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49ers hire Eric Mangini as offensive consultant

The headline may seem like a typo, as Eric Mangini’s experience lies more on the defensive side of the ball, but that’s actually the point here. The 49ers want to anticipate how defenses will try to stop their read-option offense, so they’ll rely on a guru like Mangini to prepare them for possible schemes. Jim Harbaugh always seems to know how to get the most out of his team, and this seems like a logical move.

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Epic rant from Jim Nantz about the Browns and Mike Lombardi

Jim Nantz called in to the Bull and Fox show on 92.3 The Fan and delivered an epic rant about the new Browns organization. You can listen to it here.

His basic message was simple – Jimmy Haslam has assembled an impressive group of people to turn the Browns around, and that Browns fans will soon realize it as they get to work and start winning. He strongly defended his friend Mike Lombardi and took some tough shots at Tony Grossi without mentioning him by name regarding his harsh criticism of Lombardi.

Let’s consider some of the things Nantz said.

First, I agree with him that the overall team assembled by Haslam is impressive, and I’m optimistic about the future direction. This is coming from someone who thought Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert did a ton of the dirty work in turning around the franchise and were heading in the right direction despite some mistakes. Rob Chudzinski is an excellent coordinator, and he seems to have the charisma and leadership qualities necessary to make him a good head coach. I like Haslam’s general style and think he’s looking for the right qualities when considering head coached. Chud has also assembled a very impressive staff, with Norv Turner and Ray Horton leading the pack.

As for Mike Lombardi, I understand both the concerns expressed by people like Grossi along with the praise coming from people like Nantz. Still, Grossi’s comment on the radio the other day that Lombardi was not qualified for the job is ridiculous. People can question past draft picks but he’s certainly developed a resume that prepares him for this job. I also like the fact that Lombardi has been with the NFL Network for 5 years. Anyone with a brain would gain some excellent perspective from that job and would leave there knowing practically every coach and personnel guy in the league.

Also, it’s not like Haslam has handed Lombardi the keys to the organization. The biggest problem with Randy Lerner wasn’t necessarily the people he hired, but the total lack of oversight and accountability that existed after the introductory press conference. Guys like Butch Davis and Eric Mangini desperately needed a strong owner and GM to push back when their desire to control everything led to silly decisions. With Joe Banner and his “team” approach to decision making, no one person can make rash decisions without intense oversight, and you can bet Haslam will be in the room to make sure everyone knows they’ll have to answer for mistakes.

So I know Lombardi isn’t perfect, but I have no problem with a guy like him in the brain trust. Of course Jim Nantz is totally biased in arguing that Lombardi is a football genius. Nantz worships at the Bill Belichick alter, so he’s seems to see everything through that filter. Still, I’m more than comfortable giving Lombardi and the rest of the team a chance.

On the other hand, I think Nantz took some cheap shots at Tom Heckert. Of course Bull and Fox just gushed and didn’t push back on that, which is disappointing given that Heckert rebuilt an old, pathetic roster.

Now, there are legitimate debates on some of Heckert’s picks, and Nantz did raise good points as well. Taking Trent Richardson with the third pick after trading up is certainly debatable, as many believe drafting a running back that high is a mistake. Nance points out late round picks that did well, but pointing out a running back that scores touchdowns in the potent New England offense like Shane Vereen is ridiculous. The question is how would a guy like Vereen have fared with the Browns, who were desperate for some weapons on an offense that didn’t have a great quarterback. I think his point was more persuasive when he brought up Doug Martin who went to Tampa Bay. The Browns could have gotten him at the 22nd pick, and you could argue that young QB Ryan Tannehill at #4 and Martin at #22 would have been better than Richardson and a much older Brandon Weeden.

The real cheap shot was bringing up Russell Wilson, who was passed over by everyone and frankly dropped into the perfect situation. Wilson had a great first year, but he really didn’t flourish until Pete Carroll started running him, and that style of play doesn’t necessarily lead to long-term success.

These are all debatable points, and Nantz brings up a good point that Heckert’s record isn’t pristine. Still, he fairly noted that Richardson could be incredible under Norv Turner, and many think Weeden could flourish there as well. So it will take time to flush out Heckert’s record.

