Two years in Cleveland. The family trips to the Galleria mall downtown. The office where you met Mike Holmgren for a final time. He spoke to you about Al Haig, you were barely listening, the snow was falling outside his window. You were thinking of Brian Daboll, with whom a lifetime ago you once drank 12 beers in a Flats bar, hats on your heads, anonymous in the din. Later that night you found a bodega open. You bought a tin of chew and sat on the curb like teenagers, eating Andy Capp salsa fries, drinking canned High Life and speaking about the AFC North. The police officer writing the ticket recognized you and called a cab. Good luck coach, he said, and opened the yellow door for you, Cuban music blasting in the night.
You were thinking about Brady Quinn, who you knew at first sight had no business on an NFL field. Of Derek Anderson, who just couldn’t seem to get it, and the time when he admitted he had no idea what a zone cover was, that he just throws it to the open guy. Now you think of the drunken voicemail from Bill that you didn’t save and he doesn’t remember – he said you had some pair of balls, then sadly he said to never lose your way – that you can never, no matter how hard you try, find your way back, and he hung up. The next day you laid the groundwork to trade Kellen and Braylon, with no regrets.
The evening sky in Berea, late night and full of stars heading to your car, no one else awake. The sound of Rob snoring audibly from a basement window, sleeping on a blanket of crushed chips, and lined-notebook paper covered with pen drawings of strange defenses. The time you told your team at halftime against Pittsburgh that you were going to lock the door, and if they lost they were going to have to drive home in pads. How good it felt to beat Pittsburgh – you thought if this is it, then it was worth it. The locker room jubilant afterward.
Holmgren still talking, now about George Washington. You drop in a chew and try to grasp the tangent he is on, you wonder if the plowman has come to your house yet – maybe you will shovel yourself today. You think of the time in New York Brett had started a snowball fight in the parking lot; the season soon derailed by the same arm that nailed Penny from HR in the shoulder with a snowball. You think about the Patriots game, two weeks planning, no sleep, Bill stunned afterward, eyes staring though you and into the void. Then the Jets game – if only, that was the season you think. You shake Holmgren’s hand, it was good you say, I am glad to have set the table, and I will always be a Cleveland Brown. You pass a few players in the hallway – it’s business, but you can tell that this season meant something to them, they thank you – they all look you in the eye like men. You call your wife and let her know you’ll be home soon. Just enough time, you think, to hang out with the boys before supper.
The Cleveland Browns. You were a ball boy here once and then you came back as the head coach. You built something here. You built a team that a town could be proud of, the team you always imagined, a team that was almost there. As you pull out of the gates a man walking his dog yells to you, thanks coach. You smile and say thank you, you turn the radio up loud, then louder, roll the windows down letting in the cold. The Cleveland Browns, you think. You were the head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Foot down hard on the gas, you let out a joyful yell, and proudly thunder into the starry night.
On Monday, Cleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren went from wise father figure atop a rebuilding Browns organization, to a man under significant pressure to deliver.
It’s one thing to tell a fanbase that Eric Mangini hasn’t met expectations — it’s another to meet them yourself. While Holmgren excels at win-you-over press conferences, it’s his football decisions this offseason that will define his tenure with this star-crossed franchise.
The Browns are about to hire their sixth head coach since their return in 1999. Whoever finally turns the ship around will never buy a drink in Ohio again — but it’s no small task, and one that’s left wheelbarrows of dead along the road out of town.
Here are five mistakes Holmgren must avoid, if he wants to turn this ship around:
MISTAKE #1: Miss on the coach
While some were thrilled to see Mangini swept aside, they might look back and wonder why the move was made if Cleveland goes in the direction some predict.
Holmgren talked about spreading a wide net, but lead candidates for the coaching vacancy appear to be limited to those also represented by Holmgren’s agent, Bob LaMonte. He fronts John Fox, Jon Gruden, Jim Mora, Brad Childress, Pat Shurmur and — ugh — Marty Mornhinweg.
“I don’t want to have to do this again, so I have to get it right,” said Holmgren.
It’s hard to get excited about that “right” choice being Mornhinweg, who went 5-27 as coach of the Detroit Lions.
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.
