Rich's Rant: Vets and Bus Trips

Is Eric Mangini channelling George Allen? And what's wrong with airplanes? You had to know that Rich Passan would have takes on the team's new veteran CB and a "voluntary" excursion to Hartford.

It has now become abundantly clear that Eric Mangini, with the signing of cornerback Rod Hood, has adopted what could loosely be called the George Allen route to success. Except for one very important difference.

Allen, who built his outstanding coaching resume by loading up his National Football League teams with veterans, took a more disparate route than Mangini has since taking over as coach of the Browns.

While Mangini has settled, for the most part, for journeyman players in the middle of average careers and on the downside of those careers, Allen brought in veterans who still made an impact on the game despite slipping from a loftier status in their earlier years.

He imported former Pro Bowlers, former All-Pros. Players who knew how to win championships. Players still capable of making plays in the clutch. Players on whom he could count.

Wherever he went, whether it was Los Angeles with the Rams or Washington with the Redskins, Allen always managed to find the right veteran players to strengthen perceived weaknesses.

Pundits labeled his teams the Over-the-Hill Gang. His predilection of trading top draft picks for aging veterans was well known. It was sort of "the future is now" approach to putting together a team. And it worked beautifully.

Allen's teams won 68% of their games in 12 seasons (116-47-5). He never experienced a losing season in the NFL.

Add in the fact he was a players' coach, a guy whose motivational skills with his men were the stuff of legend. Watch a video of the Pro Football Hall of Fame coach and you can easily see why he was so successful. His players loved him.

The future is clearly not now as far as the Browns are concerned. They still have to straighten out numerous problems before achieving any kind of championship status.

Maybe Mangini isn't trying to channel Allen with the numerous moves he has made as he plays conductor to George Kokinis' concertmaster. But one can see some similarity to the Allen philosophy.

A coach, especially one in his first season with a new team, can never surround himself with enough veterans, particularly those with whom he is familiar.

Right now, Mangini is trying to bring stability to a team that desperately cries for it and is counting on veteran leadership to make it happen.

That's why last week's signing of veteran cornerback Rod Hood more than fits that mold. But let's not get overly excited about his decision to play for the Browns. There's a good reason the Arizona Cardinals put him on the open market by cutting him and it wasn't just a bottom-line move.

Hood is not that good.

The Cardinals had enough of him after just two seasons – he was torched for nine touchdowns last season -- and figured they had nothing to lose by bringing in Pittsburgh free agent Bryant McFadden.

Yes, Hood started for the Cardinals the last two seasons. And yes, his six years of National Football League experience should warrant a strong look-see at starting. But truth be told, he is an average, at best, cover man.

If he beats out Eric Wright and/or Brandon McDonald for the starting job at cornerback, the Browns are in trouble. He struggles as an every-down player.

His niche for the Browns – and this is most likely the way it will play out – lies more inside as the nickel back, taking on one of the opposition's lesser receivers. That, if nothing else, would be a major upgrade.

* * * * *

A few questions regarding Mangini's unusual move of bussing Browns rookies to Hartford, Conn., last Saturday for his annual football camp for under-resourced children at his high school alma mater.

Why the 20-hour round-trip ride? Were the airlines all booked solid for flights to Hartford? It's not as though Randy Lerner couldn't afford to pick up the tab. It's not as though Hartford was a two-hour trip from Cleveland. That's how long a bus ride takes from New York (where Mangini coached the Jets for three seasons) to the Connecticut capital. Cleveland is five times farther.

Did Mangini also make the round trip on the bus, too? Reportedly, he flew up and bussed back. If that's the case, why couldn't the players have followed suit? Just a guess, but there would have been little or no squawking on behalf of the players and their agents had that been the case.

And does anyone believe the trip was "voluntary" on the rookies' part? If so, keep slugging down that Kool-Aid. Flavor of the month is Mangini Mango.

Voluntary, in this case, is a synonym for mandatory. Don't think so? Then put yourself in the players' spot. Would you have said no? These rookies would do anything to nail a job in the NFL.

Sure, they're getting paid. But the money they're receiving now is nowhere near what it would be if they had a roster spot secured. No, this is clearly a case of taking advantage of the situation.

I wonder what would have happened had any of them had said thanks, but no thanks. We'll never know. They most likely were too afraid to decline.

And what would have happened had Mangini asked any of the veterans hanging around Berea these days to make the 20-hour round trip to Hartford? Hey, Joshua Cribbs, how 'bout a nice day off in Hartford? Why not bring Brady Quinn with you? Whattaya say?

Methinks the thoughts of bonding and singing Kumbaya on a bus running through the minds of the veterans would have resulted in immediate and brusque thanks, but no thanks.

Next season, maybe Mangini will realize he's no longer in New York and another such trip would be ill advised unless an airplane is in the plans.

Better yet, set up a similar camp in the Greater Cleveland area. Much shorter bus trip.

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