FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -Eric Mangini angered Bill Belichick after he left his mentor to become head coach of the New York Jets.
Josh McDaniels, the Patriots offensive coordinator, may be the coach's next young protege to leave for a top job in the NFL. But he's not quite ready to go.
``If your name is ever thrown around for something like that, it's flattering,'' he said Friday. ``I think, in the middle of the season, it's nothing that you can really concern yourself with.''
McDaniels is just 31 years old and in his second year as mastermind of perhaps the most productive offense in NFL history. Mangini left as defensive coordinator two days before his 35th birthday in January 2006.
les in the first game this season.
There appeared to be a thaw, though, after the Patriots beat the Jets 20-10. Belichick smiled broadly afterward as he shook Mangini's hand and said, ``Good game, Eric. Good game. Awesome.''
McDaniels has less experience as a coach than Mangini.
As recently as 2003, he was just a coaching assistant with New England, working with defensive backs and breaking down film. He spent the next two years as quarterbacks coach, working with Tom Brady, who is just 15 months younger, and became offensive coordinator last season.
``Josh has done a great job of understanding the strengths of our team and of our offense and the weaknesses of our team,'' Brady said.
Is he ready to make the jump to head coach?
``I have no idea how close I am to it,'' McDaniels said. ``As a coach or as a player, you're always trying to strive to do the best thing that you can now for your team and if that takes you to another step and you feel that's the right thing to do at the time, then you make that decision when it comes up.
``I haven't really given it much thought,'' he said. ``If it's in the cards, great. And, if it's not, then I'm sure I could live without it.''
With three Super Bowl titles in the last six years, the Patriots have found their assistants to be in demand. After ending the 2004 season with their latest championship, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis became head coach of Notre Dame and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel took over the Cleveland Browns.
Mangini spent one year as Crennel's successor before he also moved up.
Belichick and Mangini had another link. Both attended Wesleyan University. McDaniels was a wide receiver at John Carroll, which has an even more illustrious alumnus in former Miami coach Don Shula. The Patriots will try to improve to 15-0 against the Dolphins on Sunday.
If the Patriots score 34 points, they'll break the NFL single-season record of 556 set in 1998 by the Minnesota Vikings. New England beat Miami 49-28 earlier this season.
``I think the (defensive) scheme, in general, is pretty consistent with what we faced,'' McDaniels said. ``They've added a few things here and there over the course of the season that we obviously didn't prepare for the first game, that we've done a lot of work on this time around because we need to be ready for it.''
The Patriots finish the regular season at the New York Giants the following Saturday. McDaniels said he hasn't started preparing for possible playoff opponents.
``Just focused on Miami,'' he said.
And not on becoming a head coach. Not yet anyway.
He knows he has plenty to learn and an excellent teacher in Belichick.
``He's a great mentor for any young coach,'' McDaniels said. ``There's no better person for me to learn from. ... I think I focus on the job I'm doing here and I believe that my career, whatever path it's going take, it will take.''

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