BEREA, Ohio—The return of Bill Belichick to Cleveland this week game brings back memories—some good, but most of them bad.
The Bill Belichick in 2010 is revered as maybe one of the best coaches in the NFL's history. It wasn't so when he started in his first head coaching job with the Browns in 1991.
Belichick was the darling defensive coordinator of the Giants under Bill Parcells when they defeated the Bills in the Super Bowl. However, if Bills' kicker Scott Norwood doesn't miss a field goal, the Giants don't win the Super Bowl and maybe Belichick doesn't become the head coach of the Browns.
In Belichick's first season with the Browns in 1991, the team went 6-10, followed by back-to-back 7-9 seasons in 1992 and 1993. The '93 season was also the infamous dumping of Browns' icon Bernie Kosar in favor of Todd Philcox and ultimately Vinny Testaverde.
The 1994 season was the high water mark for the Browns under Belichick as the team was 11-5 and made the playoffs. They defeated the Patriots in the first round, but then lost to the Steelers in the second-round.
Then came the 1995 season, when the team started 4-4 and then Art Modell announced he was moving the Browns to Baltimore after the season. The team lost seven of their last eight and finished 5-11.
Beichick was just 36-44 in his five seasons with the Browns. Since taking over as the Patriots' coach, he is 132-53 (.714 pct.) with three Super Bowl wins. Overall, Belichick is 169-98 as a head coach in the NFL.
During Belichick's tenure with the Browns, Eric Mangini started his career as a PR intern/ ball boy under Belichick. Mangini said he influenced him tremendously in his coaching career.
"It's hard to summarize," Mangini said when asked of Belichick's influence on him. "A tremendous influence because working with him here and as a first time coach and being able to see things from that perspective. I was actually on the offensive side and I got to view it from that angle, but being able to see his work ethic and his complete knowledge of all three phases, the attention to detail, that left a lasting impression. That last year was a difficult year to say the least, and to see how that unfolded and then to fast forward to New York and be an assistant of his in the secondary when he was coaching the secondary as a defensive coordinator. Then moving to New England going through the lean year that we had there in 2000 and the transition that we made in 2001 and the subsequent year really affected, probably all aspects of my development. I am really happy that I had that chance because I think he's arguably one of the best, if not the best coach in the league."
Arguably, during Belichick's tenure in Cleveland, he might have been the least liked coach in Browns' history. Even when the team went to the playoffs, there didn't seem to be a buzz around the team as there was in the 1980's.
"I think that sometimes the things you do aren't really understood, but Bill believes in things that he does and there's a commitment to that and the other underlying factors for everything that he does is winning, and that's the driving force," Mangini said. "I've always been impressed at his ability to make a decision that may not be the popular decision, but it's the right decision and that's not always easy to do. That's often very difficult to do and a lot of the best CEOs and politicians and leaders can do that, they can make those decisions that on the face are very unpopular, but are needed in order to grow and to improve and to be successful. He's done it time and time again and been successful time and time again."
Mangini said one of the things that has made Belichick successful, is the fact that he's not afraid to make the tough decisions.
"Bill's a pretty focused guy, and I think the important thing is you have to know what you stand for, know what you believe in and have conviction," Mangini said. "There's always going to be differences of opinion and you respect the differences of opinion, but at the end of the day you have to go with what you feel is right and what you believe is right. Sometimes, it is right, sometimes it's wrong, but there's always going to be ideas and thoughts as to how you can do something differently. Your job is to do what you feel is going to give the team an opportunity to be successful."
The two became estranged after Mangini left to become a head coach of the Jets and the ‘Spygate' scandal ensued when the Jets accused the Patriots of videotaping signals. Belichick was fined $500,000 and the Patriots were fined $250,000 and forfeited a first-round draft choice. Mangini said the relationship between the two has been non-existent since then.
"I don't think it's changed in the last years," Mangini said. "I have tremendous respect for him. I think everything takes care of itself in time. He's had a lot to focus on and I have a lot to focus on."
Benjamin Watson was a member of the Patriots when Mangini's Jets played in the 2007 season opener.
"I remember a lot about it," Watson said. "I just remember a lot of that didn't have to do much with the players, so we just went out and played. We were playing the Jets and it was a great game to play in and it was fun and I think it was a big win for the Patriots.
"All of that stuff kind of stayed out of our realm, and our realm was playing football," he said. "The media talked about ‘Spygate' and the coaches or whatever, but for us, we were just playing football."
Mangini was asked if the two could repair their relationship.
"I'd say, never say never," Mangini said. "Obviously, he was very important to me and I respect him, very important to my family and all those things, but we'll see. Time will tell.
"I think everything takes care of itself over time," Mangini said. "He's had a lot to focus on. I've had a lot to focus on, so it's just one of those things right now."
In recent years, when Mangini and Belichick have coached against each other, there has been a lot of attention to how they meet up after the game for the post-game handshake.
"I don't know why, they seem to be very entertaining," Mangini said.
Belichick didn't have much to say this week when asked about Mangini.
"Today, we're both coaching teams that are going to play on Sunday," Belichick said in a conference call on Wednesday. "We're both going to put a lot into this week and try and win on Sunday."
Belichick was asked about the post game meeting.
"Hopefully, I'll have a smile on my face."
Even the players don't know what to make of it.
"(Mangini's) motivated obviously to beat his mentor," Joe Thomas said. "I wonder if they will shake hands."
Watson has a lot of respect for Belichick, who he played six seasons for.
"He's the first and only coach I've been around until I got here, I was drafted there," Watson said. "I think he definitely garners respect as a football coach from people around the league. He's definitely one of the great football minds and he's a great coach. I would definitely say he's the best football mind I've been around."
Watson sees similarities between Belichick and Mangini.
"I think they're both great coaches, they're both great game planners," Watson said. "Obviously, Coach Mangini learned a lot from Coach Belichick, and Belichick learned a lot in turn from Coach (Bill) Parcells. It just attributes to how football works. Football is about relationships, it's about passing down knowledge and there are guys under Mangini that are going to be looking at him one day the way he looks at Bill. I think both of them are great coaches in their own right."