We probably shouldn’t be surprised at the news that Eric Mangini has been fired as coach of the Browns, but in some ways we are.
While we expected some kind of news to come out of Berea following the team’s 5-11 record this season, we thought it would be more along the lines of the team hiring an experienced, competent offensive coordinator. We expected Mangini to return for a third year, especially with the progress the team showed this year with the new front office structure of Mike Holmgren, Tom Heckert and Mangini.
Of course, we also thought LeBron was going to resign with the Cavs, so there you go.
“I’ve said all along and I’ve tried to be true to what I’ve told you, and certainly what I’ve told Eric all along is that this season I would make any decision I had to make once the season was concluded,” Holmgren said in his press conference announcing the firing. “Let the dust settle, let me think about it. That’s how I make decisions. That’s how I made the decision to keep Eric. And then come to some sort of conclusion. I didn’t sleep very well last night. I was up a fair amount of the night thinking about this, thinking what I might have to do and then finally trying to make the correct decision. Look, it’s difficult. I’ve never had to do this before. I like the man a lot. He is a hard working, bright, caring guy. Unfortunately this business at times and even though it wasn’t the only factor, I want to win here. We want to win here in Cleveland and we did not win enough games this year.”
In November, Holmgren said his decision would not be based solely on wins and losses. But it seems from his comments that is what he did.
“I don’t know if you can separate the two (making progress vs. winning games),” Holmgren said. “I think if you look at our season it had tremendous highs and lows for me. I think when we beat New England and New Orleans, I don’t think anybody in this room could leave this room without a smile on their face. It was really something, something very special. Then as good as we finished last year, a year ago, we finished as poor this year. If you’re talking about direction or how I felt the team was going, the finish wasn’t a feel good finish. What I tried to do is not base my decision on any one game, any one play, any two games, any stretch but the body of work. As I told the players when I met with them today after Eric had talked to them I went in and talked to them briefly. I have high expectations and I’m not going to settle, I’m just not going to settle.”
So Holmgren believes the Browns should have finished with, what … 7 or 8 wins? Apparently he believes the Browns are closer to the team that beat the Patriots and Saints, rather than the one that lost to the Bengals and Bills. It’s great that he doesn’t want to settle for the same old same, but is it realistic?
Much like when Dan Gilbert fired Mike Brown, the easy part is over for Holmgren. He must get this hiring correct because, if he doesn’t, it will be on him, not on Mangini. The good thing is Holmgren isn’t going into this alone and it sounds like he’s not in a rush to make a decision.
“I don’t want to do this again,” he said. “I think historically if you look at teams that don’t have to do this very much, they’ve been successful. They’ve been successful it’s just like which came first the chicken or the egg? Are they successful because they haven’t done it? You go through some bumps in the road if you think you have the right guy and the right system and all those things. That’s part of it. It’s very, very important that we get this right.”
One of the more interesting points Holmgren made was how people outside of Cleveland view the team, versus the way the long-suffering fanbase does.
“You guys have been here a long time, most of you and you’ve lived through the really tough things,” he said. “I think you have a tendency to view things just a little differently than perhaps I did when I came in or someone from outside coming in and looking at it. This is one of the great jobs. There are 32 jobs, this is one of the great jobs in the country. You’re a head coach in the National Football League, if you are a football coach that’s what you want to be. Another part of that is I would use the same technique that I used with Tom Heckert, Bryan Wiedmeier, Mark Schiefelbein, Jim Ross, Matt Thomas, all the guys now that are manning the offices upstairs that came from great football places but they came here to be with me to try and get something special done that hadn’t been done. There’s a challenge there that I think appeals to men in this business. That’s what I’ll be talking to the person about.”
The best part, perhaps, was Holmgren saying he won’t force a particular system on his new coach.
“I don’t think I can do that,” Holmgren said. “In what I tried to do with Eric (Mangini) this year and we talked about it this morning. I said, ‘I wish I could have helped you out more,’ and we had one of those things where we were kind of talking to each other that way. If I hire a coach, I’m hiring a coach. He’s going to run what he runs, what he’s comfortable with, what he knows. Now will it be part of the consideration in the process? Absolutely, but I am not going to interfere that way as a president. I did not do it this year, I’m not going to do it next year and I’m not going to do it ever. That’s not fair. Is it a consideration in this process? I think it is though. Maybe not the ‘system’ exactly but certainly something that I think allows the quarterback in this case in one of our quarterbacks to be successful.”
As for Mangini, on some level its hard to argue that the Browns should have kept a coach who was 10-22 with the team, and is 33-47 in five years as a head coach. After making the playoffs in his first year as Jets coach with Herm Edwards’ players, Mangini was only 23-41 in his next four years. Those numbers are hard to overlook.
And if we were told the four-game winning streak to end the 2009 season was a sign of progress, what should we make of this year’s four-game season-ending losing streak?
Having said that, we just can’t shake the feeling that another year of Mangini working with Holmgren and Heckert would have been a positive for the team. The team played hard this year; unfortunately the lasting memory will be the final loss against Pittsburgh.
Despite his record, Mangini is the best coach the Browns have had since returning in 1999. We know that’s not saying much, but it’s saying something. He’s probably the fourth-best coach we’ve seen since becoming a Browns’ fan, which dates back to the days of Forrest Gregg as coach.
“The experience coaching the Cleveland Browns the past two years has been tremendous,” Mangini said in a statement. “I appreciate the opportunity that the Lerner family gave me. I have a deep respect for the players that I have coached the past two years and how they have made a profound difference in changing the culture — a tougher, smarter, more competitive, selfless team that never gave up.
“Our goal was to build a team for long-term success. The core characteristics we were dedicated to, I believe, will help achieve that goal, and have provided a strong identity for this football team and have helped to create a positive foundation upon which the organization can continue to build.”
A new coach won’t make the defensive line younger or improve the linebackers. A new coach will still be looking at a team without a single wide receiver who would start for any other team in the league and a right side of the offensive line that is a mess.
But the new coach will be coming to a team with the No. 6 pick in the upcoming draft, young talent in Joe Haden, T.J. Ward, Colt McCoy and Peyton Hillis. Plus the new coach better be able to continue the tough, competitive nature of the team that Mangini put in over the past two years.
One additional thing we have going for us is, unlike the past coaching changes, this one doesn’t involve a complete overhaul of the front office as well. While Mangini is gone, Holmgren and Heckert remain. So the team, for once, isn’t really starting over from scratch.
But this is probably Holmgren’s one and only chance to get it right when it comes to hiring a coach.
Let’s hope he knows what his next move is.
No surprise that there is plenty of talk about Holmgren’s decision:
Mike Holmgren talks about Eric Mangini: Waiting for Next Year
Mike Holmgren, Eric Mangini and a Question with No Good Answers: Cleveland Frowns
Mike Holmgren did the right thing: Bud Shaw
Holmgren needs younger version of himself: Marla Ridenour
ESPN celebrates Eric Mangini’s firing: Cleveland Leader
Mike Holmgren is best choice for Browns: James Walker