Eric Mangini has yet to coach the Browns in a game – even a preseason game.
But already he is 3-for-3 when it comes to small victories.
The latest "win" in a string of incidents that has let everybody and anybody know just who is running the Browns, came Tuesday evening about a half-hour after the second practice that day when he waived injured wide receiver/returner Syndric Steptoe.
The release of Steptoe, who had been part of the team the previous two seasons, follows those of veteran defensive lineman Shaun Smith last week and rookie defensive back Brian Williams from the University of Akron back in the spring. All were sent packing for one reason and one reason alone – they dared to try to show up the head coach.
Williams was let go when, upon being ordered to run a lap around the field for making a mistake in a practice, did what could best be described as the Fred Sanford Shuffle – he literally inched his way around the boundary -- instead of sprinting or even jogging.
Late last week, Smith, who has always had a busy mouth and even punched quarterback Brady Quinn in the weight room late last season without being disciplined by former head coach Romeo Crennel, was released after doing the same kind of Fred Sanford Shuffle during a defensive line drill, and as he moved to and from the area where it was being staged. He failed to pick up the pace even after being prodded to do so by defensive line coach Bryan Cox, who is tight with Mangini.
And now comes Steptoe, who hurt his shoulder during a rainy practice last Saturday. His agent complained that the players were under the impression that the practice was going to be a lot less intense than it was and thus did not have the proper equipment. In addition, he was critical of Mangini for making the Browns work in what turned out to be steady downpour, which eventually convinced the no-nonsense, workaholic coach to cut the practice 20 minutes short, something he hadn't done before and has not done since.
Mangini believes the Browns should practice in inclement weather because they're going to play games that count in it. So they need to get used to it.
A seventh-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft who spent his true rookie season on the Browns practice squad, Steptoe made the team last year and started five games, catching 19 passes and returning a combined total of five kickoffs and punts. He was being looked at in those roles again this season and seemed to be making some progress and turning a few heads. At least it appeared that way judging by the number of reps he was getting on offense and special teams.
But when his agent started blasting Mangini and the Browns, the coach quickly decided he didn't need a diminutive 5-foot-9, 200-pounder on the team as much as he thought he did.
Mangini wants discipline in the team's play on the field and also in its conduct in related matters, and that's understandable after 2008's lack of such led to a disastrous 4-12 finish in a season when the Browns were the sexy pick to go to the Super Bowl. Syndric Steptoe, Shaun Smith and Brian Williams all found that out.
You would think after the Williams incident that it wouldn't have happened again, and what occurred with Smith sent up another red flag that players – and agents – couldn't help but see. However, either Steptoe and his agent indeed didn't see it, or chose to ignore it and push the envelope. Or maybe they just wanted Steptoe's release so he could start anew somewhere else.
If the last scenario was the case, then Steptoe and his agent got exactly what they wanted.
Otherwise, they simply got exactly what they deserved for being so foolish.
This is Eric Mangini's team, and every day he continues to put his imprint on it. He never asked for Syndric Steptoe's, Shaun Smith's or Brian Williams' opinion, nor did he obviously want it. It will be interesting to see if now – finally – everyone on the Browns comprehends that.