At least the Browns recognize that a foundation has been built, and hopefully the new brain trust can build on it. Overall, I’m glad to hear that Lombardi has guys like Nantz will to speak up on his behalf.

As for Tony Grossi, I understand his reservations, and it will be interesting to see how the soap opera plays out now with Lombardi, Grossi and Nantz. To his credit Grossi has said he’s giving Lombardi a clean slate. Let’s see if he lives up to it.

Report: Browns targeting John Pagano for defensive coordinator

Adam Schefter is reporting on Twitter that Rob Chudzinski is targeting San Diego defensive coordinator Rob Pagano for the same position for the Browns.

I wasn’t thrilled to hear that Chud might want to move away from the 4-3 defense, just because Tom Heckert was drafting for the 4-3 for the past three years, and Jabaal Sheard in particular wouldn’t be a great fir for the 3-4. But Chud clarified his approach in his press conference, emphasizing that he wants an attacking defense and that he believes in scheming around his personnel. He also stressed that the defensive coordinator would make the call and that he could see the Browns running both schemes along with a hybrid scheme that incorporates principles from both.

Pagano ran a 3-4 in San Diego, but here’s a good article where Pagano discusses both schemes along with the hybrid model.

“It’s funny because I got the same types of questions when I took the [job] in San Diego,” John Pagano said. “They said I was a 3-4 guy, but I’ve coached in a 4-3 and a 3-4. We do multiple fronts and we have multiple looks. Baltimore was a 4-3 and a 3-4. They play those different types of hybrid defenses that really are game-changing types of defenses. Whatever your personnel suits you, you’re going to be in certain types of fronts and certain types of coverages whether it’s a 3-4 or a 4-3.

“The biggest difference between a 4-3 and a 3-4 is that you have a lot more linebackers in a 3-4 and you have a little bit bigger linebackers who can standup and come off the edge, which are just like 4-3 defensive ends. When you go to a sub package or a nickel package look, our outside linebackers here in San Diego are defensive ends. They are used to standing up and playing with their hands down. I would suggest multiple looks and multiple fronts.

This quote illustrates the biggest change we’ll see in Cleveland whether Pagano gets the job or not. Chud seems much more open to scheming the defense each week depending on the opponent. Hopefully we won’t see the radical risk-taking of the Rob Ryan years, but we’ll probably see something very different from the vanilla defense run by Dick Jauron which emphasized execution and discipline.

Apart from Sheard, the Browns have very flexible defensive linemen, with Ahtyba Rubin and Fred Taylor being prime candidates for the nose tackle position. Taylor could easily be a dominant defensive end as well in the 3-4, while John Hughes could be another nose tackle candidate. Billy Winn could be a defensive end.

Joe Banner clearly likes the idea of a hybrid defense.

“This is what Chud said to us and frankly this was consistent with all the interviews we did,” Banner said. “Every offensive coach we interviewed we ask them, ‘What is the most difficult thing to play against?’ And the answer in all of those cases was these hybrid 4-3, 3-4, which made it more difficult to know what you were going to be against on any given play.

“So I think it’s clear to say that’s the way the league is headed. We happen to be lucky to think we have a significant number of players that can fit into either a 4-3 or 3-4 and then leave the coordinator the option of being one of these hybrids or committing to either direction.”

This makes some sense, but the more you scheme, the more you increase the chance that your defense will make mistakes. We saw a ton of that with the Rob Ryan/Eric Mangini defenses. They could find ways to stop Tom Brady one weak, and then give up huge plays to mediocre teams as well.

Chud knows the NFL, however, and I’m comfortable with him making these decisions with the front office. This also highlights why I didn’t want Chip Kelly. The NFL has become so complex, and we’re getting an expert in what schemes are out there vs a guy who would have a huge learning curve.

Randy Lerner selling the Cleveland Browns

The news broken by Kenny Roda, Tony Rizzo and WKNR yesterday about the Browns being sold shocked most people in Cleveland. Yes, it’s been a miserable 13 years since the Browns came back to the NFL under the Lerner family, but the Browns were coming off a stretch that included a very exciting draft with the additions of Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden. Enthusiasm was finally high again, and even the media was being generally positive. So that’s the context of this news that impacts how people are reacting.

