Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.
This mantra defines the success that Eric Mangini and the Browns experienced in the middle of the season. It also describes why things went downhill late in the season, after teams were ready for the Browns.
Despite another poor record, Eric Mangini deserves to keep his job.
There is no doubt that he works as hard as anyone in the league and has done more with less all year. It would be a mistake to not let him continue the job he started.
The fact that the Browns have one of the lowest talent pools in the league—from trading away the likes of Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards—can be traced back to Mangini.
He was, after all, in charge of all personnel moves last season. He made some poor decisions that left few dynamic players on Cleveland’s roster.
The whole fault of this can’t be laid at Mangini’s feet, though.
The most successful organizations let the general manager be the general manager and have the head coach be the head coach. Unless a coach is a legend, they should not have full autonomy over football decisions.
Randy Lerner was far too rash in giving that to Mangini.
This year, the Browns have played much better than their record indicates. While they were 5-10 going into week 17, Football Outsiders’ expected wins formula says that the Browns season should have yielded 7.6 wins at this point in the season.
With a 7-8 or 8-7 record before the Pittsburgh game, few would doubt that Mangini was moving the franchise in the right direction. People are over-reacting to the actual 5-10 record.
In looking toward Mangini’s future as a coach, it would serve us well to see how his mentor, Bill Belichick, started his career.
In his first five seasons—all with Cleveland, coincidentally—Belichick went 36-44, with one playoff appearance and one playoff win.
Eric Mangini’s first five seasons are quite similar. In his first five seasons—three with the Jets and two with the Browns—Mangini went 33-47, with one playoff appearance and no playoff wins.
After Bill Belichick’s first five seasons, few would expect him to become one of the elite coaches in the NFL. Yet, this is what happened.
Belichick’s sixth season as a head coach was in 2000, his first with the New England Patriots. The team went 5-11, the only losing season Belichick has had with the Patriots.
Since then, Belichick’s gone 121-39, only missed the playoffs twice, gone 16-0 in 2007, and won three Super Bowls.
This isn’t to imply that Eric Mangini is destined to become Bill Belichick 2.0, just to say that the jury is still out on Mangini. There is no doubt that the team is in a better state now than when he got here.
Since Heckert and Holmgren have taken over personnel decisions, bringing in players like Peyton Hillis, Joe Haden, T.J. Ward and Colt McCoy, Mangini has done well.
If given the chance, Mangini could continue developing these players into stars and this team into a contender.
The Browns claim to have a rivalry with the Steelers, but it’s been far from competitive in recent memory. While most of this goes back to talent, it also has deep roots in the continuity of the Steelers and the dishevelment of the Browns.
Since 1969, the Steelers have had three head coaches.
In that same time frame, the Browns have had 14, including three since 2004. Continuity is a strong factor in whether a team will succeed or fail, and it has doomed the Browns since they returned in 1999.
Mangini can get the job done with Heckert and Holmgren. The question is whether he’ll get the chance.