Get Your Tomatoes Ready! My Defense of Head Coach Eric Mangini

Cleveland Browns head coach Eric Mangini stands on the sidelines during the second half of their NFL game against the Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore, Maryland September 26, 2010. REUTERS/Joe Giza (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL) 

Heading into this season, the temperature of Eric Mangini’s seat was warm.

Now that the Cleveland Browns have dropped three very winnable games and fallen to 0-3, that seat has gotten so hot that Coach Mangini can’t even sit down for fear of burning his ass.

Personally, I think it’s unfair that Mangini has to stand all day and I kind of feel for the guy – or at least I do through JUST three weeks of his second season.

Let’s face it, whether you like Mangini and his methods or you don’t, the guy inherited a shipwreck of situation along the shores of Lake Erie when he arrived back in January ‘09.

 The dynamic duo of Romeo Crennel and Phil Savage had left the roster and organization in shambles after the huge failure that was the 2008 season. The locker room was pretty much a mess, full of loudmouths and disgruntled vets who were used to being coddled by Crennel, who was the definition of a “player’s coach”. There was no accountability, no structure, no direction, and not a lot of talent.  Even worse, one of the worst quarterback quandaries in the history of quarterback quandaries was looming in the background.

When you add up all the negatives Mangini was up against from the beginning, it’s safe to make the argument that Cleveland was far from the ideal situation for any coach to find himself in. There were an awful lot of problems that had to be fixed. More importantly, there was no overnight solution to this mess. It was going to be a process, no matter what, and everybody should have been aware of this. Things almost had to get worse before they could get better because the Browns were essentially starting from scratch all over again. Mangini understood that, just like I’m sure every other candidate did, and the Belichickian disciple went at it with a plan.

For starters, he came in preaching exactly what the Browns needed following the exit of “player’s coach” Crennel, and that was discipline and accountability. Mangini let it be known from the onset that the inmates were no longer going to run the asylum, so to speak. Things were going to be done his way, which of course was – and is – the Belichickian way. Players were sent packing that threatened this business-like, team-first culture that he was trying to instill. End of story.  

For the most part, Mangini was right in recognizing that the Browns didn’t just need some stern words, but a hard kick in the ass and a complete makeover to the roster.

Sure, there were some hiccups along the way with some water bottle fines and the Browns DID get off to a dreadful  1-11 start his first season, but the fact that the Browns finished on a four game winning streak spoke volumes to me about the first year of Mangini’s attempt to turn things around. Say what you want about the quality of opponents during this stretch, but I’m sorry: after a 1-11 start, you just don’t win four in a row for the gipper unless you’re buying what the gipper is selling – and want to keep the gipper around. 

At least, that’s how I look at Mangini’s first season and why I think he made progress despite the 5-11 record. Like him or not, Mangini did a fairly good job of weeding out the players that needed to go and creating a sense of structure and accountability. Given the mess he inherited, I’d say the Browns took some steps in the right direction in 2009.

Obviously, new President Mike Holmgren saw that as well, or else he wouldn’t have retained him. Holmgren at least recognized that Mangini had gotten things moving in the right direction, because I was certain that Mangini was a goner once the new regime took over. Keeping him only strengthened the case that Mangini and his early Communist methods might POSSIBLY be on to something.

Of course, the flip side to this argument is the idea that this was the natural thing to do. In a sense, it WAS a win-win situation for Holmgren – no matter what.  If the Browns beat some quality opponents and hover near .500 this year, then Holmgren’s a genius for retaining Mangini. If they lose, then it’s just a matter of Holmgren needing to get his guy in charge, or maybe just a matter of him returning to the sidelines himself. Obviously, I’m not suggesting that Holmgren set Mangini up for failure this season, but I do think that he might have looked at the daunting schedule the Browns were up against this year and subconsciously thought of a Plan B. Like, himself.

Regardless, the cold reality of the NFL is that it doesn’t matter what you did, but if you’re winning where you currently are, and Mangini is winless right now his first three times out under the Mike Holmgren regime. So I get why the majority of Cleveland sports fans are restless with the 0-3 start and fed up with “moral victories.” It’s not like basketball season will be there to save us and make everybody feel good about winning at something when it doesn’t count.

Still, I’ll take these moral victories at this point of the 99th rebuilding process we’ve seen since the Browns came back in ’99. The fact of the matter is that the Browns have been in all three games they’ve played in this season, and they just as easily could be sitting at 3-0 right now instead of in the hole at 0-3.

Unless I’m mistaken, Mangini did not throw a momentum-swinging interception against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, nor did he throw a pick 6 to Brandon Flowers or miss a 42 yard field goal against the Kansas City Chiefs, and he also wasn’t the one covering Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin in Baltimore last Sunday.

Mangini critics might give me that, but then they’ll just point to adjustments and the offensive problems that have plagued the Browns for most of the three games.

For those making that case, here’s what I say in Mangini’s defense:

Mangini climbed the coaching ranks and made his mark as a defensive coach. With that in mind and with the exception of cornerback Eric Wright’s terrible coverage against Boldin, what’s the one unit of the Browns that has made the most progress since Mangini came aboard? That would be the defense.

As far as the Browns’ offensive problems, there’s no doubt the Browns stumbled out of the gates and it took them awhile to find their identity, but let’s not forget that Hardesty was expected to be a major part of the Browns offensive strategy this year. I mean, you just don’t trade up in the draft to take a running back with knee concerns to help you in the future. You get him to help the team  immediately, and I think losing him in the final exhibition game really threw the Browns’ offensive gameplan and philosophy out of whack heading into the first two games of the season. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not exactly defending Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll, either. Like the masses, I don’t think he’s very creative and doesn’t exaclty know how to utilize the players he’s got. What I am saying, though, is that just like sometimes it takes people a while to figure out who they are in everyday, real life, it also sometimes takes NFL offenses a couple of games to find out who they are. After the performance by running back Peyton Hillis against the Ravens defense last Sunday, at least we have a grasp of who/what the Browns offense is heading forward.

So at the end of day, yes, the Browns are 0-3 this year under Mangini, but even Vince Lombardi couldn’t have turned this thing around in just 19 games. The bottom line is that the Browns have been competitive for three Sundays in a row and still haven’t tuned Mangini out.

 So there’s my defense of Coach Mangini. I’m not saying he’s the next Bill Belichick or anything like that, but I do think progress has been made despite his ugly 5-14 record in Cleveland. All I know is that I sure hope he’s the guy, because I’m sick of the Browns’ organization taking steps backwards.

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Tags: Anquan Boldin Brandon Flowers Cleveland Browns Eric Mangini Eric Wright Kansas City Chiefs Mike Holmgren Peyton Hillis Phil Savage Ravens Romeo Crennel Tampa Bay Buccaneers Vince Lombardi

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