Am I the only person who WAS NOT surprised that the Cleveland Browns decided to keep Eric Mangini as their head coach for 2010 and beyond?
As a Cleveland Browns season ticket holder, I stood witness to the frustration and embarrassment that was the 2009 football season. Any coach whose team starts the season with a dreadful record of 1-11 is going to have his job-security questioned, and believe me, there were PLENTY of angry Dawg-Pounders out there who would have loved to see a new head coach for the Orange and Brown. Even though Mangini and the Browns managed to roll off four consecutive victories to close out the season, there was still a sense that Mangini’s days in Browns Town were numbered.
Fueling that fire further was the late season hiring of Mike Holmgren as the Browns’ club president. Holmgren, who has assumed responsibility for all of the team’s football operations, has a very impressive history of his own as head coach, and a lot of folks around “Believeland” thought (or should I say hoped) that Holmgren might want to once again stalk the sidelines.
Despite all the speculation, Holmgren decided to stick with Mangini, and I must say that he made the right choice. Not because I think of Mangini as the answer to the Browns’ woes, but instead because the final four weeks of the Browns’ season serves as proof that Mangini might know what he is doing after all.
Mangini was brought to Cleveland to rebuild a team, and like the old adage says – “Sometimes you have to re-break a bone before it can truly heal.”
It was clear from the word go that Mangini’s first priority was to fix the ‘attitude’ problem. Distracting and disruptive players had no place in Mangini’s locker-room, regardless of the talent they displayed on the field. Locker-room poisons like Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards served as the most prominent examples of Mangini’s house-keeping, as both had created a lot of off-field drama for the team in recent years.
While that loss of talent hurt the team early, it was clear that the mindset of the team was beginning to change, and that was a GOOD thing!
However, the absences of a legitimate top-receiver and Pro-Bowl tight end, combined with the lack of a bonafide starting quarterback, brought the situation in Cleveland to rock-bottom. Injuries piled up, including the loss of Pro-Bowler Shaun Rogers (another player like Edwards and Winslow with a reputation of self-service) and Jamal Lewis (who clearly had no problems of his own in airing the team’s dirty laundry), and it looked like the team was destined for a last-place finish.
But it was precisely at this point that the “healing” process began. The roster became populated with guys that nobody had ever heard of. Names like Kellen Winslow, Jamal Lewis, Shaun Rogers, and Braylon Edwards were being replaced by Evan Moore, Jerome Harrison, Chris Jennings, Mike Furrey, Blake Costanzo, and Matt Roth. While those guys did not have the pedigree or the recognition that their predecessors had, they possessed something much more valuable that had been lacking on the shores of Lake Erie for a very long time – HEART!
They did not care that the Browns were 1-11 (well, I am sure they cared, but not in the same finger-pointing, self-preservation sort of way that guys like Winslow and Edwards were known for). Instead, they were excited for an opportunity to play in the pros. They WANTED to be a part of the TEAM, they WANTED to see each other do well, and it showed on the field. It turned out that Mangini was correct – the right attitude bred success.
Timed re-energized locker room was Mangini’s seeming acceptance that it did not really matter WHO played at the quarterback position. Instead of trying to get results out of two quarterbacks that lacked any real consistency, Mangini took the ball out of their hands altogether. The result was a return to fundamental smash-mouth football that the fans in Cleveland love to see. Instead of players worrying about their contracts and playing time (take note Joshua Cribbs), the “new” Browns stepped up and turned their season around.
They played inspired football, and although their level of opposition was not the strongest in the league, they did manage to pull off their first win in MANY years against the Pittsburgh Steelers. They beat the teams they were supposed to beat, which is more than what can be said for a lot of teams out there this year!
The biggest mistake that Holmgren could have made would have been to stop that positive momentum. The team seems to be moving in the right direction, and Mangini was the right choice for the Browns!