Q: With the changes in Cleveland and perception of the organization, how do you feel about the process of hiring the head coach, then hiring a general manager, and how do you see this process playing out long-term due to the method Randy Lerner used?
LA: Opinions differ on this issue and I do not believe there is a right answer. I do not have a problem with the manner in which team owner Randy Lerner went about hiring a new head coach and general manager, due mainly to the personal experiences Eric Mangini and George Kokinis share, along with the definitive role of each man within the organization structure.
The close personal relationship between the two men could be beneficial in establishing a common voice and avenue of talent evaluation and roster retooling, which this Browns team requires. This aspect should play out to be a considerable and valuable change within the structure of the organization as it should help calm issues of power and ego within the structure, factors which created turmoil and contempt in Cleveland under the prior regime.
Lerner spent a significant amount of time discussing this organization with experienced professionals he trusted. Many of those very people, throughout the early stages of the process, told Lerner that the right head coach would provide immediate stability with the on-field product and would make an immediate impact on the direction of the team.
With long-time league executive Ernie Accorsi playing a substantial role in the entire selection process, Lerner did not head into the interviewing and hiring process blind (as many within the industry have attempted to portray). Mangini was identified immediately as a quality candidate upon his firing from the New York Jets, and his interviews with Lerner and Accorsi went very well.
He was asked the tough questions about his time in New York, as well as asked to breakdown his vision for building, evaluating and maintaining discipline and respect throughout the team.
You never really know until the process commences and plays itself out. I have viewed many different methods and means with this organization over the years, and only time will tell if the organization got it right this time.
Q: You and John Taylor seem to have an edge about what you both do in covering and writing about this team. How difficult is to write about this organization, while not burning bridges with those same people you have to deal with? And, how difficult is it to write about the team and specific players without bias - some of your friends in the media appear to have preconceived notions.
LA: While I cannot speak for JT, we both share a sense of reporting only what we know and what we see. An organization and those people involved understand this is a business and in most cases don't take the discussion too personally, though some people will show their true colors when cast in anything but a positive light.
Believe me, I have received plenty of phone calls and email messages regarding what I write, from the organization and from some players on the roster. While they will disagree on occasion, in many instances they will display the ability to discuss the specific issue.
Writing a story is all about being objective. At theOBR, we tend to be a little different than the mainstream media, and we will openly state if we are writing a commentary, which is the only time you should read any reporter writing a piece which sides with one side of an issue or the other.
Q: Recently, I read some tidbits on the Orange and Brown Report that left me with a feeling that the organization is working hard to rectify issues of the past, but dictating with a strong-arm in dealing with those who cover the team. How difficult is it to deal with the new regime in Cleveland? Does there appear to be some long-lasting repercussions with how information will be distributed for the media and fans?
LA: The Browns organization has tightened the reigns on information seeping out of the organization in an unauthorized capacity. Some of those involved in those types of information-sharing are no longer with the organization.
As for how this change in regime affects theOBR, at this point I do not see a change in how we obtain information at all. If anything, the change in regime may level the playing field for all media covering the organization as we note how theOBR sat down with the owner, general manager and head coach of the team a few weeks back.
This Browns organization is in the mode of evaluating everything, from those working for the organization through the player roster. I have found that to this point in time, the Browns organization has been receptive to discuss issues or questions -- which has not always been the case.
Believe this, if the new head coach deserves criticism, we will be right there relaying what we know, what we see and why we are commenting in such a manner. Then again, the same can be stated if Mangini is solid and this team does display solid rebuilding qualities throughout the off-season, training camp and into the season; you will hear us here state that claim as well.
Again, it's only about objectivity.
Q: Some feathers were ruffled when Eric Mangini noted a soon-to-be free agent as a player of interest to the Browns. One report has the Browns bordering on tampering, while another made it out to be no big deal. Which is it and is there any credibility to the reports?
LA: As long as the player is under contract to another team, tampering can be construed when such specific player is discussed or contacted while under contract.
Since the player noted -- Derrick Ward -- is going to be a free agent in short order and not likely to re-sign with his current team, the comment made by the head coach is not being looked at seriously by the league -- even though what he stated can be construed as tampering if someone wanted to make an issue of it.
