It wouldn’t be surprising that Randy Lerner, in a euphoric moment following the Browns’ upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers Thursday night, allowed himself second thoughts about bringing back Eric Mangini next season.
And who can blame the Browns’ owner after he and a stunned national television audience witnessed the blessed event.
In a season that has gone awry from the very beginning, Lerner has put on a brave front in the face of mounting pressure and maintained Mangini is his man. Despite all the losing, he has stood by his coach with no apparent logical reason to support it.
And now, his sternest test awaits. Now is when Lerner must stand his ground. Now is when he must keep his eye on the big picture. He must not let this victory cloud his vision of where he would eventually like to wind up.
He has stated he wants to bring in a so-called czar to run the football operation and whoever that is will determine the fate of Mangini. He must remain loyal to that goal.
Lerner has to know that this is not a good football team. Far from it, in fact. It has lost 11 of 13 games and deservedly so. That record is not an aberration.
But for at least today, he will have a difficult time convincing himself otherwise after watching his team not only beat, but beat up – no, make that dominate – the Steelers. And that happens as frequently as a solar eclipse.
Tomorrow, when reality settles back in, hopefully he will see this well-deserved victory for what it was. A gallant, blind-squirrel effort that happens every once in a while in the National Football League.
This victory should not be considered a portent of things to come because it wasn’t. Not even close.
Did this triumph make up for the way the Browns played in the previous 12 games this season? No. Did it put a bounce in the step of Browns fans this morning? You bet it did. And it’ll last well into next week.
Yes, the Browns played an inspired football game against the Steelers, who performed more like the Browns. And the victory tasted especially saccharine because it wiped the smile off Hines Ward’s face and finally showed Ben Roethlisberger how it felt to lose a game to Cleveland.
It seemed as though the Browns’ defense was dedicated to make Big Ben its personal tackling dummy most of the evening in large part due to exquisite coverage by the secondary. He looked like a piñata as he absorbed the eight-sack pounding.
It also showed that for one night, Rob Ryan out-LeBeaued Dick LeBeau. And that’s not easy to do because the Steelers’ defensive coordinator is one of the NFL’s all-time best.
It was nice to see the outspoken Cleveland defensive boss finally turn his cornerbacks loose on press coverage most of the evening in conjunction with a creative array of blitz packages. And they accomplished the feat despite a rash of season-ending injuries that has left the club bereft of what comparatively marginal talent it had to begin with.
Kind of makes one wonder where that defense has been all season
But in the overall scheme of things this season, the main culprit for the 1-11 start is Mangini, whose questionable personnel decisions robbed his team of any chance to be successful. Because of his strange manipulations, this team is riddled with holes.
Lerner must turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to what most likely will be Mangini’s attempt to convince him that what he saw against the Steelers is just the beginning. That is hardly the case.
Beating the Steelers occurs so infrequently that when it happens, all reason flies out the window. And Mangini most likely will take advantage of that as he lobbies to remain gainfully employed in Cleveland. Can’t blame him.
Lerner has to resist. For the sake of the fans and for the sake of his franchise, which desperately needs to head in another direction.
Mangini’s job should remain in serious danger in spite of what took place Thursday night at Cleveland Browns Stadium. A victory like this should not be enough to save the man’s job.
The damage has been done. It’s incumbent on Lerner to recognize that and move forward. That means without Mangini. Let him finish the season, then cashier him.
It’s the right thing to do.