With a day to let this sink in, here are some of my thoughts:

Randy Lerner was not a good owner, so in the grand scheme of things this is good news

Like most people, I didn’t think Randy Lerner was a good owner. He wasn’t the “worst owner in the NFL” like the kids on WKNR were claiming, but he was pretty bad. Yes, he never hesitated to spend money, and of course he’s from Cleveland so he was committed to keeping the team here, so he had some positive qualities. But all of this was overshadowed by his utter lack of leadership and management skills. I wrote about this in a post called “Clueless in Berea” back in 2009 when the Eric Mangini experiment was unraveling:

It’s obvious that Randy Lerner has never managed anything in his entire life. He seems to think that the secret to creating a great football organization is to pick qualified people and get out of the way, and with Lerner that means getting completely out of the way.

But life isn’t that simple, and management certainly isn’t that simple. Problems always arise. Sometimes they have to do with personalities, other times they have to do with flawed strategies. In the end you need a strong person at the top who can oversee what’s going on and ask the tough questions. The person at the top has to be willing to get his hands dirty. He has to be a problem solver, and he has to demand accountability from the GM and the head coach. That has never happened in Berea under Lerner’s watch.

You don’t have to get involved like a Daniel Snyder. Rather, you have to stay on top of what Mangini and Kokinis are doing, and grill them about things that don’t seem to make sense.

The quarterback situation is a prime example. I was willing to give Mangini the benefit of the doubt, but it’s obvious now that the process he used to select and then announce a starter only days before the opener blew up in his face. As the owner, Lerner should be on top of this situation. What’s the plan? Instead, Lerner has no clue what’s going on. That’s a stunning admission.

Lerner followed one basic management principle: employ experts and let them do their job. He went after big names like Butch Davis and then up and coming executives like Phil Savage. Yet until he picked Mike Holmgren, he never had anyone used to managing an entire football operation. He thought he could hand someone the keys and let them work their magic, but he wasn’t there to oversee things when Butch Davis was breaking down emotionally and Phil Savage was acting more like a scout than a general manager. The Eric Mangini/George Kokinis farce was just the tip of the iceberg.

Lerner brought nothing to the table. Still, he may have finally found someone who could handle everything in Mike Holmgren, who brought in Tom Heckert. If the enthusiasm for TRich and Weeden ends up being justified, then Lerner’s last regime might have finally helped get the Browns on track. That said, a new owner should be a significant upgrade over Lerner.

Jimmy Haslam seems like a solid guy

We really have no idea what kind of owner Jimmy Haslam will be. We know he’s an excellent businessman, so one would hope he would be a more effective owner than Randy Lerner. He’s also described as a hands-on business manager, so he shouldn’t have any problem managing a football team. Still, we’ve seen successful businessmen come in and be terrible owners as well, so there’s no guarantee here. So the fear of the unknown might be spooking some people. We want someone like Dan Gilbert, but don’t want a Daniel Snyder.

The news headlines that focused on Jimmy Haslam being a “1000% Steelers fan” are really pathetic. It’s another example of how lame ESPN can be at times. It was already big news, but they took one quote out of context to try to add more drama.

This quote spooked some Browns fans, but Haslam didn’t grow up as a Steelers fan, and he said that only when asked about his allegiance after he bought a minority interest in the Steelers, so of course you’re a fan of a team once you purchase an ownership interest. Assuming he buys the Browns he’ll be a million-plus-percent Browns fan. This shouldn’t be an issue.

Haslam does seem to be a die-hard football fan, so in that sense we should be getting a committed, enthusiastic owner. So on first blush he seems like the kind of guy fans should be happy with, but there’s no guarantee.

Impact on Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert

As I mentioned above, many Browns fans, including me, are very excited about what H&H accomplished this offseason with Richardson, Weeden, Schwartz and Josh Gordon being added to the mix. The Browns finally appear to be on the right track with Holmgren and Heckert running the show, so for many of us we don’t want to see everything blown up again.

Stability and continuity are very important for success in the NFL, and we’ve had little of that in Cleveland as every Lerner regime blew up after several years. While Haslam may end up being a great owner, fans are obviously wary of wholesale changes slowing down the progress many of us expect this year.

For this reason, many Browns fans were not totally enthusiastic about the news. Guys on the radio like Bruce Hooley were “shocked” that it wasn’t a 100% favorable reaction, but that just shows the bubble these guys live in, as they think the irate callers to talk radio represent all Browns fans. That’s just ridiculous. Also, many fans who would love to see Lerner go have legitimate questions about the new owner and what he’ll do with the current regime.