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Winners in Bold
Carolina @ Atlanta:
Carolina ends its mess of a season against the Falcons who are having a fine year. They say that John Fox might be tapped to replace Eric Mangini if he is let go in Cleveland. Something about that is wildly depressing and stinks of resigned mediocrity of the new normal: withering job prospects, no assets, low paycheck, massive debt from an education that gets you nowhere, and a marginal chance of your NFL team winning eight games.
Pittsburgh @ Cleveland:
Speaking of Eric Mangini, his under-talented Browns take on the Steelers at home in front of the faithful. Many of us at ReadAndReact headquarters are firmly behind Coach Mangini and feel he deserves one more year to right the ship. The Browns have had a tedious revolving door of coaches and quarterbacks since they re-entered the league. Their fans at this point are listless and battered, wondering why they are being tested by God, and if he will ever show them mercy. I hope for all those toiling by the lake that the Browns absolutely destroy the Steelers this Sunday, that Holmgren looks deep into his extra large soul and decides to give Mangini one more year. Curses can’t last forever, even the biblical variety, and Mangini might be able to lead this team to the promised land yet.
Minnesota @ Detroit:
Here’s to Brett Favre for playing football one year too many. Here’s a toast for him being completely himself, whether that is leaping around the field like a 12-year old on a playground or giving a maddening self indulgent, self-serving press conference. It is rare these days for an athlete to show any of his true self, as he will be pillaged for any misstep, wrong turn of phrase, or even smiling on the sidelines by the press, blogs, and fans alike. Favre, unlike the other professionally programmed robots, happily unleashes his id upon us all and, though many times not likeable, it is real and honest. Here’s to one of the best moments of the season, of Favre making a surprise appearance, outdoors in a snowy stadium in Minnesota, leading a touchdown drive like old times, fans delirious, scripted like a movie. Then, as quick as it started, it sadly ends with his head bouncing off the frozen turf. Favre exits the league leaving fans with a lot of wonderful memories and conflicting opinions as he heads back to his ranch in Mississippi. Perhaps like Cincinnatus he waits for another team to call or maybe he just swims in bathtubs full of money or puts on his Wranglers and heads to the local high school and with joy on his face tosses pass after pass to high school kids running fade patterns, his shadow growing larger and larger as the sun sets red in the evening Mississippi sky.
Oakland @ Kansas City:
The league would be a better place if the Raiders were a better team. A win on Sunday would bring them to eight wins and forward on the road to respectability. Kansas City on the other hand is having a dream season, the fans enjoying every moment because they aren’t sure if it’s a dream or if it’s real.
Miami @ New England:
I like to think of Danny Woodhead as a loveable hobbit somehow pressed into service by the mad wizard Belichik. I imagine every time he gets the ball he screams in fear and is actually just running for his life, giants and monsters around every turn as he higgledy piggledy does his best to dash to safety. I like to imagine that after each game he goes to Tom and Gisele’s apartment and hops on the bed with his pals Wes Welker and Julian Edelman, happy to be alive as Gisele and Tom try on Uggs boots and read long letters from their old friend and leftist poet Randy Moss.
Buffalo @ New York Jets:
The Bills have been meanderingly interesting this year and the emergence of the Fitzmagic and his beard have galvanized a rust belt fan base and has inspired lonely men (and some women) in hunting cabins and ice fishing houses of upper New York to grow out their own beards in solidarity, and quite frankly for something to do. It has also inspired ReadAndReact to attempt to cajole the Amish Rifle to save his truly magnificent beard; please sign our petitionthat implores him that the world needs men with beards and he is a beacon of hope to us all. We also might create a petition to make the Jets go away. They are a wildly irritating clown show that needs to be taken down and shipped out of town.
Cincinnati @ Baltimore:
Speaking of clown shows, whether it was the poor coaching, play, or just a cavalcade of bad decisions in critical moments, this season has been an utter disaster for the Bengals. They face a typically well prepared and winning Baltimore team that could probably beat the Bengals with four guys from the practice squad and seven bottles of Gatorade.
