Timing is everything.
After praising his players for the way they turned in their most complete game of the year just a little over 12 hours before, Browns head coach Eric Mangini took the occasion of the highlight, by far, of his short tenure – a 13-6 victory at Cleveland Browns Stadium that ended a 12-game losing streak to the Pittsburgh Steelers – to pound his own drum for the better part of a half-hour early Friday afternoon in regards to the job he and his coaches are doing as they try to right the struggling franchise.
Opening up to the Cleveland media like never before since getting hired 11 months before, Mangini said the team is getting better and that the new football czar that owner Randy Lerner has promised to hire would be able to see that.
Even with the fact the Browns, despite punking the Steelers and knocking them out of the playoffs, are a woeful 2-11 with three games left and are ranked at or near the bottom of the NFL in most statistical categories?
Yes, Mangini said. It would be apparent simply by watching the team practice and seeing how it is coached and things are run.
"Isn't that what a czar would do, to look deeper than that (the poor numbers)?" Mangini asked rhetorically.
Mangini's job status has been up in the air since early in the season when the Browns struggled right out of the gate, losing their first four games and being historically ineffective offensively. National writers and broadcasters have taken all kinds of shots at him, and the situation became even more caustic when Mangini's hand-picked general manager, George Kokinis, was unceremoniously fired halfway through the year, and then Lerner, after a 30-6 loss to the Chicago Bears, said a top-flight man was needed to run the football end of the organization.
Mangini has said all along that he would be willing to have anyone on board who can help improve the team better, but speculation has arisen that the new football czar would want to bring in his own coach. The fact Mangini's team has struggled on the field may not have helped the coach in the eyes of that man.
Mangini first said that he is not focusing on the future – "I'm concerned only with the team and looking at moving forward. I believe in what we're doing, and I know we will have a team that the city will be proud of," he said – but then it became apparent that if it was needed to save his and coaches' job, he would be willing to sell their efforts and his program to the powers that be.
Even with the fact that a czar, like most football men, might be inclined to clean house and start fresh with his own people, Mangini thinks he could convince the man that he, his coaches and his core group of players are keepers.
"It doesn't happen overnight," he said of the rebuilding process.
All of this, however, is really just conjecture. Lerner is not talking publicly and has stayed out of sight, thus making it impossible to know what he's thinking about Mangini overall.
The coach said Friday he received a complimentary text message from Lerner and that the two were going to talk Friday. He also got a congratulatory message from Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid, and even the man who delivers his newspaper in the morning.
But while Lerner is staying in the background, several players, in conference calls with the Cleveland media on Friday, spoke up for their coach.
"Yesterday was proof that he needs to stay," said veteran linebacker David Bowens, who had played for Mangini when he was head coach of the New York Jets. "The Steelers are down this year with their losing, but they're still the defending Super Bowl champions.
"Blowing this thing up would be a big mistake. With the way we've come together and the mind-set we have now, once we got healthy going into a new season, it would be good for us.
"I would definitely like to see the guy get another shot. It was tough this year for him with all the stuff he had to deal with. The reason he's loosening up now is that the guys are doing what they're supposed to do. When we had guys coming in late and guys messing up, it was not a happy environment."
Added wide receiver/returner Joshua Cribbs, "He deserves more time. To turn around a struggling team in just one year can't be done. Who would want to come here after the previous coach got only a year?"
Whether that will turn out to be a moot point is anyone's guess. But his uncharacteristic public passion for the "process," as Mangini calls it, he's putting the Browns through, especially in light of how well they played Thursday, certainly adds a few new wrinkles to a situation that will be interesting to watch play out. In fact, it is the most intriguing part about the team at this point.
QUOTABLE: "It feels like our record is not what it is. It's like we're having a winning season, that all that has happened this season is forgiven. To beat the team that had been our Achilles heel, it's like Christmas. It really is." – Cribbs on the victory by the Browns over the Steelers.
"Great. It feels like Tony the Tiger great." – Cribbs again on what it's like to have beaten the Steelers.