Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Haven’t we covered all of this already?

We came across a ridiculous news item today from Fox Sports stating that Browns owner Randy Lerner “might” reach out to Bill Cowher and give the former Steelers coach a big-money contract to coach the Browns in 2011.

We’re not even going to link to the report because it is too absurd on multiple levels.

Why would Lerner, after going through the trouble of hiring Mike Holmgren to run the team, turn around and try to make a deal for a new coach behind Holmgren’s back?

And more importantly, why would the Browns be looking for a new coach?

We’ve been critical of Browns coach Eric Mangini in the past, but before the season started we said we’d wipe the slate clean because the Browns had a structure in place to allow the coaches to succeed. And it’s impossible to have watched the Browns through the first 12 weeks of the season and not see the progress the team has made.

They’ve gone through all three quarterbacks on the roster because of injuries, have played the toughest schedule in the NFL and consider that:

  • If Chansi Stuckey doesn’t fumble against the Jets, the Browns win in OT
  • If Sheldon Brown or someone tackles Maurice Jones-Drew, the Browns beat the Jaguars
  • If Jake Delhomme wasn’t Jake Delhomme – and let’s face it, Delhomme and interceptions go together like rum & Coke, you can’t have one without the other – the Browns beat Tampa

Add those three games to the win column and suddenly the Browns are battling for the division and a playoff spot. Now they didn’t win those games, but that’s how far this team has come since last season.

Consider the St. Louis Rams. People are falling over themselves because rookie quarterback Sam Bradford has the Rams in first place … with a 5-6 record. You don’t think the Browns would own the NFC West if they played in that division?

Is Mangini a perfect coach? Of course not. But you know what? There’s no such thing. Mike Shanahan likes to tell you how great he is, but he never won anything without John Elway. As good as Bill Belichick is as a coach, the one year he had to play without Tom Brady the Patriots didn’t make the playoffs.

Even Jon Gruden, who so many people are sure is coming to Cleveland, only won a Super Bowl because he had Tony Dungy’s players.

And let’s not forget that Romeo Crennel, bless his heart, got four years as coach of the Browns.

In some ways it’s not surprising that the national media continues to beat the anti-Mangini drum. They don’t watch the games each week, they just catch a few highlights and look at the Browns 4-7 record and conclude he’s out the door.

What’s worse is when the local media, who presumably do watch every game, come to the same conclusion. Today’s example is Marla Ridenour of The Beacon Journal, who has determined that Mangini’s job rides on the final five games of the season.

“Finishing 6-10, a mere one-game improvement over last season, probably won’t be enough to save Mangini unless team president Mike Holmgren forsees a lockout in 2011,” Ridenour writes. “Perhaps even 7-9 won’t cut it.”

“How will close but no cigar fly with Holmgren? Will five losses by seven points or less, three by four points or less, be considered a positive or a negative? Can Mangini play the cupboard-is-still-bare card? Or will coming close reflect poorly on the game-day skills of he and his staff? Could he use it to his advantage that all three quarterbacks suffered high ankle sprains?”

So 7-9, after a 1-5 start, after the yearlong quarterback carousel, after the toughest schedule in the league, won’t cut it?

But wait, there’s more!

“There are signs that Mangini might save the life preserver for himself. On Sunday, he said he should have overruled defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s call on rookie Jimmy Clausen’s 28-yard sideline pass to Brandon LaFell that set up John Kasay’s 42-yard game-winning field goal attempt. Before the play, the Browns took a timeout with 12 seconds remaining. After LaFell made the catch and supposedly rolled out of bounds, which stood up to a replay review, four seconds remained.”

Of course, if the refs had made the right call and ruled LaFell down in bounds time would have run out and this would be even more of a non-issue. Plus Mangini has never come across as the type of coach who points fingers. The team seems to have the proper attitude of “win as a team, lose as a team.”

The media is trying to have it both ways now. Last year they criticized Mangini, with some validity, because he was too tight-lipped and abrasive with the media. This year he’s been more open, within reason, with trying to explain what the Browns are doing and trying to accomplish. And so they misconstrue that as Mangini trying to save himself at the expense of others.

The media also went into the season with a certain win total that the Browns had to achieve or else and they are sticking to that figure. Never mind looking at the whole picture, someone decided in the preseason that 7 wins was the number and nothing will take them off that train of thought.

The thing is, it’s all so unnecessary. If this team was a mess and was embarrassing itself each week and not competing, that would be one thing. But that’s just not the case.

It makes us wonder if we’re all watching the same game on Sundays.

***

Two One Six Sports is on the same page here.

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