SANTA CLARA How does a defense stop Colin Kaepernick and the read-option attack?
It's a question that has sent some upcoming 49ers opponents back to the college ranks this offseason in search of advice and new ideas. It's also one the 49ers are interested in solving before their opponents do.
Which helps explain why they hired Eric Mangini to the nebulous role of "senior offensive consultant" this week. The former New York Jets and Cleveland Browns head coach is known as an expert on defense indeed, his nickname is "Mangenius" and on Tuesday he said his job will be to give San Francisco's offensive coaches a unique perspective so they can stay a step ahead of their defensive foes.
"I think working 14 years on defense and being a head coach, being able to give a head-coaching perspective, that experience allows you to see things in a totally different way than when I was an assistant," Mangini said. "I think even being out of the league for a couple of years and being at ESPN and getting a broader view of what's happening in the league, maybe that can have value as well."
Mangini said he first met coach Jim Harbaugh two years ago when the 49ers spent a week in Youngstown, Ohio.
Mangini, 42, is still close with special-teams coach Brad Seely, Mangini's assistant when he was head coach of the Browns, and Seely invited him to the session. Mangini took a trip to Santa Clara two weeks ago, and he and Harbaugh have been talking about a role since.
"Feel like we added a really talented, knowledgeable coach," Harbaugh said. "You look at how defenses are going to prepare for us, and where we can attack defenses. That's what his role will be helping game planning and overall offensive scheme."
Mangini, who began his new job Monday, said he's been busy learning Harbaugh's West Coast offense, which is different than the systems he's used in his previous NFL seasons. While the lexicon is unfamiliar, many of the faces at 49ers headquarters are not.
In addition to Seely, Mangini worked with general manager Trent Baalke when the latter was a scout with the Jets. He also knows safety Ray Ventrone, kicker Phil Dawson and quarterback Colt McCoy from his time in Cleveland.
Said McCoy: "He's brilliant one of the smartest coaches I've been around. I think he can bring a lot. It's good to see his face. He's been around the game for a long time and has a lot of knowledge."
Mangini said he signed a two-year deal with the 49ers. Both he and Harbaugh said his day-to-day role with the team will evolve over the next few months, and Harbaugh said it's possible that Mangini might end up with some on-field coaching duties.
The 49ers also could have some assistant-coach openings on defense next season. Both defensive backs coach Ed Donatell and defensive-line coach Jim Tomsula are becoming hot names in coaching circles.
Still, Mangini said he still aspires to be a head coach again. His stint with the Jets lasted three seasons. The Browns job lasted just two.
Working with the 49ers, especially with the offensive coaches, will make Mangini a more well-rounded candidate. And if he can figure out how to stop quarterbacks like Kaepernick, he certainly will draw interest.
For now, however, Mangini's not divulging any secrets.
"I would never talk about that," he said with a laugh. "I don't want to stop it. I want him to run as much as he can and do as many great things as he can."
Join The Bee's Matthew Barrows today at 11 a.m. to discuss the 49ers' offseason moves and other news.