Hopefully, Haslam’s plan will be based in part on what the team looks like this year. If the latest draft produces an exciting offense and the young team shows real progress on the field in 2012, then he would be foolish to blow everything up. Yes, a new owner wants their own team of professionals to run things, but changing course on a successful rebuilding project would demonstrate a desire to satisfy his own ego over taking a practical approach to building the Browns as a winner. For example, if he brought in a new GM who wants a 3-4 defense instead of the current 4-3 we’ve spent three years building, then my head would explode. But there’s nothing we’ve seen so far to suggest Haslam would do something that stupid, but of course we’ll have to wait and see. The key for me is that I don’t want to see a huge change in philosophy right away or at all if we’re seeing progress with the current plan.

Barring a collapse on the field in 2012, I’d like to see Heckert stay. I’d also like to see Mike Holmgren stay on in some capacity, but much of his work is done. He set up Heckert and the front office, and he transformed an old, crappy team into a young team with huge potential. The last draft could be the building block that sets the stage for a rebirth of the franchise. Even if Holmgren leaves, if the Browns get to the next level Holmgren will deservedly get a lot of the credit. Of course the opposite will be true if Weeden and company flop.

Holmgren’s deal might include a provision where he gets his entire contract paid upon a sale. Most of the guys are on the radio are assuming that Holmgren will be gone right away, particularly with the rumors that former Eagles president Joe Banner might be involved in Haslam’s group with the plan being he comes in as team president. But anything is possible here. They might ask Holmgren to stay on as a consultant through this season and beyond. Also, with all the money coming his way, I wouldn’t even be shocked if Holmgren took some of it in the form of an ownership piece with the new Haslam group. Or he could just go back to Seattle. The point is that anything is possible here.

The impact on Pat Shurmur and the team

As mentioned above, I hope that Haslam’s plan for the future takes into account the current state of the team. If we see progress I hope he wants to build on it as opposed to sacrificing that just in the name of asserting control.

That said, there’s no doubt that Shurmur will have much less room for error now that Holmgren won’t be calling all the shots. If the team plays well and he avoids his first-year mistakes, then I would expect Haslam and Banner to stick with him. But if we see real talent from the new players coupled with more mistakes from Shurmur and the coaching staff, then we can expect to see a change.

Cautiously optimistic

With all these factors, I’m cautiously optimistic about the impending sale. Lerner obviously didn’t have his heart in it, and doesn’t have the management skills to run the Browns long term. Even if Holmgren stayed five years and then left Heckert in charge as GM, Lerner would probably find a way to screw things up.

For the long run, Haslam seems to have the potential to be a very good owner. We can’t be sure of course, but I feel pretty good about it so far.

Tom Heckert’s plan

With all the hysteria surrounding the Browns, particularly on Cleveland sports talk radio, it’s refreshing to see that some of then actually get it. Micheal Reghi is one of the few people on WKNR who makes rational arguments as opposed to emotional outbursts or continuous snark and negativity.

Reghi points out in an article how Tom Heckert has a plan, and it’s the only strategy that makes sense. You have to build through the draft.

Don’t tell me you’d be willing ‘to ride that out’. I’m not buying it. And I DON’T WANT to roll that way. The Browns must take some significant steps this season to make you believe that Heckert’s formula is working. He knows that. Mike Holmgren does too. And the largest reason why I’ve been able to endure the 4-12 of 2012 is I’m completely aware, as are others around the NFL, exactly what Tom Heckert walked into in February of 2010. The WORST ROSTER in the NFL! Don’t believe me? Here goes. The following are STARTERS on both sides of the ball, brought here by head coach, general manager, director of pro personnel, top decision maker, and all omnipotent one, Eric Mangini. You ready for this?

The Browns had one of the oldest teams in the NFL under Eric Mangini, and now we have one of the youngest. Read the whole article, as it’s stunning to see some of the names of players what were starting under Mangini.

You can’t remake a roster overnight, and 4-12 seasons hurt. But tons of young players got experience last year and we have an extra first-round pick this year. Youth will ultimately prevail if you hit on your draft picks.

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