Passan: A Memo to Mike

How should Holmgren see the Browns: As a team on a three-game tear, or as a 1-11 disaster? Rich Passan has his take on things, and it doesn't involve fashionable bandwagon jumping.

Memo to Mike Holmgren:

First of all, welcome to Cleveland, where the best fans in the National Football League reside despite what you might have heard elsewhere.

Yes, even in Seattle where the famed 12th man (self proclaimed, of course) resides. You are about find out where the real 12th man lives.

Now then, let's get to the task at hand. That, of course, would be your newest challenge since you accepted Randy Lerner's invitation to move back to the Midwest.

You no doubt noticed the Browns now own a three-game winning streak after losing 11 of their first 12 games. Considering that start, many fans are beyond thrilled with all this winning.

You see they're not used to much of it since the team returned in 1999. So you really can't blame them for feeling more than a little giddy today after beating the Oakland Raiders soundly Sunday afternoon.

Don't be fooled, Mike. This is not a good football team. Far from it, in fact.

Yeah, that probably sounds dumb in the face of a three-game winning streak. That requires an explanation.

You've probably been watching the team the last few weeks since you made up your mind Cleveland would be your next stop. And you've noticed the club is winning despite a rash of injuries that has crippled both sides of the football.

Normally, the head coach would be in line for many of the plaudits for such a streak. But when that coach is the same guy who guided them to a 1-11 start, one has to wonder.

A large number of Eric Mangini fans will argue that the club is playing its best football of the season and relatively speaking, they would not be incorrect. How can you argue winning three games in a row?

A lot of people are beginning to jump on the Mangini bandwagon now. Many of them had hopped off midway through the season.

But again, everything is relative, Mike. Granted one of those victories was against the hated Pittsburgh Steelers. Points for Mangini. But it doesn't take much to beat the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders these days.

So please take the following into consideration when going through the thought processes regarding who will coach this club next season.

Right now, the players are not playing for the head coach, although they seemed to play for defensive coordinator Rob Ryan Sunday. Did you notice Ryan received a Gatorade shower following the Raiders victory? Probably because he coached the Oakland defense the last five seasons before arriving in Cleveland. Even so, few coordinators are accorded such an honor.

These guys, for the most part, are playing for themselves. The pride factor kicked in after game 12. Enough was enough, they seemed to be saying with their body language the last three games.

It's more than a coincidence that the Browns are winning with starters Jamal Lewis, D'Qwell Jackson, Eric Barton, Brodney Pool, Shaun Rogers, Steve Heiden and Brady Quinn and significant contributors C.J. Mosley and Ryan Tucker on IR.

This team is winning with sizable contributions from the likes of Jerome Harrison, Brian Robiskie, Ahtyba Rubin, Jason Trusnik, Mike Adams, Evan Moore, Corey Williams, Marcus Benard and Matt Roth (the one terrific waiver pickup by Mangini).

These guys did not factor heavily in the team's plans as recently as a month ago, except maybe for Rubin, who had been solid as Rogers' backup before the big guy went down.

Harrison grabbed a lot of bench – and a few stunning trips to the inactive roster on game day – before Lewis was finally shut down a few weeks ago. Good thing or else Harrison might not have been given the opportunity to rip off 434 yards the last two weeks

So the big question becomes: If the Browns can win three straight games with a starting lineup filled with journeymen supposedly not good enough to be in that lineup, how did they lose 11 of their first 12 games with a healthier and supposedly more talented club?

And: Why did Mangini and his offensive coaches stick with Lewis at running back when it was more than obvious the veteran was ineffective and bogged down the running game? Conspiracy theorists would suggest it was all part of Mangini's grand plan to save his job by playing a well rested Harrison.

You certainly have to wonder, Mike, when you sit down and begin to evaluate Mangini, why were the Browns the laughingstock of the NFL in the first three months? Could they have possibly been badly mismanaged? Rhetorical question.

Sometimes, coaches – and quarterbacks – get too much credit for winning and too much blame for losing. But when analyzing Mangini's entire body of work in Cleveland, do not lose sight of the fact that, while he's not a player's coach like his predecessor, his totalitarian tendencies rubbed many players the wrong way.

Don't let this strong finish deceive you. I'd like to think you're wise enough to see the roster you are about to inherit is pock marked with a lot of holes. And the talent quotient needs more than just a tweaking. Think overhaul.

But most of all, remember that the man responsible for putting this team together is the same man taking credit for winning the last three games. And the same man accountable for the first 12 games. He is not a better coach now than he was on Sept. 13 against the Minnesota Vikings.

Sure, it's going to look strange to let go of a coach who wins his last four games if he can beat Jacksonville next Sunday. In fact, he might even become a sympathetic figure if that's what you ultimately decide to do.

You have said it would not be fair to fire a coach after only his first season. Fair or not, you've got to hold firm because that's exactly what needs to be done if this franchise is to awaken from its deep slumber under your stewardship and finally reward the fans with the kind of team it deserves.

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