Three games are left in the season and Eric Mangini once again finds himself in a swirl of rumors about his coaching future after a loss to Buffalo. John Clayton, from the Ministry of Magic, is sharpening his wand and throwing out coaching names any chance he gets, predicting the demise of the former boy genius. Meanwhile, the Browns are clearly a team that has improved in every way from the previous year, and who knows what is really going on at Hogwarts; perhaps Dumbledore is happy with his coach, perhaps not, he isn’t saying. One thing is clear, if the Browns can win out, there is a good chance Mangini will be back next year to once again lead the Browns against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
The 1st Deadly Hallow: Bengals
Colt McCoy brings youth and hope in his first game back from a high ankle sprain. The Bengals have two wins, but it’s hard not to believe that they could score 40 points at a moment’s notice. The Browns need to treat the Bengals like the Steelers, take nothing for granted, and pull out all the stops. Lose this game and public sentiment really starts to go south, and Mangini becomes Undesirable Number 1 in Cleveland.
The 2nd Deadly Hallow: Ravens
This game could go a long way to returning Mangini to Hogwarts. The sad history between these teams might have cursed Cleveland forever. Moving the team of legendary wizards Otto Graham and Jim Brown to the C-List coastal town of Baltimore angered the ancients and they have decided to punish the Browns, even when it is the evil Wizard Modell who is to blame. You cannot predict the behavior of the ancients, but in the alleys and bar stools of the Flats beers will be raised to the Browns and Mangini for a win against the Ravens.
¶ Jason Reid of The Washington Post reports that Redskins running back Clinton Portis has been placed on season-ending injured reserve by the team. Portis has been nagged by a groin injury for weeks, and the team has, in general, been nagged by Portis’ inability to stay healthy. I think we’re seeing his final days in D.C.
¶ Mlive.com is reporting that Detroit Lions running back Jahvid Best, battling a toe injury for most of the season, practiced Tuesday and is expected to be ready to go for Thursday’s game against the New England Patriots. Defensive end Cliff Avril, on the mend from a hip injury, practiced and also should play. Not sure it’s enough to topple Brady and the Pats, but the Lions have seen improvements in their passing game, and New England’s defense has issues. I think this game might be closer than some think.
¶ The Tennessee Titans have not barred quarterback Vince Young from the team’s facility following Sunday’s mindmelt, but was asked to leave a team meeting Monday, according to The Tennessean, citing sources familiar with the situation. The newspaper states that Young was “visibly upset,” but left without issue.
Fisher and Young had it out Sunday following the team’s overtime loss to the Titans. As Young walked away, he told Fisher, “I’m not running out on my teammates, I’m running out on you.”
This seals Randy Moss as the NFL’s good-luck charm of the year.
¶ Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal reports that Eric Mangini told reporters during his Wednesday press conference that rookie quarterback Colt McCoy has a high-ankle sprain. Mangini said it’s different in scope than the sprains suffered by Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace, and that McCoy is determined to get back as quickly as he can.
Mangini said “we’ll see” if McCoy can return this week.
Delhomme will get the majority of reps in Wednesday’s practice, a strong indicator he’ll get the nod against his former team, the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. Mangini said he likes Jake’s familiarity with the Panthers in this spot.
Sidenote: What about their familiarity with Jake?
¶ Chargers wide receiver Patrick Crayton dislocated his left wrist in the team’s 35-14 win over the Denver Broncos on Monday night and could miss two weeks, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. Crayton, who had three catches for 105 yards and a touchdown, benefited from the return of wideout Malcolm Floyd, who re-tweeked his hamstring, according to the newspaper. Crayton’s set for an MRI today. None of this is good news for the Chargers, trying to distance themselves from the pack in the AFC West with an irritated Colts team on tap Sunday night.
¶ NFL.com’s Adam Rank journeys to the dark side of Philip Rivers’ titanic season — namely, your fantasy team, clinging to a lead heading into Monday, only to watch Rivers carve you up like Thursday’s bird. Rank feels your pain, fantasy owners:
“One week you are Mike Eruzione celebrating the ‘Miracle on Ice’ during the opening credits of the Wide World of Sports,” Rank writes. “The next week you are that anonymous skier wiping out in a blaze of snowy glory.”
¶ Do you think our grandfathers, who fought in wars across the globe to keep us free, would smile proudly on fantasy football? It’s probably harmless, until I take it one step too far and play fantasy businessman — where I sit on the couch and get points for someone else’s productivity and ingenuity. That, sir, would be going too fa… wait, that’s the stock market — and our ancestors invented that thing. OK, we’re good… continue on.
