Eric Mangini's role in what now has become a decade-long crusade to resurrect a toothless franchise came to a conclusion Monday morning when team president Mike Holmgren relieved the second-year coach of his duties.
The move itself should not have come as a total surprise, considering the downward spiral Mangini's team experienced over the final month of the season.
Holmgren seemed to echo these sentiments in his press conference announcing the move.
"I think if you look at our season it had tremendous highs and lows for me," Holmgren said. "I think when we beat New England and New Orleans, I don't think anybody in this room could leave this room without a smile on their face. It was really something, something very special. Then as good as we finished last year, a year ago, we finished as poor this year. If you're talking about direction or how I felt the team was going, the finish wasn't a feel good finish.
"What I tried to do is not base my decision on any one game, any one play, any two games, any stretch but the body of work. As I told the players when I met with them today after Eric had talked to them I went in and talked to them briefly. I have high expectations and I'm not going to settle, I'm just not going to settle."
On one hand, Mangini's 10-22 record in Cleveland, including three consecutive division losses to end the 2010 season, was the major impetus for change.
However, in identifying the overall "body of work" as a major consideration, it's worth asking just what Mangini could have done in 2010 to warrant another year as head coach? Heading into 2010, Mangini was already facing steep odds in trying to turn around a talent-thin roster and a roster that performed heroically in pulling out five wins in 2009.
To this end, Mangini would have needed to take the Browns into the playoffs and beyond in order to improve on his existing "body of work" and secure future employment. Nothing short of a coaching miracle would have changed Mangini's fate.
Or, in other words, was Holmgren's ultimate decision one that was made up weeks or even months ago?
If such was the case, then Mangini becomes a rarity in the annals of Browns' coaching history, as he essentially was a lame duck coach before the season even began. On this note, it's worth pointing out things could have turned out far differently for Mangini and the 2010 Browns.
Although they're nothing but forgotten footnotes at this point, four key moments could have delayed what eventually turned out to be Mangini's inevitable fate.
•A Chansi Stuckey fumble against the Jets.
•A defensive meltdown that allowed Maurice Jones-Drew's Jacksonville team to steal a win form the heart of the Browns' disappointing 2010 record.
What turned out to be another 5-11 finish could have easily been 9-7.
If such a thing occurred, then Holmgren's decision – predetermined or not – would have proven more difficult to make. Of course, hindsight and hypotheticals rarely form the kind of cold NFL logic that Holmgren used to make his decision.
Also, disheartening losses to Cincinnati and Buffalo, followed by spankings at the hands of Baltimore and Pittsburgh didn't exactly leave a great final impression.
Supporters of Mangini will naturally point to the almost impossible circumstances he inherited in taking over the team. Beyond fielding a roster utterly void of any game-breaking talent, Mangini basically ran the entire franchise during the first year of his tenure. While these last two statements could prove symbiotic, the process Mangini introduced in Cleveland was something that was long overdue.
During his short time in Cleveland, Mangini ushered in a new era of accountability from his players and dispatched the locker room of the kind of "me-first" characters that had been allowed to fester. While these moves considerably affected the on-field product, Mangini's Browns played a kind of team-centric and physical brand of football not seen in years.
Unfortunately for Mangini, he may have foreshadowed his fate simply by doing such a thing. Referring to himself as "the cleaner," Mangini ultimately became just that. In attempting to change the culture of the locker room and ultimately the organization, the team's on-field performance naturally suffered.
These things occur during such a process.
In this sense, Mangini's tenure in Cleveland and his overall role in reforming the franchise could be considered an overwhelming success. As he departs Cleveland, Mangini leaves the Browns in much better shape than they were two years ago. From improved facilities to a more professional approach in terms of scouting, game planning and practicing, Mangini's process has been ingrained throughout the organization.
Perhaps Holmgren was hinting at such an idea.
"The ‘here we go again' feeling is real," Holmgren said. "Have we taken some strides this year even though it was a tough year in some respects? I think we have. As I mentioned to you earlier, I don't want to do this again, so I have to get this one right. I really think I have to get this one right for organizational continuity, for the ability to keep people in place for a long period of time to develop the organization. While I understand how people would say that, I think we did do some things this year that we can build on."
While it's obvious that Monday's decision signals that the Browns finally have a legitimate franchise leader in place, one who is solely accountable for the team's present and future, it can also be said that Mangini is responsible for much of the foundation that a new coach will inherit.
Unlike the remains of the Romeo Crennel/Phil Savage era, a new Browns coach will not have to start from scratch in 2011. And with another solid draft, these Browns could easily transition into a contender in a short time.
And regardless of whoever takes over the coaching reigns in 2011, one thing is abundantly clear.
The process that Mangini began will continue.