Leonard: Glad to be Mistaken...

A Mike Holmgren / Eric Mangini partnership? Mark Leonard offers his thoughts...

Just two days ago on these pages, I'd opined that the reign of first-year Cleveland Browns' football coach Eric Mangini was about to end. It was thought the embattled former NY Jets' leader simply could not return, predicated almost entirely upon the presumption two czars designated to run the same empire could not peacefully or productively co-exist.

It is very good news to learn they believe they can. It suggests a lot of favorable things about both men, as well as about the future of the organization.

First of all, it tells us newly-appointed team president Mike Holmgren, owner Randy Lerner's strong and credible leader, is not the dictator that comes to mind when the word czar is envisioned. It tells us he indeed has an open mind and does not operate upon pre-conceived notions. It speaks to fairness, flexibility and respect for the efforts, judgments and good-intentions of not only Mangini but the balance of his coaching staff, as well.

There is honor in such displays. As if the powers bestowed upon President Holmgren are not mis-placed.

The agreement to retain Mangini also speaks volumes for the coach, as it probably indicates he is an evolving sort, one willing and able to not only adapt but also mature, even at an adult age. That he was able to persuade Holmgren, presumably as much through actions as through words, that he is not the disturbed control-freak who sees only one way other than the highway.

That Mangini even wants to remain as a serf in a kingdom he once ruled autocratically recommends him, as had the demonstrations of professional team play exhibited by his team during its final 2009 weeks.

That Holmgren has now endorsed Mangini also authenticates many of the decisions, practices and sacrifices the coach made as he labored to alter the losing culture that had so infested the Browns' personality.

There quite possibly was also some measure of humanity evidenced in the non-move, as the entire coaching staff has been invited back. Into this horrid economy, those men and their families, most of whom had transported themselves less than a year ago to the North Coast from many miles away, need not again up-root themselves in search of employment. Their work, too, is validated by the decision to retain them all.

Cynics might opine—there are a few out there, ya' know—that this is very much about the possibility there will be no football after this coming season. Already paying mega-millions to departed coaching and front office personnel dismissed as inadequate, Lerner could scarcely be expected to happily absorb the dual costs of one coaching staff leaving and a new one assembling, not with the likelihood he'd possibly be paying so many during a non-playing season. Fiscal restraint and sanity can only benefit the on-field product, right? The opposite can only hurt.

What also is communicated by the Holmgren-Mangini merging is that valued continuity and stability are respected, preserved and assured. That can only be good for the many young men who gave their best to reversing club fortunes this season under Mangini and his assistants. While there surely will be alterations and adjustments where schematics are concerned, no wholesale changes will be required of a roster repeatedly subjected to them. In that sense, the verdict is a confirmation of those players, as well.

Additionally, Holmgren's legacy, especially concerning personnel during his Seattle years, lacked somewhat defensively. A professional marriage to a man with Mangini's expertise may be a very good thing for him and his new challenge, that of restoring to glory a once-revered football franchise.

Mangini and Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan proved themselves able to make significant progress even as injuries pruned an already-thin cast of defenders. That resourcefulness and growth can resume rather than be interrupted, as can what was seen from a too-long absent ground game.

There is no perceived down-side to this arrangement, so long as the principles are correct in believing they can not only co-exist but collaborate. Fans must not choose between allegiance to Holmgren or Mangini, but can instead embrace both, one an offensive genius and the other a rising defensive mind.

There was little doubt Mangini would land solidly upon his feet somewhere, serving with distinction as someone's DC, minimally. The probability he'd eventually re-emerge as someone's head coach, if only on the collegiate level, was similarly conceived. It is fortuitious for the Browns that his skill set remains in Cleveland's corner.

Best-case scenarios had imagined Holmgren might insist upon a head-coach-in-waiting to run his attack, while Mangini and Ryan managed the other side of the ball, Eric in charge so long as the system was working. But even those so fantacizing felt they weren't being reasonable or realistic. The two appointed leaders hand-picked by Lerner were thought to be inevitably incompatible—if only because each had been brought in to fulfill the same marching orders.

Turns out, those orders weren't so much about who was in charge or who had final authority, but about getting the Browns to win. Prioritizing that singular objective provided the basis for unanimous agreement, placing all on the desired wavelength, an essential first step for Holmgren.

This much of Tuesday's entry is accurate: the 2010 campaign did commence upon a single moment, one that arrived once Mike Holmgren elected to retain as head coach Eric Mangini. May theirs be a long and happy union.


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