¶ Heading into Week 12, three Browns quarterbacks have generated three wins and three ankle sprains. Eric Mangini won’t say, but possibly three high-ankle sprains (which is the equivalent of a maternity leave in this league). Colt McCoy played most of the second half against the Jaguars on a sprained left ankle that required an MRI exam Monday. Per usual, Mangenius is quiet about who will start Sunday — and this might be the VERY first time in Cleveland that the decision even matters. On the heels of the battered, laborious Quinn vs. Anderson debates — which resulted in NOTHING, zero — the emergence of McCoy is a revelation for Browns fans used to the team’s Week 16 starter being a guy who started the year as a CVS check-out clerk in central New Jersey. With that said, we might see Jake Delhomme face his old team this weekend.
Speaking of the mess in Carolina, coach John Fox hinted at a potential mistake in allowing Delhomme to leave in the offseason.
“Looking back, sitting here at 1-9, I’m not sure how many moves were right,” Fox said Monday. “And that’s not being critical of anybody other than hindsight is always 20-20. But I know Jake is happy where he is. Sometimes change is good. I don’t believe in looking back.”
Not controversial. Fox is just being real about the quarterback mess in his own backyard — something Delhomme likely couldn’t have improved on. Delhomme’s done very little in Cleveland beyond hold a clipboard and nest in the whirlpool with Big Baby.
Before the season, people talked about Fox “writing his own check” for a new coaching job — almost anywhere he wanted. That’s quieted down, but he’s one of the better coaches in the league, despite this season’s Ho Chi Minh trail-like campaign.
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.)
For years, I have humored TheDarkhorse about the Browns. Told him the team is on the rise. If they could just fix this, then they will be a playoff-caliber team. If they could just find that, then they would be a playoff-caliber team. Butch Davis is a young Jimmy Johnson. Romeo Crennel is a mastermind. Eric Mangini: an inspired hire. Brady Quinn: what a pick. Derek Anderson: a find. Courtney Brown: rock-solid, you can build around him.
It was all a lie. I wanted to believe it. For him. He is a great guy. Truly. I wanted the Browns to turn the corner. Desperately. For him. For them. For the city of Cleveland. I hate visiting Cleveland (who doesn’t?), but I have always loved their heart. Their commitment. In an “I-feel-bad-for-you” kind of way. In a “you-are- pathetic” kind of way.
I am sitting here watching Dallas get throttled by the Packers. Dallas is a team that is as talented as any other in the league. Dallas is also a team with no f-cking heart. Zero. None. Jerry Jones says he researched the issue and determined it doesn’t make sense to change coaches in the middle of the season. Because interim coaches don’t win that often. So Dallas will continue to lose with Wade Phillips. Because, according to GM Jerry, it’s better that way. (Dallas just got penalized for having 12 men on the field. Wade Phillips is a teacher. Green Bay has out-gained Dallas 405 yards to 87. Jason Garrett is a Princeton grad.)
The Cleveland Browns are winning with grit. They are winning with physicality. This afternoon I watched them b-tch-slap a pretty good New England Patriots team. In some ways, it was like watching the Pats get beat by a version of itself. Colt McCoy is no Tom Brady, for sure, but the Browns are developing the Cleveland Way. Mangini has this team playing with spunk. Fire. Tenacity. Ingenuity. Intelligence. All of the ingredients Dallas is lacking.
The Cleveland Browns are actually turning the corner. Now, it’s early (they are only 3-5), but it feels real this time. They didn’t just win against the Patriots. They beat them. Handily. In all phases of the game. If Peyton Hillis doesn’t fire you up, you are dead. If Chansi Stuckey (Chansi Stuckey!) scoring a touchdown doesn’t make you believe in the power of the underdog, you are vapid. If Cleveland is not a team you can root for– even if you are a tried and true Steelers fan — you are classless. (Touchdown Clay Matthews. 45-7.)
In the post-LeBron era, the Cleveland Browns are giving people something to be proud of. Dallas is hosting the Super Bowl this year. $1.2 billion stadium. The media anointed Dallas a contender for the 4th year in a row. Will Dallas be the first team to play the Super Bowl at home? Did I mention that Dallas is playing on national TV tonight. Again. Cleveland is running a special on its web-site: 4 tickets, 4 hot dogs, 4 Pepsi’s for $119 dollars.
