BEREA, Ohio—When Mike Holmgren decided to keep Eric Mangini at the end of the 2009 season, it was largely due to the Browns winning the final four games. The coach in Holmgren told him it was only fair to keep Mangini on after keeping the team together and playing hard after the team started off 1-11. In hindsight, it might have been a version of ‘fool’s gold’ as it might’ve impeded the Browns in their long-term plans.
Personally, I like Eric Mangini as a coach and person, but I see two philosophies on a collision course. Holmgren is used to a high octane type of offense and Mangini is not. After witnessing the Browns offense in 2010, Holmgren has to be frustrated at times. He admitted so in his bye week press conference.
There is no question that Mangini has made the Browns competitive, but in today’s version of the NFL, turnarounds can happen in less than three seasons. The Chiefs had the fourth worst record in the NFL last season and are vying for a playoff spot this year as they currently lead their division with just two games left at 9-5.
Holmgren was asked after the bye week about Mangini’s future and he didn’t offer a vote of confidence to him. By saying everything will be evaluated and it won’t just be on wins and losses, seems to say that Mangini’s job security was in question even then, when the team was 2-5 and coming off the big win over the Saints.
If Holmgren elects to let Mangini go, I still will hold to what I said at the time Holmgren decided to keep Mangini –that is, Holmgren will step in and be the team’s coach in 2011. My feeling was if the Browns were successful in 2010, then Holmgren would look good in the fact that he made the right decision in retaining Mangini.
If things didn’t go well, it would allow Holmgren to step back into the coaching circle. At 62, if Holmgren wants to coach again, it would make sense to do so now. If he were to hire one of his perceived ‘guys’ like Jon Gruden, he would have to give him at the least two to three years to turn the team around and the window for Holmgren to return to the sideline would be getting closer to being closed.
I specifically asked Holmgren at his bye week press conference if he missed coaching and my interpretation was that after dodging the question, he basically, said ‘Yes’. If he wasn’t planning on coaching again with the Browns or elsewhere, he easily could’ve said, ‘No, I am not coaching again. I enjoy going home at 5 every day’.
If the decision is made to fire Mangini, Holmgren taking over would be the smoothest transition for the Browns. He knows the players and he and Tom Heckert will continue to work closely together in procuring talent. Bringing in a new coach from the outside would require more of a transition for the team as the new coach would want his own players and his own system.
Holmgren knows what the current team is made up of and could make subtle changes in the system, without making wholesale changes, keeping continuity.
Team consultant Gil Haskell is ready to be the offensive coordinator and even if Mangini is retained, Haskell could be the guy to take over for Brian Daboll. If Colt McCoy is deemed the franchise quarterback, he is much more suited to run the West Coast offense.
Some have speculated that firing Mangini and hiring a new coach with the impending lockout in 2011 would have the Browns paying for two high priced coaches. If Holmgren is the coach, he’s already on the payroll.
Finally, the Browns brought in Holmgren to be a ‘credible football figure’ and he has largely been behind the scenes. It is time for Holmgren to become much more visible in the transformation of the Browns from a competitive team to an elite team.
Holmgren is the 10th most winning coach in NFL history and has had a winning season in 14 of his 17 seasons at the helm, including 12 playoff berths, three Super Bowl appearances and one Super Bowl title. That sounds very good considering the Browns have had just one playoff appearance since 1999.
Obviously, things can change quickly in two weeks in the NFL and the final two games with the Ravens and Steelers can change the direction of the Browns. Just think what the feeling was after the Browns posted back-to-back triumphs over the Saints and Patriots.
The next couple of weeks will certainly be interesting. But for Browns fans, that’s generally what has come to be expected at this time of year.