BEREA, Ohio -- Eric Mangini is starting over where he started out.
The 37-year-old Mangini signed a four-year deal with the Browns, who are rebuilding once again following a 4-12 season that ended with the firings of coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Phil Savage.
Browns owner Randy Lerner hasn't decided on a GM yet, but the frontrunner is George Kokinis, Baltimore's director of player personnel and a longtime friend of Mangini's.
Mangini began shagging balls with the Browns in 1994 under then-coach Bill Belichick, who liked the kid's work ethic and quickly promoted him to a public relations assistant before adding him to the scouting department. Now Mangini's taking over the job from Crennel, one of his best friends in the game who may be on his staff in Cleveland.
"It is really special to be back here, where I got my first opportunity," said Mangini, who opened his news conference by joking that he should be getting coffee or food for the media. "I have a very distinct vision of what I want to build. Having talented players with character, players selflessly driving toward the same goal. I'm going to be vigilant about that."
When he arrived in New York, Mangini inherited a 4-12 team and led them to 10 wins in his first season, prompting the tabloids to dub him "Mangenius." By the end of his run in the NFL's largest market, he was being called moody, dour and controlling -- like Belichick.
Mangini went 23-25 with one playoff loss in three seasons with the Jets, who started 8-3 this season but lost four of their last five games and missed the playoffs.
He took the fall after the Jets finished a disastrous stretch where they lost to Denver, San Francisco and Seattle -- three non-playoff teams -- in the final month behind 39-year-old quarterback Brett Favre's injured arm and questionable play calling by the coach.
Mangini acknowledged mistakes were made with the Jets, but said he enjoyed his time there.
"You learn so much from your experiences," he said. "I tell players, win or lose, be honest. I ask myself that all the time. Nobody stops improving. I learned so many things over three years. There's no Dummies Guide to Head Coaching."
Mangini didn't point any fingers and said he had no problem with the Jets' acquistion of Favre, a trade that pushed starter Chad Pennington out the door.
"I really enjoyed my time with Brett," he said. "He's a Hall of Fame quarterback and came into a challenging situation. I respected how important it was for him to be one of the guys and fit into the team. I liked him as a person."
Mangini and Crennel both lost their jobs on Dec. 29, although Lerner was not aware of Mangini's dismissal when he met with the media to discuss Crennel's firing.
Rejected a few days earlier by his first choice, former Steelers coach Bill Cowher, Lerner's eyes lit up when he learned Mangini was available. The owner wasted no time in going after him and interviewed Mangini the following night in the New York area.
"It was a long week," Mangini said.
Despite the Jets' meltdown, Lerner is enamored with Mangini's potential and believes he will bring discipline to the underachieving Browns, whose disastrous season was marked by injuries, ugly losses and a 1-7 home record. Lerner believes Mangini, who will be 38 on Jan. 19, learned from his mistakes in New York.
"I am really happy for Coach Mangini," Washington said in the e-mail. "I learned so much from him while he had his tenure with the Jets. His hardworking, selfless and competitive approach really helped me. ... The Browns got themselves a really good coach."
Mangini has not hired any assistants and plans to meet with the coaches currently under contract with the Browns before making any changes. He has spoken with Crennel about staying with the team, but did not get into specifics about a possible role.
Mangini was one of four candidates interviewed by Lerner, but the only one with NFL head coaching experience -- a prerequisite for the Browns owner, who also spoke with New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Browns defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.
Lerner, who did not appear at the press conference, fired Savage after a 31-0 loss at Pittsburgh in the season finale. He then interviewed Scott Pioli, New England's director of player personnel, and had hoped to pair him with Mangini in Cleveland. The two began their pro careers together with the Browns, but their relationship may have been strained when Mangini reported the Patriots to the NFL for videotaping New York's defensive signals during a game.
During his interview, Mangini mentioned Kokinis as his preference as GM. Kokinis is expected to interview with Lerner on Sunday. The Browns had also scheduled an interview with Philadelphia GM Tom Heckert.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press