Heading into the off-season, the Cleveland Browns are in a precarious position. Being a team in need of guidance and direction in the front office, as well as in the locker room, team owner Randy Lerner is faced with the daunting challenge of changing the complexion of the organization.
Early in the Browns' search process, Scott Pioli was the predominant name often heard and spoken as being the odds-on favorite to lead the Browns back to respectability. A former member of the Browns staff in the early-to-mid-90's under Bill Belichick, Pioli has garnered plenty of notoriety around the league as the right-hand man to Belichick in his role as the Patriots' vice president of player personnel.
Despite speculation that Pioli was the front-runner to head-up a new Browns front office, numerous discussions with and about the Patriots' front office executive left Lerner wondering if Pioli is indeed the right man for the job. For Lerner, he has felt the sting of being disappointed when he provided a lone man absolute power within the organization (Butch Davis), as well as teaming a general manager with limited front office experience (Phil Savage) with a head coach who did not see eye-to-eye much more often than many outside the organization realizes.
Sources tell theOBR that Pioli requested absolute power over the Browns' front office; he is believed to have wanted to tear down the operations of the organization and begin a rebuilding process. Lerner from all accounts does not agree with the notion that this organization is in a precarious state, instead pinning the existing issues on the problems between the former general manager and head coach as well as injuries which hampered the productivity and promise of what was ultimately a disastrous 2008 season.
While the Pioli-to-Cleveland headline is not completely dead in the water, the likelihood of the move occurring appears unlikely. As Lerner is close to committing to former New York Jets head coach Eric Mangini to become the next head coach, Pioli and Mangini working in tandem is highly unlikely.
A portion of the process which has dragged into a second week was related to working toward a possible reconciliation between Pioli and Mangini, a former Patriots assistant. Mangini is widely believed to be the man behind the report to the NFL league offices revealing the illegal taping process the Patriots utilized when Mangini was a member of the staff in New England.
It was during this part of the process that Lerner became legitimately concerned. Looking for a 'football guy' to work within the organization and display the ability to lead and work with a head coach to ensure chemistry, Pioli reportedly expressed his desire to also bring in his own head coach, believed to be Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. A former assistant coach in Cleveland under Belichick, Ferentz remains close friends with Pioli.
Lerner became enamored with Mangini following an interview and is less likely to accept another coach fresh from the college ranks, making positive talks or realistic progress between Lerner and Pioli appear much more unlikely. While neither Lerner nor Pioli have spoken on the record, it is believed that Lerner continues his pursuit to ensure continuity within his organization. This would likely not occur with Pioli behind the wheel unless he concedes some of the power he's seeking and loosens his grasp on the head coach.
Both of those obstacles appear unlikely to be hurdled.
When reflecting on the 2008 season, Lerner's disappointment and disdain for issues between the general manager and head coach helped create the avenue the owner now travels upon. During the progression of a poor season, Lerner realized that having a general manager and head coach on the same page would be a prerequisite for the new hires coming into the organization providing leadership and stability.
Lerner is believed to look upon the organization as one lacking leadership in the front office, respect and direction involving interaction and support between the head of player personnel and the head coach.
With each passing day, the rumors and speculation surrounding the Browns and their pursuit of a new general manager and head coach puzzles many. The fan base and league sources are openly confused with the latest developments in the search process.
As all indications point toward Mangini being named head coach of the Browns, the sides are in a holding pattern at this time as Mangini's close friend George Kokinis has been prohibited by the Ravens from interviewing for the Browns' general manager post until Sunday. The Baltimore president of pro personnel was first reported to be a candidate for the Browns' GM position by ESPN, and sources tell theOBR the interest in Kokinis is legitimate and significant.
Much more in tune to the professional side of the game, Kokinis is looked at as being a stabilizing, experienced influence who could be the leader of player personnel along with T.J. McCreight. McCreight, the Browns' director of player personnel, is viewed by Lerner as being absolutely one of the best profesional and college scouts in the country. The rest of the player personnel staff in place in Cleveland are viewed in much the same light.
Once Kokinis is interviewed, the Browns could quickly name the replacements for Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel. Of course, the game could change in the coming days if one Scott Pioli does come to accept the one job he's wanted for some time --the general manager of the Cleveland Browns
Or, just maybe, the impressive title of Vice President of Football Operations.