King: Deja Bill

We hope our readers were happy to welcome Steve King back to the pages of the Orange and Brown Report Magazine last month. Today, the "walking encyclopedia of Browns history" explains why Browns fans get a strong sense of déjà vu when witnessing the Mangini regime...

It makes sense that Eric Mangini has fallen off the Bill Belichick coaching tree.

After all, there are a number of similarities between the new Browns head coach and the man who had the same job from 1991-95. You might say they are rooted together.

Now, though they both no doubt realize it, that fact obviously isn't going to make either coach happy. That's because to say their relationship is strained is putting it mildly.

Once very close after spending about a decade with each other in coaching stints with the Browns, New York Jets and New England Patriots, Mangini and Belichick now get along as well as … oh, say, Rush Limbaugh and Barack Obama, the Hatfields and the McCoys,  the North and the South.

You get the picture.

But the differences between the two -- or whose fault it is or why it got to this point -- isn't the theme of this story, nor should it be. That's the business of those two men.

Rather, the focus here, as mentioned, is how very much alike they are in their backgrounds, their coaching demeanor, their approach and their personalities. It's so much so, in fact, that for some longtime Browns fans, it might seem as if the team has turned back the clock nearly 20 years by hiring Mangini two months ago. It really is déjà vu.

Here's a list of their ties, which we think you'll find interesting:

For starters, it's when they started -- the Browns head coaching part of their careers, at least.

Belichick was hired in Cleveland when he was 38, just two months short of his 39th birthday. Mangini was hired here -- for the second time (more on that later -- when he was 37, just 12 days shy of his 38th birthday. So by the time Mangini got into the nitty-gritty of his new job, he was the same age Belichick was when he first rolled up his sleeves here.

Cleveland connections.

Mangini's first two years in the NFL were the last two years of the original Browns, 1994 and '95 (again, more on that later). Belichick's late father, Steve, is from Struthers, Ohio, just south of Youngstown, and went on to play college football at Case, now Case Western Reserve, in Cleveland.

Alma mater, all the same.

Belichick and Mangini both are graduates of -- and former football players at -- tiny Wesleyan College in Middletown, Conn. Both toiled in the trenches, Belichick as a center and tight end and Mangini as a nose tackle.

Experience matters.

Both started their NFL coaching careers working menial, low-level jobs for basically nothing just to get the experience -- to get their foot in the door, so to speak.

After getting out of Wesleyan in 1975, Belichick, only 23, went to work as a special assistant to Baltimore Colts head coach Ted Marchibroda.

"He was a young man who was willing to work round-the-clock for nothing and learn everything he could about the game," Marchibroda recalled when Belichick was hired by the Browns. "After training camp, we got him a hotel room across from mine, and whatever we gave him to do, he did it well and thoroughly. The first thing you should know about Bill is that he's a worker."

So is Mangini, who also got into the league at 23, working as a public relations intern and then a ball boy for Belichick's Browns in 1994. When Mangini's PR internship during training camp that year ended, Belichick asked Browns vice president, director of public relations Kevin Byrne, "What are you going to do with the kid from Wesleyan?" Belichick had plans for Mangini, letting him chase balls at practice during the day and then giving him special coaching/research duties to do night.

When he was hired by the Browns for the head coaching job, Mangini recalled that first season in Cleveland and how his mother, with all the student loans from Wesleyan looming over the young man's head, fretted about her son who, despite having earned a degree, was working for peanuts filling up the pop machine in the media room and gathering footballs like a go-fer.

As Mangini said he told her, "But Mom, it's the Cleveland Browns. It's the Cleveland Browns."

Though that did nothing to quell his mother's feats, it all turned out well for Mangini, just as it did for Belichick. In 1995, Belichick hired Mangini for a real job -- a real coaching job, that is -- as a coaches assistant in Cleveland. That was the break Mangini needed, and he's made the most of it.

New York, New York.

Belichick came to the Browns after having been with the New York Giants. Mangini arrived following a stint with the New York Jets, a team for which Belichick also coached.

A fixer-upper.

Belichick inherited a Browns team that had fallen to a then franchise-worst 3-13 in 1990 after having qualified for the playoffs five straight years previously, during which time the club also won four Central Division titles and made three trips to the AFC Championship Game. The Browns seemed to get old all at the same time in 1990, ruining a chance what they and their fans hoped would be one more crack at kicking in the door to that elusive first Super Bowl berth.

