Eric Mangini looked to his right, where team president Mike Holmgren and executive vice president of business operations Bryan Wiedmeier sat, then to his left, where general manager Tom Heckert was seated, and smiled.
He smiled broadly.
"It's pretty great to be up here with these other people," Mangini said, while chuckling, invoking a similar reaction from the jam-packed Dino Lucarelli Media Room at Browns Headquarters on Tuesday as the club introduced its four new – or newly-rehired, in Mangini's case -- movers and shakers.
Indeed, especially when a lot of people thought Mangini would not be there on the podium ever again as Browns head coach. In his first year in 2009, the club started a franchise-worst 1-11, then caught fire and, to end the season, won four in a row for the first time since 1994 to complete a 5-11 record.
It was a bad and good season filled with mixed messages, which is why Holmgren took the better part of three days last week to decide if Mangini should stay or go.
"I was prepared to go the other way when I started," Holmgren admitted afterward. "It would have been easy to just come in and make a change."
That's the way it usually works in the NFL – and probably a lot of other businesses as well – when a new regime comes in and takes over a reclamation project. The man heading up that new faction takes a big broom, sweeps everything out and starts again.
Maybe that broom is left alone if the new chief knows the coach of the team and he throws the man a bone, but although Holmgren (Seattle Seahawks) and Mangini (New York Jets) were coaches together in the league from 2006-08, they really didn't know each other very well at all, and said as much in the weeks leading up to their meeting.
Holmgren is a West Coast – and West Coast offense – guy, and Mangini is an East Coast guy. A lot of miles separated the two.
But Mangini held out hope.
"I felt good about the things we did and I was excited to have the chance to meet with Mike," he said.
The more they talked, the more that gap closed, the more those miles began to disappear.
"We had really honest conversations," Mangini said. "I didn't know Mike, but I knew of him. It was great to be able to sit down and talk football with him."
Mangini didn't have that last season. His friend -- or former friend – he brought in as the general manager, George Kokinis, wasn't that guy. They didn't seem to be on the same wavelength or of the same beliefs. And Kokinis really wasn't that guy even more so when he was unceremoniously fired halfway through the air.
Now Mangini, like it or not, was head coach, GM, head of football operations and chief bottle washer.
Too much to do for any man. Holmgren saw that Mangini had been overwhelmed.
"When I took over as GM (executive vice president of football operations) and coach at Seattle, I knew what I was getting into," Holmgren said. "I had a harder job than Eric did this season."
Mangini didn't sign up for what he got himself into.
"It was a busy – very busy – season, and a long season," he said. "It would have been nice to have had someone in the building that I could have bounced things off of."
Now Mangini does.
"I look forward to being that person for him," Holmgren said.
That is what this has evolved into, quite unexpectedly. There's a veteran, 61-year-offensive-minded guy who has been there, done that, as an NFL head coach taking under his wing a soon-to-be (in seven days, on Jan. 19) 39-year-old, defensive-minded guy who hasn't been there, hasn't done that, as an NFL head coach.
Earlier in his life, in stops with the Browns the first time through in the early 1990s, the Jets (also the first time through) and the New England Patriots, Mangini had mentors in the Bills – Belichick and Parcells – two no-nonsense, in-your-face guys. Now his mentor is Holmgren, who has a softer, more personable way about him.
Let the H guys – Holmgren and Heckert – pick the players, and let Mangini coach the team. That way, everybody has enough to do – but not too much.
His workload lessened, Mangini said he is invigorated and excited.
"To be able to sit down and share ideas with Mike has been a unique situation," he said.
But what was really good was when Holmgren sat down Mangini and his assistants as a group early last Thursday afternoon and told them they would be returning.
"Whatever decision he made I was going to be comfortable with it – but I'm glad he made the decision he did," Mangini said.
He added, "I wouldn't have thought to do it that way, as a group, but afterward I got to thinking and said, ‘You know, that was a pretty good way to do it.' "
To do things as a whole – not just as individuals – who all have the common goal of getting the Browns righted. That's the way these new Browns will operate, Holmgren promises.
Holmgren said Mangini and his coaches threw a big party that day.
"They even invited me, but I couldn't go," Holmgren said.
Too bad. Mangini – and Brad Seely and Brian Daboll and Rob Ryan and all the others – would have made sure Holmgren knew how glad they were for an opportunity to continue, and not have to go through another change and another move in the never-ending vagabond world of NFL coaches.
Indeed, Holmgren has already given them a lot.
"I don't know if I can teach him very much," Mangini said, "but I know I can learn a lot from him."
Mangini might be surprised. It seems as if the old coach is getting a lot out of this, too, for Holmgren gets to rebuild not just a proud old franchise, but also the reputation of a proud young coach who is smart enough not to let pride get in the way of the football education that awaits him this year.
Yeah, a 2-for-1 deal.
That's something the guy who has been there, done that, hasn't done.