Suddenly, the Cleveland Browns
This wasn’t supposed to happen.
The National Football League, thinking so little of the Cleveland Browns heading into the 2010 season, scheduled them for 16 consecutive games at 1 p.m. EST.
Games cloistered away on local TV affiliates in Ohio factory towns on the cusp of another winter. Towns, today, seeing its young become Steelers fans — making the simple choice between a Teflon, Super Bowl-winning house of power dressed to kill; and a Browns team endlessly in search of itself.
In 2009, when Eric Mangini preached “process” in press conferences sandwiched between tumbling losses to every team with a nickname, it played like further double-speak from a coach angling to collect a few more paychecks before the hammer dropped.
He asked Cleveland to patiently wait as he crafted a team of “football players” — using the lessons he learned in New England under Bill Belichick and which he employed, to some extent, with the New York Jets.
Browns fans, audience to a laundry list of traveling salesmen promising a “culture change,” were numb to Mangini’s vision. In the eyes of most, he was unconvincing in the role and asking for trust before he’d earned it. Brutalized in the press, he refused to lash out, but maintained his composure through a 1-11 start.
Working with a bottom-of-the-barrel roster, Mangini was defined by the mess he inherited from Romeo Crennel and Phil Savage.
Five-hundred miles away, Rex Ryan inherited a Jets team built largely by Mangini — one that looked strikingly familiar to Mangini’s evolving Browns squad — and was lauded as a savior.
Rex took over a house that needed painting and the garden fixed up. Mangini took over a smoldering mess. His first season was spent hauling away the wreckage, clearing the ground, and starting over — with football players.
In consecutive wins over the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots, Browns fans are seeing the substantive results of Mangini’s blueprint.
Gone are the hotheads and divas, now someone else’s problem.
Case in point: Braylon Edwards. Now a Jet, Edwards has underachieved in New York, continued to flap his mouth and been nabbed in a drunk driving incident — in short, a distraction for Ryan and the Jets when they least needed one.
If there is a player who should walk with humility, it is Edwards. Instead, as the Browns and Jets prepare to clash Sunday, Edwards tweets, “all you Cleveland Browns fans, 17 is coming back and you better bring ya damn popcorn.”
Considering Edwards’ underwhelming body of work, the last thing he needs to do is provide bulletin-board material for the Jets’ opponents.
This is exactly what Mangini saw as poisonous.
The Browns roster may lack a game-breaking wideout, and that will cost them until they find one — but they’re also free of the cancerous locker room elements that divided the house for so long.
(Part 2 coming later this week.)