Likewise, Mangini takes over a team that, overnight it seems, fell on hard times after having experienced some success the previous year. The 2007 Browns were 10-6, their best record since Belichick's -- and Mangini's -- 1994 club went 11-5, and barely missed out on getting into the playoffs. This past season, the team did a 180-degree turn and staggered to a 4-12 finish, not scoring an offensive touchdown in its last six games.

A team that began the year with high hopes -- the Browns were the sexy pick of some to get to the Super Bowl -- now appears to have some significant areas of need.

Hard times, hard decisions.

Right from the get-go upon being hired, Belichick began making sweeping changes to try to rebuild the team. All the popular players from the Browns' great run through the last half of the 1990s -- Bernie Kosar, Reggie Langhorne, Webster Slaughter, Brian Brennan and many others -- were sent packing, one by one, over the next several years. It was a hard pill for the Browns fans to swallow.

The jury is still out on how many changes Mangini will make and how pronounced they will be, but he has already pulled off a blockbuster trade of 2007 Pro Bowl tight end Kellen Winslow to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two draft picks. In addition, safety Sean Jones was allowed to depart in free agency.

Following in similar footsteps.

Belichick took over for Bud Carson, a nice, older man who had built his resume as a defensive coordinator. The Cleveland job, which Carson got just short of his 58th birthday, was his first as a head coach in the NFL after having been an assistant for years, with a brief stint in college.

Mangini succeeds Romeo Crennel, a nice, older man who had also built his resume as a defensive coordinator. The Cleveland job, which he got at age 57, was his first on any level of coaching after having been an NFL assistant for years, with a brief stint in college as well.

Acting defensive.

Upon coming to Cleveland, Belichick had served almost exclusively as a defensive coach. Upon coming to the head coaching job of the Jets in 2006, Mangini's time in coaching was spent almost entirely on the defensive side.

All work, all the time.

All football coaches are workaholics, but Belichick stood out even among that group. There were many a night he never left his office in Berea.

Immediately upon reporting for work with the Browns, Mangini has holed up in his office, barely coming out for air. He has seldom been seen around the building.

No fooling, they mean business.

If you want smiles and warm and fuzzy from your football coaches, Belichick and Mangini aren't your men. They are both no-nonsense, viewing their job as seriously as just about any other in the world. They say football is entertainment, but don't tell that to these two.

When Mangini was with the Browns in 1994 and '95, he didn't smile or joke around. In that way, he was exactly like Belichick, who forced a smile only if something was extremely funny, which, if you're a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of guy, doesn't happen often.

But on the other hand…

Yes, Belichick and Mangini, in many ways, epitomize the "No Fun League" moniker the NFL carries at times. It's not bad -- not at all -- for them to be that way. It's just the way they are. It's their personality. For them to do anything else -- be anything else -- would be out of character, and when coaches go out of character, they tend to be less successful than they normally would be if they just let things flow naturally.

At the same time, though, when off the field, out of the office and just away from football, they know how to have fun. Really.

Belichick's relationship with Jon Bon Jovi and his affection for the rocker's music, is well known. The coach never saw a Bon Jovi concert he didn't like.

Similarly, Mangini showed another side when he appeared in an episode of "Sesame Street." Come on, you can't be a bad guy and stand next to Big Bird.

Tear it down to build it up.

The rebuilding process Belichick undertook in Cleveland encompassed more than just players. It included the physical plant as well -- that is, Browns Headquarters in Berea. Even though the building was brand-spanking new when the club moved into it just after training camp ended in his first season of 1991, Belichick made changes -- lots of 'em. Many of them were to the practice fields -- outdoor and indoor. He had the outside ones torn up and re-sodded a couple of times. Ditto for the indoor field. With the money the Browns forked out to do all that, Belichick was a one-man economic stimulus plan.

Again, just as it's too early to tell how many players Mangini will change, it's also premature to estimate just how much work he'll do to the field and building when it's all said and done. However, he's already done a lot to the building with the painting of the interior, plus the building as a whole is undergoing some major renovation. Estimations differ on just how much that is costing.

But it's believed that no trees -- real or coaching -- will be affected. And considering how similar Eric Mangini is to Bill Belichick, then and now, that's a good thing. You just never know what else -- or who -- may fall off.

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