Rich's Rant: The Wrong Formula

Rich Passan believes that Browns owner Randy Lerner is repeating the mistakes of the past...

Randy Lerner still doesn't get it.

The Browns owner, whose strange and reclusive ways in dealing with the public has confused a lot of fans, has become delusional.

In a recent interview with Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon Journal, Lerner reacted strongly to criticism that his approach to restructuring his front office was being conducted in a backward manner. Like naming a new coach before a new general manager.

If this were the first time he had done this, it might be dismissed as being naïve. But this is two in a row for the owner.

"Fans say I don't get it, I'm not a football guy," he responded. "I've been doing this six years in a row. When you think about it every day of your life, you do pick up one or two things."

Six years in a row and that qualifies him as a football guy? Six years in a row for the football guy and a 33-63 record to show for it? He sure has learned a lot in that time. Like how not to put together a winning organization. And how to take Murphy's Law to a whole new level. Maybe that's what he meant by picking up one or two things.

Lerner, his protestations notwithstanding, just doesn't get it. Maybe the people who surround him tell him he's doing it the right way. He's not. Probably because he's listening to the wrong people.

With Eric Mangini firmly ensconced in the role of Keeper of the Keys to the Kingdom, when George Kokinis is named general manager this week, he will be toothless. Mangini will be the great dictator.

What general manager would operate under conditions like that? Only those desperate for the job. The others would be fools to take a job with such restrictions. They'd be a general manager in name only. Mangini is the de facto GM.

In the National Football League, the general manager is the coach's immediate boss. Period. In the Lerner structure, the GM has as much authority over the coach as one of the ball boys.

The Mangini hire put a severe crimp in the hiring of a quality general manager. First, Scott Pioli said no. Then Tom Heckert. Rich McKay wanted no part of the job. All seasoned veterans of NFL front offices who professed an interest in succeeding Phil Savage, but said, "I'll pass," when Mangini was tapped. No self-respecting general manager wants to work under these conditions.

Why would anyone accept the Browns' GM job knowing he would be defanged even before he started? Knowing Mangini and possessing the ability to work with him, as it will be with Kokinis, should not be one of the primary requirements for the job. Having a strong say-so in Mangini's performance as a coach should be.

It has also become obvious that Lerner, first with Romeo Crennel and now with Mangini, is trying to emulate the New England Patriots' model for success. Once again, he doesn't get it and is trotting down the wrong path.

He would have been much better off following the philosophical coaching models set up in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. It's not a fluke these two teams met for the AFC Championship. These are the teams after which Lerner should want to model his Browns. Not the Patriots. The Browns need to become like teams in the AFC North and follow their formulas for success.

Lerner also has set up his new structure in an autonomous manner regarding his coach and GM. "These are going to be two guys reporting to me, not one reporting to the other," he told the ABJ. "I'm not going to fall into that trap."

Trap?  It's not a trap.  It's the manner in which many successful NFL teams have been constructed with the GM typically superior to the head coach. The Lerner way, Mangini and Kokinis are on equal footing.


There needs to be a clear-cut division of authority. And right now, it appears as though the head coach is clearly ranked higher than the general manager on the organizational chart. That's a prescription for disaster. The dysfunction continues.

In the event both men rush to Lerner with a problem, whose side do you suppose he'll come down on? The coach he rushed to sign even though no one else expressed an interest? Or the general manager, who took the job even though he knew he was powerless and worked at the whim of the coach? Don't bother answering. Rhetorical questions.

What if the coach and general manager have a fundamental difference of opinion and instead of working it out by themselves, they take that problem to Lerner without the knowledge of the other? They could play the political game. Yep, that'll solve everything.

Can't imagine Lerner would run another company like this. There's a chain of command that must be adhered to in order for any company to be successful. The lieutenants do not report to the general.

The lack of a true leader in the front office will come back and bite Lerner in the hind flanks once again. It happened with the Savage-Crennel pairing and it'll eventuate again with Mangini and Kokinis. Count on it.

What's to prevent Mangini or Kokinis from falling off the same page? You can't expect the coach and GM to be of a like mind all the time. The only way it'll work is if one of them is flexible and willing to bend to satisfy and accommodate the other. The odds on that happening all the time are quite large.

It might not happen in the first year or two, but it'll happen eventually. One will take a disagreement to an owner who knows practically nothing about football and he's going to arbitrate. What a joke.

There must be a clear division of authority in the front office. Without it, the Browns are more prone to collapse. Without it, any progress can be stopped in its tracks.

Right now, just about all the power lies in the lap of the coach. Mangini is the puppeteer pulling all the strings. Everything revolves around him. And there is no reason to believe that is going to change. Lerner has given him what amounts to carte blanche with regard to everything Browns.

If there's infighting and Kokinis does not have the power to fire the coach because the owner has shackled that power, chaos almost certainly would ensue.

Same old, same old.

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