HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) - Eric Mangini was once Bill Belichick's protege, a bright and eager assistant who soaked up every bit of football knowledge he could from the New England coach.
There were late nights of gameplanning, storytelling and developing strategy while preparing for the next opponent, a mentor-student bond that was solidified by winning three Super Bowls together.
All of that ended the day Mangini left Belichick's side to become the coach of the New York Jets. Now, their already tenuous relationship could be damaged beyond repair after a case of video spy games.
Commissioner Roger Goodell found the Patriots guilty Thursday of using videotape to try to steal the Jets' defensive signals during Sunday's game after the team caught a New England employee in the act. Belichick was fined $500,000 and the team docked $250,000 and a first-day draft pick next year if it reaches the playoffs, or second- and third-round picks if it doesn't.
``What I can say is that I respect the commissioner's decision and anything related to the decision, anything associated to the decision, is really a league matter,'' Mangini said Friday, a statement repeated throughout his news conference. ``That's all I can say about it. I hope you can respect that.''
In fact, the coaches' press conferences Friday were nearly mirror images of each other, with both Mangini and Belichick offering no insight.
And that's no surprise. Mangini has been compared to Belichick incessantly since taking the New York job before last season. From the tightlipped responses about injuries and league decisions to the tough, disciplinarian approach to coaching, the similarities are clear.
That's what makes the events of the past week a bit more curious - and juicy. Not to mention the fact that the Patriots were caught while playing the Jets.
So, why would Mangini and the Jets choose now to expose the Patriots?
In a rivalry that has thrived on each franchise trying to one-up the other since Bill Parcells left New England for New York after the 1996 season and Curtis Martin followed him a year later, this might have been a grand display of gamesmanship by Mangini.
When Mangini came to the Jets last year, it was believed Belichick was annoyed that his young assistant would leave after just one year as the Patriots' defensive coordinator following five as New England's defensive backs coach.
There were also rumors that Belichick was angry Mangini was talking to Patriots players and coaches about joining him in New York. That was capped by New England filing a tampering charge against the Jets in connection with New York's trade talks with wide receiver Deion Branch. The Jets were eventually cleared of the charges and Branch ended up in Seattle, but the tension was brewing.
Neither coach would mention the other by name early in the season, and Mangini wouldn't even say ``New England,'' instead referring to it as ``the other place.''
The coaches' handshake following the Patriots' victory in Week 2 was downright frosty, and improved only slightly eight weeks later, when the Jets pulled off an upset at Foxborough.
A surprising thaw in the heated rivalry seemed to follow, with the coaches using first names before they met in the playoffs. After the Patriots' win, the two hugged at midfield - not quite like old times, but warmer than things had been.
Then, in training camp, the Jets started bringing in more former Patriots, including wide receiver Reche Caldwell, safety Ray Ventrone and offensive lineman Mike Elgin. Some said the moves were to get insight into New England's gameplanning, while others thought the Jets were simply trying to get on the Patriots' nerves.
It was all capped by the spying incident. Belichick took full responsibility, but didn't apologize to the Jets in the statement.
``We're moving on,'' he said. ``San Diego.''
Mangini, who brushed off a question earlier in the week if he knew of this practice when he was in New England, has been called a hero by some for his team catching Belichick and preventing other teams from having their game plans sabotaged.
``The way the commissioner is coming in, if you do something wrong, then you are going to be punished,'' Jets safety Kerry Rhodes said. ``This is just another case of that happening and him showing that he is being serious. I think it was justified.''
Others have labeled him a rat, saying Mangini should know better - especially after his cameo on ``The Sopranos'' - than to a blow the whistle on a procedure he might have known about and benefited from when he was in New England.
Besides, some have said, this is something that has been occurring in the NFL for years, and not just by the Patriots.
Washington Redskins assistant Gregg Williams said not only has he been taped giving defensive signals, he's been accidentally mailed the evidence.
``I've seen myself on tape before, when people forget to cut it out of the coaches' copy,'' he said.
Williams also doesn't believe the penalties levied against the Patriots will end this type of activity.
``Nah, that's something that's been going on since Pee-Wee Little League Baseball,'' he said. ``Those kind of things happen.''
It'll be interesting to see what happens between now and Dec. 16, the next time the teams meet, at New England. Just don't expect anyone to talk about spying and videocameras on either side.
``Anything that comes up between teams or is related to the teams is handled by the league,'' Mangini repeated. ``We respect the commissioner's decision. That's really where we are.''
AP Sports Writer Joseph White in Ashburn, Va., contributed to this report.

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