SANTA CLARA -- Eric Mangini wants to be a head coach again.
That was treated as news by national outlets this week, but it shouldn't be a surprise. It's certainly not to the 49ers, who hired Mangini on Monday and gave him the recently invented title of "senior offensive consultant."
Rather than deterring Jim Harbaugh, Mangini's career goals make him desirable to the 49ers' coach. In fact, Harbaugh has said ambition is a prerequisite for a job on his staff. He's just as interested in an assistant who aspires to plateau as a position coach as he is with a quarterback who wants to be a backup.
Mangini is only 42. He was 34 and the youngest head coach in the league when the Jets hired him in 2006. He lasted three seasons in New York and two as Cleveland's coach before the Browns fired him 16 days before his 40th birthday. He's younger than all but three current NFL coaches - Oakland's Dennis Allen (40), San Diego's Mike McCoy (41) and Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin (41).
Teams usually bring in consultants when there's trouble. The last consultant the 49ers hired, for example, was Ted Tollner, who came in midway through the 2007 season to try to pump life into an astonishingly dull offense that would go down as the franchise's worst ever.
Harbaugh doesn't have that problem. In fact, he doesn't seem to have any issues regarding his coaching staff. Despite San Francisco having gone deep into the playoffs in Harbaugh's first two seasons, the 49ers have lost exactly two low-level assistants -- Bobby Engram and Michael Christianson - over that span.
Harbaugh went after Mangini because he wanted another set of eyes on the staff and because Mangini reputedly is a brilliant strategist.
Indeed, the move fits Harbaugh's "Team of Rivals" philosophy. He wants as many sharp minds and strong opinions as possible on his team, egos be damned.
Mangini's talent wasn't being utilized by an NFL team. So Harbaugh snatched him up and created a role for him.
It was a smart hire.
But it may have been a better move by Mangini, whose expertise to this point has been entirely on defense.
By joining the 49ers, he exposes himself to two of the hottest offensive minds in the game, those of Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
And Mangini gets an up-close look at the pistol formation and read-option attack that are all the rage in the NFL.
More significantly, Mangini hitches himself -- again - to a rising star.
During the first half of his career, he was mentored by Bill Belichick, who first noticed Mangini when the latter was a 23-year-old ballboy with the Browns. That master-apprentice connection lasted 11 seasons, and Mangini rose to national prominence as Belichick's defensive coordinator in New England in 2005.
The relationship became frosty in 2007. That tends to happen when you bust your longtime mentor, as Mangini did while with the Jets, in the infamous SpyGate affair.
Returning to New England under Belichick, the longest tenured and arguably the best coach in the league, is no longer an option for Mangini. That door is bolted shut. But by joining the 49ers, he attaches himself to Harbaugh and the team most poised to be Patriots-like in the coming decade.
The 49ers' rising tide promises to lift all ships and raise all profiles, including Mangini's.
He's an excellent strategist. Joining the 49ers is a case in point.