Q: With numerous issues within the player roster, can we realistically expect this team to turn it around in one offseason? If so, what makes you believe that this can be the case?
LA: When breaking down this Browns team, I would state the 2007 version was a surprise to many and not as solid as a 10-6 record seemed to indicate. On the flip-side, I do not see a true 4-12 team -- that was the 2008 season product.
Many variables played into the equation of each season: considerable internal turmoil, injuries and lack of consistency hampered the 2008 squad. When I look at this roster, I do not see the cupboards as being bare; there is talent within this roster and getting some of this talent playing in unison with one another -- as well as the coaching staff being on the same page -- will be an upgrade in and of itself this season.
What we will see from Mangini is a drastic change in mentality, not only within the locker room and assembly of the roster, but with the daily level of expectation and regimen on and off the field with the players and coaches. One thing to remember, which is important: we are not looking at a head coach who has been humbled from his prior experience, and also a coach which has hand-picked his coaches to utilize the offensive and defensive schemes and all the coaching and schematics involved.
This is a far cry, a major difference, from the past regime.
Coming into the camp, players are going to have earn jobs. Players in the past that knew their role and did not have to compete are in for a change under Mangini, and competition brings out the best in a truly competitive athlete.
The increase in focus, accountability and a sole voice at the head of this ship will work wonders for an organization and locker room which was very laid back and somewhat divided by too many issues.
Will Mangini work wonders in one off-season? Hard to tell and it would not be realistic to place that pressure on the coach, but he will give everything he has in himself. Because of that work ethic, this team will be a much tighter, more disciplined group, which should equate to improved performance in the long run.
Q: A pressing issue remains at the quarterback position. Is it likely we will see Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn once again in the offseason camps and training camp? If so, which player is a better fit in the new offensive system being incorporated?
LA: Being that the Browns are on the hook for Anderson's bonus in the middle of March to the tune of five million dollars, I don't see the organization simply trading him for the sake of moving him.
Anderson has displayed the ability to play at a high level and there are a good number of teams seeking a young, experienced QB that can step in and play. There is a market for Anderson, but this organization will not deal him for anything other than a first-day draft selection or player of significance to help alleviate some roster questions within this current squad.
As for the new offensive scheme, some have reported that we are going to see a West Coast-type offense, others have noted it being more tuned to a vertical type passing game. What this offensive will be is a structured base of the New England Patriots offense, very similar to the offense Brady Quinn ran while at Notre Dame under the direction of Charlie Weis, the former New England offensive coordinator and current Irish head coach. Browns' offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is very familar and experienced with this offensive scheme; there will be some flair from the New York Jets offense as well, which Daboll worked with as the QB's coach while a member of Mangini's Jets staff.
Quinn would appear to be the better, or the more natural, fit due to the short to intermediate passing game featured in the offense, as well as his experience in the system. However, the question remains whether Quinn will or can be effective in the vertical aspects of the scheme. His time on the field in the 2008 season did not erase those questions, though I am fairly confident that, once the young QB gets on the field in this offensive scheme, he is going to play and lead this team well.
As for Anderson, he is capable and, if he remains a member of the Browns organization, will again have the opportunity to display his ability, and could be suited for this type of offensive scheme with the change in coaching providing a different mindset and level of expectation.
I believe prior to training camp, the coaching staff of the Browns will have the QB they prefer established and will let the cards play out -- if necessary.
Q: Knowing there are various needs for this team to be successful, can we expect the Browns to be active in free agency and on draft day to secure talent to improve this roster?
LA: I anticipate the Browns are going to be active in free agency, but not to the extent of securing the big-name players or signings we have witnessed in past years. The organization will continue to create salary cap space in the weeks to come, all in an effort to improve the quality and depth of the roster. While such a strategy may appear to the naked eye as signing some average players, those average players should provide the consistency this team has lacked.
It is not a secret the organization is looking at possibilities to recoup some draft selections. Talking to a member of the organization recently, this group seeks talent to fill depth roles while gaining experience to play a role of potential impact in the near future.
If anything, the mindset between the new regime and the executives that have recently left the organization is mind-numbing. I expect to see something of a change with this entire Browns organization in the months to come, with the manner in which players are evaluated to be the major difference between the new and old regimes.