The vultures of doom circle menacingly over Eric Mangini’s head these days. And with good reason.
Browns fans aren’t exactly thrilled by what they’ve seen in the first eight games this season and have targeted a scapegoat: Mangini is squarely in the crosshairs.
He’s also in the crosshairs of owner Randy Lerner, who stunningly excused George Kokinis from his general manager’s duties Monday in the first move of what could turn out to be a major reclamation project that finally points the beleaguered franchise in the proper direction.
The fans are so angry with Mangini, many want to see him back in the unemployment line. Eight games into a four-year contract and they wouldn’t miss him if he disappeared. This isn’t what they bargained for when Lerner fell hopelessly – and foolishly – in love with him last January.
A rapidly growing number of fans want Mangini gone. Now. Yesterday would be better.
Not so fast.
There is no question Mangini has alienated many fans, more by the performance of his team than what he has done off the field. How the Browns have played can be attributed directly to his coaching.
He caused the mess that currently masquerades as the Cleveland Browns. He’s the one who traded away most of the talent this team had. He’s the one who brought in his own people, downgrading the talent level.
So Lerner must swallow hard and then do what he has done ever since hiring Mangini. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. He needs to take care of his soccer team across the pond and leave his Browns coach alone.
To send him on his way at this time would be wrong for one very important reason. Stop and think about it.
What would be the best form of torture for Mangini at this point in his career? To watch his team wallow among the dregs of the National Football League. To stain a shaky reputation even more. To make certain once and for all that he never again is considered for a head coaching position in the NFL when he finally departs the North Coast.
Yes, it would be counterproductive in regards to the remainder of the season and patently unfair to the players. But that ship has sailed with the club’s performance thus far.
No, Mangini must be forced to endure what is certain to become the most embarrassing – and eminently forgettable – season in club history. He must be forced to watch as his marginally talented team sinks deeper and deeper into the morass. He must be forced to stand in front of the media for the next two months and try to explain away the ineptitude of his coaches and team. He must be forced to coach what he has crafted.
That’s the only kind of punishment that’ll fit the crime.
It would be emotionally costly for the fans, of course, but how much worse can it be in the next eight games than it has been in the first eight games? Not much at all. All the loyalists have to do is hang in there for a little while longer.
Shortly after coming on board, Mangini quickly maneuvered into position to become the face of the franchise. Everything related to the football program ran through his office. He, and he alone, has orchestrated this mess and should have to live with it a while longer.
He made a huge mistake when he broke up what was a decent team that underperformed last season for a coaching staff that was overmatched. It was a six-, maybe seven-victory team that was coached to just four victories.
He arrived with every intention of tinkering with the roster. At least that’s what he reportedly told Lerner needed to be done when interviewing for the job. And the owner bought it.
Well, tinkering took on a whole new meaning as the new coach practically gutted the roster. Murphy’s Law attached itself to just about every Mangini move. From the college draft to free agency, if there was a wrong personnel move to be made, he made it.
In an effort to build the club in his image on and off the field, he slammed the gears of progress into reverse. For every step forward, he has taken two backward.
At his news conference following week seven’s loss to the Green Bay Packers, Mangini was asked if he thought his team was better at that stage than at the beginning of the season.
“I think we are right where we've played ourselves to be,” he said in his typical head-scratching way. “That's what the record indicates. I think that there are plenty of opportunities for us, with the rest of the season, to win the games. We're looking to win each one, but the record is what it is and that's a reflection of what we've been able to do to this point.”
Along the way, Mangini reportedly has also alienated the very constituency that determines whether he succeeds or fails. You don’t want to mess with the players in this day and age when it comes to petty incidents off the field.
So when the season ends at approximately 4 p.m. on the first Sunday in January, Lerner should make his move and cashier Mangini. Allow him to finish what he started and then purge him from the memory banks of all Browns fans around the globe. End this nightmare.
Then he should go out and hire men he should have hired in the first place. Marty Schottenheimer and Carl Peterson are still available. Peterson is a sound football man from a personnel standpoint and Schottenheimer’s coaching record is worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. They know how to reconstruct football teams.
Some will argue that Schottenheimer will never take a team to a Super Bowl. Right now, that should be the farthest thought in fans’ minds. The Browns first must become at least representative before even thinking of Super Bowls. Then they need to become competitive.
That’s what the 66-year-old Schottenheimer, an outstanding motivator, can provide. He can give this team what it badly needs: Direction, stability, a sense of purpose, a winning attitude and a winning culture. He knows how to win. That can’t be stressed enough.
Schottenheimer doesn’t get to Super Bowls. That’s a fact. He just fixes teams when they’re broken. Did it in Cleveland when he took over from Sam Rutigilano a generation ago; in Kansas City; in Washington; and in San Diego.
He has a track record of success that needs to come to Cleveland one last time. His calming and very reassuring manner would fit beautifully in Cleveland.
Would Marty return to Cleveland in a coaching capacity? I’m betting he would. He’s all about challenges and this is a challenge too good to pass up. He’d be perfect in that role. And it wouldn’t take him long to get this franchise back on its feet.
Can Schottenheimer and Peterson work miracles? Not right away. But they’ll provide what this team desperately craves. The Browns are in such a state right now that they need to stand up first before walking.
The marriage between Lerner and Mangini was not a fit from the start. Too bad it took so long, relatively speaking, for the owner to discover. Hopefully, the damage Mangini and Kokinis wrought isn’t so severe that it’ll take several years to fix.
There is hope yet for the Browns. It began with the departure of Kokinis Monday. It should end with Mangini’s exit at the end of the work day on Jan. 3.
* * *
Some highly disappointed and emotional fans of the Browns plan to stage a Brown-out for next Monday night’s nationally televised game at Cleveland Browns Stadium against the Baltimore Ravens. Stating they feel the need to make a statement, they want CBS to be empty by the opening kickoff and then everyone can matriculate to their seats following the kickoff.
Nothing wrong with protesting. But to do so in such an embarrassing fashion is counterproductive and will bring shame and national ridicule to the City of Cleveland. Isn’t the team’s performance thus far embarrassing enough? No need to pile on in such a patently absurd fashion.
Think first of the ramifications of such an action. All it will do is call attention to the fans’ stupidity and reflect poorly on what many of us still believe is one of the best fan bases in the NFL. Display signs if the gendarmes allow you. Want to wear paper bags over your head? Go ahead. Nothing wrong with that. That’s benign by comparison.
If you want to protest more effectively, don’t attend the game. Watch it on television. Your absence will send a powerful message. Let your empty seat become a symbol of your discontent. If that doesn’t work and you’re still unhappy, don’t buy tickets to the games. That’ll send a stronger and much more meaningful message. Losing your money hurts the team more than you can imagine.
Hopefully, the protesters rethink their actions and then cancel their moronic plans.