Five wins and eleven losses is a losing record but this five-win season could very well be remembered as the greatest season for the Browns since the Paul Brown era. If the Browns do not squander five turnovers versus Pittsburgh, bail out the Bengals in an overtime defeat and allow a miracle in Detroit, the Browns would be sitting at eight and eight with false confidence and no need to seek change.
Change was needed and the right changes are being made. Bringing in Mike Holmgren to run everything has brought legitimacy to the Cleveland Browns organization. I am not necessarily a fan of Holmgren due to his three trips to the Super Bowl. I am a fan of Holmgren because of the teams he led to the Super Bowl. Mike Holmgren and Ron Wolf took a Packers team, which was in far worse shape than the Cleveland Browns, from the gutter to Super Bowl champions and left that team with a foundation that is still standing today. Holmgren also took the struggling Seahawks franchise to the Super Bowl.
The Holmgren philosophy as coach was to surround himself with the best people possible and that is what he is doing for the Browns. Holmgren often uses the word structure, and that structure is being filled with superior talent. Luring Tom Heckert away from the Eagles and into the role of general manager for the Browns was huge. Since becoming GM for the Eagles, Heckert's drafts have been superb. He has a knack for not out-thinking himself on draft day. While his drafts tend to focus upon the trenches, when the need is there for talented skill positions, he has been equally successful in those areas.
Holmgren also managed to lure Bryan Wiedmeier away from the Dolphins. While this move isn't likely to garner a great deal of attention, it is yet another terrific hire as Wiedmeier is well respected throughout the league after nearly three decades in the Miami Dolphins front office. The decision to retain Eric Mangini was indeed a shocker even with the OBR warnings that Mangini was far from a goner. This is indeed a strange marriage of the Holmgren tradition with the Bellicheck/Parcells tradition. I have to admit that while I have my doubts as to the possible success of this union, I am incredibly intrigued by it. Whether you like Eric or not, one must give him credit. He has changed this version of the Browns in unique ways. The Browns team Eric inherited was soft both physically and mentally on both sides of the ball.
Think about what the Browns managed to do in that stretch to end the season. They were the more physically dominant team against the Steelers, Jaguars and Raiders. These three teams pride themselves on being the tough guys of the NFL on offense as well as defense and the Browns beat them up for four quarters each. Mangini also has taken one of the most penalized teams in the NFL and transformed them into a much more disciplined team that became one of the least penalized in the league. This metamorphosis is the direct result of the physically demanding, hard-hitting practice sessions along with his disciplined approach to making everyone accountable for their own actions both on the field as well as off the field.
Going forward, change must occur for this marriage of the Holmgren way and the Mangini way to be successful. Both Holmgren as well as Heckert have deep roots in the pass-happy West-Coast style of offense. The Browns won their games with a power run game while all but abandoning the passing game. This is a terrific philosophy for the wintry months in Cleveland but to have success, they must be able to win in all types of conditions and that means throwing the football effectively.
The Mangini way is out-thinking the opponent on defense with the 3-4 scheme. This has melded well with Rob Ryan's blitzkrieg attacking style. Both Holmgren and Heckert have ties to the 4-3 but I do not believe either is opposed to the 3-4. I believe Mangini must be prepared to change his offense to make this work. While there are many elements of the West Coast offense in the Browns playbook, it is as different as night and day. Holmgren and Heckert know how to draft for their scheme and for this to work Mangini will need coaches to implement that philosophy.
There is the risk of adding your replacement when you add coaches from the Holmgren tree to your staff but such a move would show that you are willing to do whatever it takes to win. Holmgren's offense blended with Mangini's defense has the potential to be very successful but with egos and being set on how to do things, it has an equal chance to be disastrous. The Browns have a roster that is capable of competing. A few proper additions and this team can be very successful but going forward quarterback is the biggest question regarding this roster. One thing about Holmgren, he has a knack for teaching quarterbacks and, as we all know, no one is more eager to work and learn as much as Brady Quinn. Quinn would be wise to seek the advice of Mike Holmgren.
Quinn appears to be a good fit for the West Coast philosophy but the Browns should not hesitate to draft a quarterback. I would not look for quarterback in the first two rounds but there are real hidden gems in this year's draft, especially at quarterback. There is plenty of time to make those roster decisions. First, changes to the personnel department must take place as well as possible changes to the coaching staff. Randy Lerner sought out the best to build this organization and Mike Holmgren is seeking out the best to fill every position available.
Browns fans we are starting to see what "Structure" truly is. It began with the owner.