Eric Mangini deserves a third season in C-Town
In a season where four NFL head coaches have been fired heading into Week 17, it doesn’t look good for Cleveland Browns coach Eric Mangini.
There was a sense midseason that the tenuous connection between president Mike Holmgren and Mangini could work — and should be forced to work — after the Browns consecutively dismantled the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots, only to lose to the hyped-up New York Jets by a hair.
All the talk about Holmgren’s coaching roots not jiving with the Belichick/Parcells tree seemed half-baked, as the team was suddenly worth three hours of your Sunday. For a shimmering moment, the Browns were the team nobody wanted to face.
Problem is, down the stretch, the same Browns team that had played far beyond expectation during a brutal stretch in the schedule — led by galvanizing rookie quarterback Colt McCoy — dissembled against soft opponents when McCoy became the third starting passer this season to suffer a high ankle sprain. Jake Delhomme took over, the offensive line took some hits, and the attack never recovered.
Had the Browns stayed relatively healthy after the Patriots win, and polished off the few teams they were favored against, Holmgren would have nothing to point to in firing Mangini. This is a coaching staff that’s enthused large segments of the Browns’ faithful — downtrodden fans who’ve watched this team closely since its return in 1999, and finally see signs of progress.
Some feel that losses to Buffalo and Cincinnati rightfully marked the end of Mangini by giving Holmgren something to hang his hat on in making a change.
If Holmgren is truly committed to playing the role of president and not, at some stage, coach of the Browns, it’s hard to imagine that those losses, taken in context, mean much of anything.
Holmgren sees that Mangini and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan have gotten this Browns team to fight to the end in nearly every game this season. Cleveland’s garnered — for the first time since Reagan was in office — respect around the league with its gritty style of play, despite a poor talent base.
When McCoy plays the Steelers for the second time this season, it will mark the first time under Mangini that the same quarterback has faced a division opponent more than once.
Bottom line: Mangini, perhaps to his discredit, has been saddled with some of the worst NFL quarterbacks around (read: Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Delhomme), and still managed to keep games close. In McCoy, the Browns feel they have something special.
But it’s McCoy’s emergence that might work against Mangini. Holmgren lives to develop quarterbacks. His (to be fair, distant) reputation for doing so does not come without its fair share of ego and need for control.
Holmgren has shown poise and grace as president of the Browns, and he has done a tremendous job in adding value to a previously floating franchise, but not unlike that ever-drunk friend you have — who, despite promises of sobriety, is guaranteed to show up hammered and surly to your wedding, despite his intentions — Holmgren is fighting, utterly struggling, against the urge to dispatch the entire coaching staff and take over. Screw this president thing — GET ME THE HEADSET.
I wonder what was floating through Holmgren’s mind watching McCoy out-chess-match Tom Brady on the field, only to trot off to visit with — Brian Daboll.
These days, Holmgren spends portions of his week deciding what concessions will be sold at the stadium — while the coaching staff down the hall holds the fate of his team in their hands.
Had McCoy not hit the scene with such verve — and had the season plodded along with the excruciating Delhomme under center — Mangini would likely be swept out of town with full support from the fanbase.
Now, with the quarterback piece perhaps in place, Holmgren’s left questioning: do I trust anybody but myself with this kid?
None of this bodes well:
“One of my greatest challenges is I’m up there, and … I try not to get too boisterous up there,” Holmgren told reporters in November. “You’ll see things and you’ll go, ‘Aw, gee.’ That’s the coach in me talking and I apologize for that right now. Whether it’s Rob Ryan, who’s a wonderful coach, they’re fine coaches, but when we start moving around on defense and do all of those things, it drives me crazy, but it works. I’m not used to that. This first year in many ways, I’m getting used to a certain style, if you will. I do not question their work ethic and how hard they’re trying to get this done. They are working very hard at this.”
“I’m doing okay. Does it sound like I want to coach? No, I’m doing okay,” Holmgren said. “The challenge of this is really something for me and I’m enjoying the challenge. I’d be less than honest if I didn’t say I get fired up watching the games, I mean I did that for too long not to react sometimes the way I do, but I also recognize what I was hired to do and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Followed by this enigmatic gem:
“I made a promise and I’m going to stick with it. Now, if I keep wearing a suit or not, we’ll see,” he said, adding: “You are catching me at a weak moment. I just came off vacation (joking). I love coaching. I am doing what I am doing now and that’s what I plan to be doing. My commitment is to get the Browns going in the right direction and having people feel good about their football team in my role as the president. When I talk to Randy (Lerner) honestly about those things, I am being honest about it. Right now, that’s what I am going to do.”
There has been hideous discussion about Holmgren firing young Eric Mangini for the likes of John Fox, whose contract will not be renewed by the 2-13 Carolina Panthers. That should galvanize the fanbase.
Oh, and then there’s word that Holmgren is hot on his boy Marty Mornhinweg. I’m not going to waste another sentence on that.
Of course, you get the Jon Gruden talk — another Holmgren guy.
None of it feels right. Mangini, despised last season, and unfairly portrayed in the media, has been a gentleman. This is someone who seems to genuinely care about his players, his coaches, his organization — and even the media covering him, who have slowly come to see that there may be more to this coach than last season’s rough start.
Mangini had the courage to take apart a Browns team that was diseased in 2009 — and it nearly cost him his job. One year later, there is no question the squad has begun to reflect his philosophy of “team first.” The lack of wins are an issue — and there must be results next season, if there is one, but the Browns are not a smoke-and-mirrors team. They are beginning to resemble, in the early stages, an organization built to last.
There is an AP story out today about Belichick’s work in New England this season, perhaps his finest as a coach. Impossible to name another mid-season, shifting-gears rebuilding job that resulted in 13 wins. The article talks about the “Patriot Way,” really just another phrase for the “Belichick Way.”
Belichick, who 20 seasons ago today was guiding the New York Giants defense to a Super Bowl win over the Buffalo Bills — days before becoming the Browns head coach, where he worked alongside Ozzie Newsome, the rising personnel man — on a team that was moved to Baltimore.
Had Art Modell not sold his soul, and endured less riches to keep the Browns in C-Town, I would not be writing this column tonight.
Still, all of this is yesterday. The franchise has a chance this week to exhibit patience and allow a young coach to develop — this time with the Browns.
Dumping Eric Mangini — especially to address a personal need to return to the sideline — will be Mike Holmgren’s greatest mistake.
Win or lose against Pittsburgh on Sunday, it time for this team to stop the cycle of tearing down — only to half-rebuild and then do it all over again.
It is my hope that Mangini will be afforded something Holmgren was given in his time with both the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks — a third season.
- Cleveland's road to redemption begins at home
- Potential work stoppage dooms some teams more than others