Cleveland Browns: Eric Mangini and Mike Holmgren Could Become a Dynamic Duo

Benjamin C. Klein@@BenjaminCKleinCorrespondent IDecember 11, 2010

BEREA, OH - AUGUST 04:  Head coach Eric Mangini of the Cleveland Browns looks on during training camp at the Cleveland Browns Training and Administrative Complex on August 4, 2010 in Berea, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Cleveland Browns President Mike Holmgren should be smart enough to see that he and Head Coach Eric Mangini have the Browns organization on the right course, and that if he fires Mangini and makes himself head coach, it would be a big mistake. 

Now I understand that a lot of Browns fans probably still feel a strong amount of animosity towards Mangini for the disastrous start to his career in Cleveland.

The general manager was fired midseason, trades were made, players started to complain both publicly and to the NFLPA and they were losing, badly.

So if Cleveland fans still have some lingering hatred for Mangini for that, I don’t blame them.

However, that doesn’t change my strong opinion that Mangini deserves to remain the Browns head coach because he and Holmgren have the potential to be a great president/coach pairing.

When Mike Holmgren took over the organization as president in a Bill Parcells type role, he inherited Mangini. They didn’t know each other, and their coaching philosophies both on and off the field couldn’t be more different.

It was considered a long shot he wouldn’t fire him without even giving him a year to prove himself. 

Yet at the time I remember hoping that Holmgren would retain Mangini and give it a year to see if the pairing would work out.

Reason being, I was fascinated by the concept of a Bill Walsh disciple and a Bill Belichick disciple coming together in one organization.

Now while Belichick is a defensive guru and Walsh an offensive guru and had very different personalities, they shared rather similar ideas of how to run an organization and draft players.

I know this because Belichick has repeatedly stated that Bill Walsh’s Finding the Winning Edge is the quintessential blueprint on how to run an organization. He has repeatedly called it and Walsh a major influence on how he runs the New England Patriots.

One of the reasons Holmgren initially decided to keep Mangini for a test year was that he was impressed by how he cleared up the salary cap position, accumulated draft picks and cleared the locker room of bad influences.

But the main reason I wanted to see if Mangini and Holmgren could work is I wanted to see an offense with Bill Walsh West Coast tendencies combined with a Bill Belichick-style 3-4 defense.

Remember the old New York Giants-San Francisco 49er battles in the 1980s? Imagine the 49ers offensive philosophy combined with the Giants defensive philosophy onto one team. Sounds good to me.  

And I understand that it wasn’t like Holmgren was coming in to coach with Mangini, but I expected some of his philosophies to rub off and be adopted by Mangini.

Reason being, I figured Mangini would really want to keep his job, and the best way to do that is to emulate the philosophies and ideas of your boss.

And Mangini has done just that this season; not only has his offense adopted West Coast tendencies, but also he has opened up a great deal to his players and to the press.

Not only is he not as guarded over the inner workings of the team, but he has even started to joke around and smile. Who knew a Belichick disciple could smile?

While Mangini will always be a disciplinarian style coach at heart, the fact that he was unapproachable, that the players thought he didn’t listen to them or their concerns was a serious problem.

Mangini didn’t need to do a total 180 on his coaching style, but he needed to dial it back a bit and not be viewed as an unyielding tyrant. And much like Tom Coughlin with the Giants in 2007, Mangini seems to have made that change.

Now my initial optimism for the Holmgren/Mangini pairing started to increase beyond theory after I broke down the Browns 2010 NFL Draft. It wasn’t just the quality of the players drafted, which was high; it was the positions they play.

Say what you want about dictatorial Eric Mangini, but going back to his days with the Patriots, he has always been able to develop a great secondary with great cornerbacks and safeties.

And he didn't do it by just by playing veterans, but by developing and molding younger players into quality starters.

So in the first rounds, Holmgren gave Mangini safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Joe Haden along with running back Montario Hardesty. Just based upon those picks there, I knew Holmgren was getting along with Mangini, that he wasn’t setting him up to fail.

If Holmgren wanted to set up Mangini to fail, he wouldn’t have drafted players at the top of the draft that were right in Mangini’s coaching wheelhouse.

A strong running back behind a strong offensive line for a coach who loves to run the ball and talented secondary players for a secondary coach to me was proof Holmgren was giving Mangini a fair shot.

While Hardesty proved the concerns over his durability were valid by landing on the IR before the season even began, TJ Ward and Joe Haden have not only confirmed their status as building blocks for the Browns, but have quickly developed into two of their best players on defense.

Joe Haden looks like a shut down corner in the making. Coming from the man who first helped create the vacation destination known as “Revis Island,” Mangini is now helping to construct “Haden Island.”

That is excellent coaching; Mangini deserves recognition for that.

Now a lot of people will point out that that Mangini’s record with the Browns is 10-18, but I would point out that over the last 16 games, he is 9-7.

And it’s not like Mangini is coaching with a team whose talent even makes it easy to contend.

Mangini, and by extension Holmgren, inherited a mess with the Browns both organizationally and in terms of player personnel from bunglers Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel, especially at the quarterback position.

Under Mangini this season, the Browns play inspired defense and fantastic special teams, but their offense, simply put, might be the least talented in the league. While the Browns have an impressive offensive line, they have little talent or veteran experience at the skill position players outside of Peyton Hillis.

And the Peyton Hillis-for-Brady Quinn trade is another example of how I feel Mangini and Holmgren work well together. Holmgren found a value, got it, and Mangini developed it and made it a factor.

Even Colt McCoy has shown more development this season than I thought possible. So it’s not just that Mangini can coach, it’s that he can develop young talent and adjust his schemes on the fly to suit his players.

Now that Mangini is easing up and not behaving like such a tightly wound dictator, maybe his exceptional coaching skills that earned him the nickname “Mangenius” are starting to shine through.

And with an impressive and talented amount of young free agents set to hit the market after this season along with an impressive draft class (pending CBA resolution of course), the Browns will have a chance to give their team a major injection of talent.

The arrow on the Browns organization is pointing up, but I believe that if Holmgren were to fire Mangini and become the coach himself, that arrow would suddenly teeter out.

Holmgren has proven with the Seattle Seahawks that he is not good as a coach and GM/president at the same time; it’s just too much for him to handle.

But still, it can’t be easy for a Super Bowl-winning coach to sit on his hands and just watch the action on Sunday from a luxury box. I am sure it can make Holmgren really jittery sometimes, making him want to break out a clipboard.

But in reality, if he wants to coach the Browns he would need to quit as president of the Browns. And he has been doing such a good job of it that I think that would be a mistake for both him personally and the Browns as an organization. Again, he has proven he can’t do both.

So I think Holmgren should sit on his hands, keep Mangini and just stay in the luxury box on Sundays as president of the Browns, nothing more nothing less.

Let this mingling of interesting philosophies continue; perhaps the two of them can create a new legacy of greatness together with the Cleveland Browns.

Separately I don’t think they can do it, but together I think they can. 


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