Earlier tonight, the TV flashed to Tony Romo on the sidelines. He was chuckling.
While rummaging through storage space on a recent trip to my parents’ house, I found this little gem tucked away in a box full of photo albums, letters, and diplomas that failed to amount to much: dated 12/19/1994, the above is the net result of a year’s worth of editorials and letters sent to Cleveland Browns Head Coach Bill Belichick. In 2010, he’s not lacking for fan support and football-world adulation, but back then, Belichick was constantly in hot water with Browns fans and detested by the Cleveland sports media, who viewed Bill as a cantankerous robot capable only of spitting out a rotating selection of sleep-inducing, post-game quotes that revealed nothing. People in Cleveland, for the most part, had a hard time adjusting to Belichick’s methods, secrecy, and generally distant demeanor. For the vast majority, he was a dead man walking after he cut Bernie Kosar in Week 8 of the 1993 season, following a 29–14 loss to the Denver Broncos (fittingly, a team that haunted Kosar his entire career).
Belichick didn’t win much in Cleveland, but in ’94 he led the Browns to an 11-5 record and a playoff win over his mentor Bill Parcells, Drew Bledsoe, and a young, upstart Patriots squad. Led by Vinny Testaverde, the Browns featured a workmanlike offense and a bruising, veteran-led defense fronted by safety Eric Turner, who became Belichick’s first-ever draft pick with the Browns in 1991. Despite the abuse Belichick took in Cleveland, there was a pocket of the fanbase who supported his long-term plan–with little but faith to show for it until that ’94 season.
Despite the record, most fans still wanted Belichick shot out of a cannon into Lake Erie, but he was never fired by the Browns. Art Modell utterly topped that general request by moving the team to Baltimore following the 1995 season. Belichick was dumped in the transition, in favor of Ted Marchibroda. One little gem: during the 1995 Draft for the Browns–a year before the move–an increasingly savvy Belichick showed us the future: he traded players, traded down, and stockpiled draft picks for the following year–which the Baltimore Ravens happily used in ’96 to produce a draft class that netted two players who could have been Cleveland Browns: Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis.
It took Belichick a few seasons–and a number of wrong turns (including a highly bizarre, one-day stint as head coach of the New York Jets)–to get his mojo back. Three Super Bowl wins later, people forget he ever set foot in Cleveland, Ohio. So, the question stands: which heavily abused, yet-to-succeed head coach is the next Bill Belichick?
I found this quote interesting from a 1993 Sports Illustrated article describing the reaction of some Browns players to Belichick’s coaching style (these tended to be long-time Browns, who had starred with the team during its successful run in the mid-1980s, and weren’t about to change for some assistant-turned-head-coach with a personality deficit): “Several recently departed Browns–Brian Brennan, Paul Farren, Webster Slaughter–have blasted their former boss for being an automaton who offers no positive motivation and sees players only as faceless cogs. Last summer defensive tackle Michael Dean Perry finally had enough and briefly boycotted Belichick’s practices. Then, last month, receiver Michael Jackson upped the ante by fairly eviscerating Belichick during a meeting of the Ashland County Browns Backers, who are to the Cleveland brass what the UAW is to the Democratic Party. ‘If you question Bill, you’re out of line.’ Jackson reportedly said. ‘He can’t relate to the players.’ Tight end Scott Galbraith, cut earlier this season by Belichick and picked up last week by the Cowboys, calls Belichick’s coaching ‘bully-ball’ and draws comparisons to Napoleon.”
How funny. Last February, shortly after Mangini was hired to rebuild the Browns, a team insider was quoted as saying that “the atmosphere at headquarters is, to put it mildly, miserable. New Head Coach Eric Mangini is running the place like Napoleon.”
Well, well, well.
Maybe it’s time for some patience in the city of Cleveland. Otherwise, 15 years from now, some poor sucker’s left holding a Christmas card from then-Browns coach Eric Mangini–run out of town in 2010, only to end up with the Houston Texans, winning three Super Bowls and defining the next decade of pro football.