Can Browns head coach Eric Mangini save his job?
This is really just a preseason game. Actually, it's even less than the typical preseason game, for nothing that happens in it will even have a chance to be put to use until next season. There is no regular season coming on the heels of it, as is the case with preseason games.
That's what a really bad season – one that started bad and then got progressively worse – will do for a team such as the Browns.
Mike Holmgren, who will officially take over as team president sometime next week, will be the one making the decision on Mangini.
Here, then, are a series of 12 reasons – pros and cons for the coach's return, call them "The 12 Days of a Cleveland Browns Coach" – that Holmgren will be considering:
Pro: You can't fire someone after only one season. That's not enough time for a coach to install his system and see it through. With Holmgren having coached for so long, he knows that better than anyone.
Con: Yes, but every season counts once a coach takes the job, and, as mentioned, this season has been an unmitigated disaster right from the start. You could make the case – and you'd probably be right – that this is the worst season in Browns history. The coach's desk is where the buck stops, so Mangini is responsible for that. Holmgren also knows that better than anyone.
Pro: Arrrggghhh! You can't blow this thing up and start again. The Browns have had more do-overs than you would find in a backyard game among school kids. At some point, you've got to stick with a plan and see it through.
Con: Sure, but if you are already certain you're on the wrong track, why keep walking? Each day gets you further off the mark. Make the tough decision, cut your losses and go in a different direction. It's a few steps backward for possibly a quantum leap forward if you find the right guy.
Pro: Mangini has been a head coach before, so he knows what it takes to be successful. He did a good job with the New York Jets, posting two winning records, including a playoff appearance, in just three seasons.
Con: OK, but in the last season, 2008, the Jets were 8-3 with five games left and seemingly had a lock on a playoff spot. Then they crashed and burned, going 1-4 the rest of the way for a 9-7 finish. That's an indictment on Mangini. A good coach would have stopped a tailspin like that. Why didn't he?
Pro: Good coaches come from all different places. Thus, it shouldn't matter to Holmgren that Mangini is not one of his guys, that he doesn't really know him.
Con: But if Holmgren is going to make this thing work the way he thinks it should work, then he has to find people he knows and with whom he is comfortable. There's trust factor there – some history. And, as mentioned, he doesn't know Mangini.
Pro: The Browns are making progress. They've won three in a row, including one over the arch rival Pittsburgh Steelers, and have a chance to end the year with four straight victories. You don't want to nip that in the bud, do you?
Con: That's right. The Browns do indeed have an opportunity to close with four triumphs in a row. But that's more because these teams they're playing now are so bad. Yes, the Browns beat the Steelers, but the Steelers are messed up right now. Their defense is a sieve, and they can't run the ball to save their souls. With that, then, they're a fake playoff contender, so beating them is no big deal. The Kansas City Chiefs, the Raiders and the Jaguars aren't going to make anyone forget the 1972 Miami Dolphins or the 1948 Browns. And remember, the Browns lost to the pathetic Detroit Lions.
Pro: Don't blame Mangini for making this team bad. It was bad when he got it. The Browns were just 4-12 last year, don't you recall?
Con: True, but he's made it worse. The Browns had about eight games this year – an entire half of a season's worth – in which they've been completely non-competitive. The 2008 team was competitive until the quarterback position was ravaged by injuries. What's the excuse this year?
Pro: Speaking of quarterbacks, the Browns don't have one – at least a good one – and you can't win in this league without a quarterback. Is that Mangini's fault, too?
Con: Yes, it is. He messed around in training camp and the preseason with this silly quarterback competition, splitting time right down the middle between Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson. As a result, neither one was ready when the season started. Not only have the quarterbacks and the receivers not been on the same page because of being unable to practice enough together, but they don't appear to even be reading out of the same playbook a lot of times.
Pro: The quarterbacks – and the offense – were hurt by the mid-season retirement of Jamal Lewis. No quarterback can function without a good running back.
Con: True, but Lewis was just a shell of his former self. His retirement didn't affect this team one bit.
Pro: In addition, the Browns didn't get a lot of help from the two receivers they drafted in the second round. Mohammed Massaquoi has been OK, but Brian Robiskie appears to be a bust.
Con: You've insulted Browns fans by bringing people in like Chansi Stuckey and telling them he's better than Robiskie. Remember, folks around here have seen Robiskie since high school, at Chagrin Falls, and later at Ohio State. They know he can play. The coaches at those two places got him to produce, so what's the problem now? And by degrading Robiskie and Massaquoi, Mangini is only indicting himself. Either he can't coach and/or he can't evaluate talent, because he drafted them.
Pro: Mangini has turned over a lot of the roster so far. He deserves the chance to come back and finish the job.
Con: You bet he's turned over a lot of the roster so far. He's gotten rid of players who could produce, such as wide receiver Braylon Edwards and tight end Kellen Winslow, and replaced them with a bunch of special teamers. A coach gets paid to handle head cases like Edwards and Winslow. Not everybody can be a choir boy. Talent doesn't just fall off trees. It's hard to come by. And Mangini has made this team less talented.
Pro: Mangini is taking the rap for all the mistakes that the Browns have made before he came. He wasn't here in 2003 or 2008. You can't blame him for the mistakes of Butch Davis or Romeo Crennel.
Con: No one is blaming him for that. But when the team is 4-11 and the biggest news is that you've fined someone the maximum of $1,701 for failing to pay the hotel room tab on a $3 bottle of water, people just roll their eyes and say, "We've seen all this before."
Pro: Finally, let's talk about Mangini's personality. It's not his job to coddle these guys, who were bad players to start with. It's his job to coach them. So if he's terse with them, who cares? Maybe they needed it.
Con: Yes, maybe they needed a little discipline, but you can't send a man to the electric chair for jaywalking. The punishment has to fit the crime. A coach is a CEO. He has to be able to work with people and get them to believe in him and his plan, and perform for him. That doesn't seem to be the case here. Mangini lost most of these players long ago. Some have said that privately. They're playing not for him, but in spite of him. They're playing because of their pride and wanting to look good on tape for some coach somewhere – Cleveland or wherever – to evaluate in the offseason. And that's been easier to do as the schedule has gotten easier.
Now, when Holmgren sifts through all these varying thoughts and opinions, what will he do? Or will he do anything at all? The latter – sticking with the status-quo at the top -- would obviously be good for Mangini.
We'll see what happens.