Current Browns head coach Eric Mangini and Bill Belichick, who had that same job a decade and a half ago, may not exactly be best buddies after their falling out in New England.
But Mangini won't let that stand in the way of his honest assessment of the job Belichick is doing as head coach of the Patriots.
"Bill Belichick will be in the Hall of Fame someday," he said in matter-of-fact fashion before Saturday's training camp practice during his daily press conference.
The comment was in a response to a question about quarterback Tom Brady being possibly the only future Pro Football Hall of Famer on the Belichick-coached Patriots teams that won three Super Bowls in a four-year period from 2001-04, and then saw their bid for a perfect season ruined when they lost to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl following the 2007 season. On Saturday morning, during the annual HOF weekend, the Hall unveiled a new Super Bowl exhibit.
The Hall of Fame was the last thing on anyone's mind when Belichick was fired after the 1995 season as the original Browns franchise was bolting to Baltimore to become the Ravens.
The Browns were 36-44 in the regular season and 37-45 overall during Belichick's tenure from 1991-95. They had losing records in four of those campaigns, with the only exception coming in 1994 when they finished 11-5 and earned a wild-card spot in the AFC playoffs. After defeating his mentor, Bill Parcells, and the Patriots 20-13 in a wild card-round game, Belichick and the Browns lost for the third time that year to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 29-9.
Included in that tenure was what occurred midway through the 1993 season, when, with the Browns in first place in the Central Division at 5-3, Belichick cut starting quarterback – and Cleveland icon, still -- Bernie Kosar, causing a firestorm the likes of which had not been seen in Cleveland since the Indians traded slugger Rocky Colavito just before the start of the 1960 season.
Before the 1995 season began, Mangini's first as an assistant coach in the NFL as he worked under Belichick in Cleveland, the Browns were the sexy pick to get to their first Super Bowl. Sports Illustrated predicted it as well, and said the Browns would lose 34-13 to the San Francisco 49ers.
It looked as if those prognostications were going to be true when the Browns opened with a 3-1 record. Hope was renewed when they came from behind to beat the Bengals in Cincinnati 29-26 in overtime to get back to .500 at 4-4 at the halfway point, but won-loss records and anything on the field became moot when news of the team's move leaked out 36 hours before a home game against the Houston Oilers. The Browns lost seven of their last eight to finish 5-11, their worst mark under Belichick. Team owner Art Modell said at first that he would take Belichick to Baltimore, but when aides cautioned him against it because of the public relations fallout it might cause in the franchise's new home, Modell acquiesced to their wishes and fired him.
It was said by many in the know at the time that after what took place in Cleveland, Belichick would never get another head-coaching job. But he did, with the Patriots in 2000 after resigning as head coach of the New York Jets after only about a day on the job.
But when his 2000 club went a dismal 5-11, giving him two such seasons in a row in his head coaching career, and his '01 team slipped to 1-3 after a blowout 30-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins, the Boston press and Patriots fans were screaming for his head and saying that those who thought he didn't deserve another head coaching opportunity, were absolutely right.
The Patriots then rebounded, though, going 10-2 the rest of the year to claim the AFC East title on their way to winning the Super Bowl. They won the Super Bowl again following the 2003 and '04 seasons.
Since going 6-14 in his first 20 games in New England, Belichick has posted a 110-31 record and a man who can't stand him says he'll be in the Hall of Fame someday.
Talk about doing a 180-degree turn, something that no one – probably not Mangini and certainly not even Belichick himself – saw coming just 13½ years ago.
Keep in mind, too, in light of the release of outspoken Shaun Smith by Mangini on Saturday, that when Belichick came to Cleveland in 1991 and players didn't toe the line, he got rid of them. And the more popular those players were, the quicker he sent them packing.
Now Mangini, about the same age as Belichick was at the start of his Cleveland coaching career, and with an almost identical personality and method of coaching, is dispatching those who cross him. Browns fans can only hope that, after getting fired by the Jets, Mangini will turn it around on his second try as a head coach, just as Belichick did. Only this time, that turnaround would come in Cleveland, not in stop after it.
Another member of the Browns' last NFL championship team has died.
Defensive tackle Mike Bundra, who played eight games for the Browns that season, passed away on Aug. 1 after a four-year battle with colon cancer.
He turned 70 about six weeks ago.
Born June 24, 1939 in Coplay, Pa., Bundra graduated from Catasauqua (Pa.) High School, where he was a three-time all-conference choice in football while also playing basketball and baseball.
He went on to Bakersfield (Cal.) Junior College and then transferred to Southern Cal, and the exposure with the Trojans led him to being taken in the sixth round of the 1962 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions. He was selected at No. 80 overall, while with the 81st pick the Browns took Ohio State linebacker Sam Tidmore.
The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Bundra played two years with the Lions and was on the 1963 club that whipped the Browns 38-10 at Detroit in the next-to-last game to virtually eliminate Cleveland from the Eastern Conference race.
The Lions traded Bundra to the Minnesota Vikings after the 1963 season, but when defensive tackle Bob Gain suffered a career-ending broken leg in a 27-6 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 4, 1964, the Browns acquired Bundra in a trade for a fourth-round pick in the 1965 draft.
The Browns' 27-0 victory over the Baltimore Colts in the 1964 NFL Championship Game was Bundra's last contest with Cleveland. He split the 1965 season with the Colts and New York Giants before retiring.
He leaves his wife of 46 years, the former Evelyn Hatcher.
Bundra is the fifth member of the 1964 Browns to have died. The others are Pro Football Hall of Famers Lou Groza (kicker) and Gene Hickerson (guard), wide receiver Tom Hutchinson and linebacker Galen Fiss. Head coach Blanton Collier and five of the six assistant coaches are gone, too. The only one who remains is offensive backs/ends coach Dub Jones, who also played wingback for the team from 1948-55 and is a member of the Cleveland Browns Legends.
Of the support staff, only trainer Leo Murphy is still alive.