When the season kicked off, what were we all hoping for? Some wins, sure, but realistically this year's goals fell far short of the Super Bowl. So if not a championship, then what is the point exactly? At least from my perspective, the objective is simple. Get this thing moving in the right direction.
I admit I had my doubts halfway into the season. Rather than chugging down the tracks toward a productive future, the train seemed to have derailed, destroyed the train station and maimed all innocent bystanders unlucky enough to have seen the disaster take place. But just as I was cursing my luck for being part of the collateral damage in this catastrophe, I looked up and realized the train was miraculously back on the tracks.
Don't ask me how it happened, because I'm not really sure. What I do know is that the train is now moving forward with improvement made pretty much every week since the bye. Yeah, I know many of those games were losses but remember, the objective is not just wins, but progress. Now that progress appears validated with the Browns finishing the year with a four-game win streak.
So it is official. I am ready to chug a glass of Kool-Aid, and make the case for Mangini to keep his job.
The case does have some simple, objective facts at its base. For a franchise that needed a reboot, an obvious first step is moving players that don't fit. Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, Shaun Smith, and Andra Davis are all gone. Each one had issues with either attitude, production, contract demands, or "D – all of the above" (**cough** Braylon **cough**). So step one, check.
Step two, at least for Mangini, was to bring in players that he has experience with to lay the foundation for the scheme, attitude, and for the future. I will grant the naysayers that few if any of Mangini's acquisitions are truly impact players. However, guys like Mosley, Coleman, Bowens, Elam, and Trusnik have been productive for this team. Furthermore, I would make the argument that these players are meant to be the foundation, the concrete, bricks, and wood in Mangini's house. None of those guys are big screen TV's, leather couches, or central air. They simply are what they are, and at bargain prices, I find it hard to criticize their addition.
Ok, the miscast pieces have been discarded, the foundation laid, so now step three is finding some playmakers. Luckily Mangini has positioned the Browns with lots of cap space and eleven draft picks in what promises to be the deepest draft of my lifetime. We'll have to call step three ‘In Progress,' but the plan seems clear.
Granted, mistakes have been made as well, but the methodology behind the decisions appears sound. So a team is being constructed and I think we can all agree that Mangini should stay... Oh right, we haven't really talked about coaching yet. Fair point.
Really, the battle lines are drawn pretty clearly when it comes to coaching and the team's performance on game day. I think everyone understands that the Browns still lack playmakers, and yet the team has improved and even started winning. Either you believe that Mangini's plan is starting to work or you come down on the side of the players just playing for pride and for each other in spite of their dislike of the head coach.
Here is my problem with the negative side of that coin: Is it a coach's job to get players to play for him or rather is it his job to get them to play for each other?
I say the latter and the definition of the word "team" would seem to back me up. Frankly, I find the notion that the players playing for each other, is somehow a strike against the coach to be… well, a little insane. Don't championship teams always talk about playing for the guy next to them and believing in their teammates? Browns players are talking and playing that way for the first time since the return and we want to get rid of the coach? Really?
What about the eleven losses (some of them embarrassing)? Mangini is still on the hook for those isn't he? Fine, Mangini has to take the blame for eleven losses in the first year of a major rebuilding project. Other coaches that had losing seasons in the first year coaching a new team include: Bill Parcells, Dick Vermeil, Bill Belichick, Jeff Fisher, Tom Landry, Marv Levy, and Bill Walsh.
Pretty nice list, don't you think? My point is not that losing your first year as a coach means you are destined for greatness. Rather, my point is simply that it doesn't mean you're not.
If you believe Mangini is a terrible coach simply because of those eleven losses, fine. Just know that you have condemned a list of current and future Hall of Fame coaches as well. I for one, hope that Mike Holmgren's method of evaluation is somewhat less shortsighted.