Most of us are assuming that Mike Holmgren is going to accept the position of football czar with the Cleveland Browns. Naturally I’m relieved, as it’s painfully obvious that owner Randy Lerner is incapable of managing the Browns organization. His only hope is to pick a smart, experienced guy like Mike Holmgren and pray that Holmgren can do it. Lerner adds nothing to the mix, other than his willingness to write checks, which is obviously an important factor.
If Holmgren comes to Cleveland, we’ll find out soon what role he intends to play. Despite the speculation that he will want to coach the team as well, I’m assuming for now that he intends to run the show but have someone else be the head coach on the field. Which then brings us to Eric Mangini.
The season has been a complete mess, but it’s clear that the team has not quit on Mangini, and he deserves some credit for winning the last two games. So, many are asking the obvious question – should Holmgren keep Mangini?
Terry Pluto suggests that Holmgren ought to consider keeping Mangini.
Yes, the Browns need changes. Yes, they need impact players. Yes, Mangini made mistakes, his biggest being the failure of his friend George Kokinis as the general manager.
Where he needs help is with the draft and acquiring players to fit an overall vision for winning formulated by a front office and coach working together. Picking the right players is a full-time job, one that often has been done poorly since the Browns returned in 1999.
Holmgren should concentrate on making the roster stronger, the scouting staff better, the organization run more efficiently. Because on the field, the Browns are a well-disciplined and determined team. They could easily have quit during a season that started 1-11 amid reports that the coach would be fired when it was over.
These are good points, and generally I agree with Pluto about Holmgren’s role. But, can he work with Mangini?
On a personal level, none of us have any idea. The two men both like having control, but they both work hard and it’s clear they have mutual respect. Until they get together and discuss it in detail none of can know the answer here.
The two men, however, have very different football philosophies, and this is where I think there’s no way Mangini stays without making some significant adjustments.
First, Holmgren is one of the premiere experts on the West Coast offense. Mangini is from the Belichick/Parcells coaching tree and I can’t think of any coach from that group who has ever used the West Coast offense, let alone embraced it. Under Mangini and Brian Daboll, the Browns offense has been a joke. I defy anyone to explain the philosophy behind this offense. The emergence of Jerome Harrison is exciting and infuriating at he same time, as Mangini squandered game after game with Harrison on the bench, or worse yet on the inactive list.
It makes no sense to make Mike Holmgren the football czar and expect him to pick players for an offensive system that is new to him. The first order of business would be to see if Holmgren and Mangini could agree on a new coaching staff on offense that would run the West Coast offense. This obviously would be an adjustment for Mangini, but he’s the one with the 3-11 record and one of the worst offenses in recent memory. Without an agreement here, Holmgren should let Mangini go.
Some might argue, as Holmgren even acknowledged, that this isn’t fair. As Pluto pointed out, Mangini has restored discipline and the players are playing hard despite a poor record. But have we ever seen a Mike Holmgren team that lacked discipline or didn’t play hard? Doesn’t Holmgren know practically every coach from the Bill Walsh coaching tree? I would expect him to find a coach that would be inclined to enforce discipline, so this factor shouldn’t carry the day.
The offense should be non-negotiable. With Holmgren’s system, he’ll know which coaches to hire, which free agents to sign, which players to keep and which college kids to draft. More specifically, he can make a decision on Brady Quinn. I suspect Quinn would do better in a West Coast offense, but would anyone question Mike Holmgren’s judgment? Can you think of anyone better to make that assessment?
If they can get past this hurdle and come to an understanding regarding the offense, then Holmgren should seriously consider keeping Mangini. Despite the problems on defense this year, there have been some good signs, and Mangini’s expertise is on defense. Also, the special teams have been excellent this year.
Regarding personnel issues, Mangini has made plenty of mistakes, but he’s made up for some of them as well. For example, David Veikune looks like a bad pick, but the Browns picked up Matt Roth on waivers who looks like a steal. Mangini has found ways to use a number of different players on defense, and the team seems to be making progress in that area. Most of the Jet players have been solid contributors, if not Pro Bowl players. Everyone ripped Mangini for getting old players, and now everyone is surprised to see the team playing hard. Isn’t it possible that the former Jets helped Mangini set the positive tone?
Also, Mangini resisted the urge to go after high-profile free agents, as he’s clearly taking the long view with the Browns. I still think the decision to draft center Alex Mack was a good one. He gets better every week, and the offensive line deserves much of the credit for Jerome Harrison’s monster day yesterday. For years everyone in Cleveland wanted to Browns to draft linemen, but Mangini got little credit for the kind of move that helps the team in the long run. This move saved significant cap space and the Browns are in a good position on that front. Guys like Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow were shipped off as well. Again, these are moves that hurt the Browns in the short term but should help in the long term.
Holmgren is a smart guy, and he’ll see the positives. He won’t be distracted by the record. He’ll dig deep and see the good along with the bad. If he and Mangini can settle on a strategy on offense and forge a working relationship where they compliment each other, then this marriage just might work out well for the Browns. The good news is that Lerner will be putting Holmgren in charge, and Holmgren will not hesitate to cut his losses if the marriage doesn’t work. That’s the critical issue. We can’t count on Lerner to oversee the situation, so one of the two has to be the ultimate boss. If that guy is Holmgren, then he has to have the final say on Mangini and everything else about the Browns.
UPDATE: It’s official. Mike Holmgren has accepted the position of team president and he will not be coaching the team.