King: The Truth About Practice Fatigue?

Is Eric Mangini making the same mistake as Bill Belichick made in the 1990s? Steve King, who was there, takes a look at Belichick's teams in the 1990s in the context of Jamal Lewis' remarks.

During the offseason, in an attempt to get to know all the beat reporters on his new job, Eric Mangini met with each one individually.

At one point, a reporter mentioned to the Browns head coach that the perception in Northeast Ohio is that he is just like another former boss of the team, Bill Belichick.

That made Mangini bristle. Although Belichick took a then 23-year-old Mangini under his wing in 1994, his next-to-last season with the Browns, and gave him his start in NFL coaching, the two men are now bitter enemies of one another.

Mangini remembers how Belichick was despised in Cleveland, when he was a far cry as a coach from what he has become the last decade with the New England Patriots. He was viewed as a young, over-the-top, control-freak of a tyrant who had no personality, only a knowledge of X's and O's, especially on the defensive side.

Is Mangini like that as well from top to bottom? We'll let you – and history – be the judge.

But if the words of Browns running back Jamal Lewis on Thursday are to be taken as the gospel, then there is indeed one former trait of Belichick that Mangini has copied. Lewis said Mangini is working the players way too hard. That was also a criticism of Belichick when he was here, that he was wearing out the players in practice.

And there may have been some – actually, possibly a lot – of truth to that, and you can see it by looking at the way Belichick's teams started and finished during a five-year tenure that started in 1991:

*1991 – The Browns, by virtue of having won two in a row, had climbed back to 6-7 and were hanging in the AFC wild-card playoff chase. But after averaging 22 points in the previous five contests, the Browns averaged just 10 in losing their last three to finish 6-10.

*1992 – Again, after having won their last two games, scoring 27 and 37 points, the Browns were 7-6 and in the postseason hunt with three games remaining. They have averaged 14 points in losing out the rest of the way to finish 7-9.

*1993 – The Browns were 5-3 and in first place in the AFC Central at the halfway point, then, about 20 hours after losing 29-14 to the Denver Broncos, Belichick cut quarterback/Cleveland icon Bernie Kosar, causing a historic uprising. The Browns went 1-7 the rest of the year to go 7-9 again.

*1994 – On the strength of a five-game winning streak, the Browns were 8-2 after 10 games. They made the playoffs -- as a wild card – for the only time in Belichick's tenure, but they went just 3-3 down the stretch for an 11-5 mark.

*1995 – Following a come-from-behind 29-26 overtime triumph in Cincinnati that was engineered by rookie quarterback Eric Zeier, the Browns were 4-4 at the midway point. Then the news leaked of the team's impending move to Baltimore after the season, and the nuclear explosion-like uprising it brought caused a 1-7 finish for a 5-11 mark.

Granted, the second half of both the 1993 and '95 seasons, because of Kosar and relocation issues, are special circumstances. But the fact remains that for whatever reasons – maybe fatigue? – Belichick's Browns started quickly and ended slowly each year.

Last season, Mangini's New York Jets were 8-3 before going 1-4 and finishing 9-7. Likewise, his Browns this season seem to be getting progressively worst, having lost three straight and being outscored 61-9 in the last two games. Their best contest came in Week 4 when they lost 23-20 in overtime to the Cincinnati Bengals, who are 6-2 and share first place in the AFC North head with the Pittsburgh Steelers heading into their meeting on Sunday.

Now, is fatigue -- working too hard through the week and leaving their game on the practice field – a part of the reason for this, just as it may have been for Belichick's clubs?

No one knows for sure – except maybe for Lewis, based on the strength of his comments.

In any event, though, it sure seems like a strange coincidence between Eric Mangini and the man who mentored him, Bill Belichick – even if the current Browns coach doesn't want to hear it.


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