The debacle that played itself out Sunday afternoon between the Cleveland Browns and their archrival Pittsburgh Steelers in the Browns' 41-9 loss left little doubt that Coach Eric Mangini had coached his last game here. Needing a strong finish to the season to secure his job, his Browns dropped their last four games including two embarrassing losses to Buffalo and Cincinnati.
The fact that Mangini had even been retained to coach the team this year following team owner Randy Lerner's decision to appoint Mike Holmgren as team President and czar was a surprise to many in the sporting world. The Browns had needed to win their final four games the previous season to finish 5-11 and his handling of the quarterback situation had been universally panned throughout the media.
Mangini has an annoying personality that is equal parts bland and arrogant. He made numerous decisions, including the interior decorating fiasco at Browns headquarters, that did little to endear him to the Browns fans while he was in complete control of the football operations in 2009. His handpicked General Manager, George Kokinis, a personal friend, was relieved of his duties and escorted from the building in yet another embarrassment for the organization.
The Browns offensive coordinator Brian Daboll had no such experience at any level prior to his appointment to the Browns and was overmatched from day one. Conversely, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan came to the team with a much more impressive résumé and predictably had a much more positive impact on the team.
From a purely football standpoint, Mangini demanded that his players be responsible for themselves and each other and preached versatility. In came a flood of ex-Jets and out went talented but troubled receiver Braylon Edwards and tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. For those tired of previous coach Romeo Crennel's version of Animal House, the law and order was a welcome relief but the precipitous drop in talent could not be covered up.
Mangini never made sense as Holmgren's coach except as a temporary caretaker while they brought in more talent. The Browns made strides this season on the defensive side of the ball with a rebuilt secondary and the emergence of Ahtyba Rubin on the defensive line to go with the cast of thousands at linebacker. The acquisitions of running back Peyton Hillis and tight end Ben Watson were excellent ones. They also have three or four good players on the offensive line, though Josh Cribbs was under-utilized and the receivers are still not in their natural slots. Quarterback is still a mystery since the NFL seems to have caught on to Colt McCoy by taking away the short stuff and forcing him unsuccessfully into deeper throws.
The candidates for head coach run the gamut from ESPN analyst Jon Gruden to NFL head coach John Fox to our own Rob Ryan and yes, the big show himself, Mike Holmgren. Whoever gets the job is going to find a defense that has potential and an offense in need of a number of pieces and a qualified, experienced coordinator to lead it.
In hindsight, the decision to retain Mangini and therefore Daboll, was one that has set the Cleveland Browns back.