years on the Patriots. It couldn’t hurt the 49ers to have an opposing viewpoint with a different background and pedigree to keep their assistant coaches on their toes.

There’s a chance Mangini could work his way up the coaching staff and become an assistant or a coordinator for the 49ers one day. But, he’s more valuable these days as an NFL “spy” than as an NFL coach. It’s likely Mangini leaves the 49ers after this season and signs as a “consultant” with another team that wants to learn all there is to know about the 49ers.

And if the price is right, he’ll tell.


Grant Cohn writes two sports columns per week for the Press Democrat’s website. He also writes the “Inside the 49ers” blog. Follow him on Twitter @grantcohn.

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