Rich's Rant: Puzzling Coaching Hires

Two men chosen for Cleveland Browns coordinator jobs are curious choices, for different reasons...

We'll never know what went through Eric Mangini's mind when he selected the coordinators for his initial season as head coach of the Browns.

He has made two curious choices in offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. One has never coordinated an offense; the other arrives with a spotty record.

The thought process Mangini used that landed Ryan and Daboll for the offense has baffled some and pleased others.

It delighted those tired of watching the Browns of Romeo Crennel stumble on both sides of the ball last season, figuring that anyone else could do a better job.

It puzzled those who ask, "What did Rob Ryan do as Oakland's defensive coordinator that would excite you? And isn't Brian Daboll the fourth straight rookie offensive coordinator (Maurice Carthon, Jeff Davidson and Rob Chudzinski) the Browns have hired?"

(Yeah, I know Carthon coordinated the Dallas offense under Bill Parcells, but he wasn't permitted to call plays. That made him a rookie in my book.)

It didn't take Mangini long to decide Ryan and Daboll were his guys. Their names rambled out of rumor central even before he was officially named coach of the Browns.

Of course, having coached with these guys earlier in his career didn't hurt. Comfort level is very important when a head coach fills his staff.

Ryan and Daboll are unusual picks for different reasons. The only similarity is that both are expected to improve on last season's performance, which, on the surface, won't take a lot considering how stunningly the 2008 team underachieved.

In Ryan, the Browns inherit a coordinator whose bloodlines suggest he will give the Cleveland defense something it hasn't had since the return in 1999: An aggressive, almost mean, approach to football. After all, isn't that what the game is all about?

Ryan's father, Buddy, was known for the hostile nature his teams displayed. When you went up against a Buddy Ryan defense, you knew you were in for a fight and a beating. The 1985 Chicago Bears, under his leadership, fielded arguably the best defensive team ever in the National Football League.

And Ryan's twin brother, Rex, developed enough of a reputation with his combative, almost belligerent, defensive philosophy with the Baltimore Ravens that it landed him in Mangini's old seat in New York with the Jets.

So one would think Rob Ryan, with his Grizzly Adams look, will be the anti-Crennel as far as getting after the opposition. Browns fans would love to see that after watching the opposition carve up Crennel's passive defense for the last four seasons.

Word is he is inclined to run a more aggressive, gambling defense like his brother in Baltimore. We won't know for certain whether he will be his own man with the Browns. Mangini's defensive philosophy is similar to Crennel's and the keep-everything-in-front-of-you approach appears to run against the grain of Ryan's philosophy.

Ryan reportedly wanted to join Mangini in New York last season, but was forced to fill out his five-year contract with the Raiders. Rumors in the Bay area suggested Ryan and Raiders owner Al Davis worked on the club's game plans. Ryan has denied this.

But it was no secret that the Raiders played Davis-style defense with press coverage by the cornerbacks and a standard pass rush with little or no blitzing. And Ryan was the good soldier.

When he coached with Mangini under Bill Belichick in New England, Ryan was schooled in the Patriots' 3-4 scheme. But when Davis brought him to Oakland, he embraced the 4-3.

Now Ryan returns to his 3-4 roots, but one has to wonder how wedded he is to that scheme considering he abandoned it when he joined the Raiders.

What has been conveniently overlooked is that Ryan's Raiders surrendered 24.2 points a game last season playing an easier schedule than the Browns. The Browns, under Mel Tucker, gave up 21.9 points a game.

The Browns gave up an astonishing 152 yards a game on the ground. The Raiders checked in at a staggering 160 yards a game.

How much of an improvement, then, have the Browns made in bringing in some who has been less successful that his predecessor?

Ryan's defenses in Oakland the last five seasons finished 27th, 22nd, third (an aberration?), 27th and 30th in the NFL. The Browns were 26th, 30th, 27, 16th and 15th during that span. If this is improvement, then someone is clearly lowering the bar.

Ryan supporters point out he didn't have much to work with in Oakland. Detractors ask, "Is the Browns' defensive personnel any better than the Raiders'?"

As for the Daboll hire, one can only assume Mangini believes the young Canadian is as ready as he'll ever be to run an offense. After coaching the New England receivers for five seasons and the New York Jets' quarterbacks for the last two seasons, that would be understandable.

But it is also a calculated risk. Mangini needs to get this offense straightened out in a hurry and that success is now in the hands of a first-year coordinator. Daboll has never called plays in the NFL before and now, he's being asked to revamp an offense that bottomed out last season in spectacular fashion.

It has been reported that Daboll will incorporate the Charlie Weis system with the Browns. It's a system with which he is eminently familiar, having served as Weis' receivers coach with the Patriots during their Super Bowl years.

Mangini is hopeful some of the Weis magic will rub off on Daboll, who will have the benefit of working with Brady Quinn, Weis' prized pupil from the quarterback's glory days at Notre Dame. Heading into the offseason, Quinn must be considered the favorite to open at quarterback next season due to his familiarity with the new offense.

Daboll's greatest challenge will be to come up with new wrinkles that suit the talents of the personnel. The Cleveland offense that became stodgy and predictable last season and bored way too many fans.

The Weis offense is more disciplined than that of Chudzinski, who wanted to spread opposing defenses by attempting to stretch the field. That, he reasoned, opened up running lanes for his running backs.

Daboll's offense will be much more West Coast-based with shorter pass routes and a greater emphasis on the ground game to set up the pass. It will be interesting to see how he handles the Browns' undisciplined route runners.

Bottom line: It's difficult to feel sanguine about an offensive coordinator who has never called plays and a defensive coordinator whose units have almost consistently ranked statistically near the bottom of the NFL.

To believe they're going to step in and immediately right a ship that is listing badly is to believe in the tooth fairy, Santa Claus and Peter Pan.


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