With Eric Mangini Out, Who Is Right for the Ailing Cleveland Browns?

Daymon JohnsonCorrespondent IJanuary 4, 2011

With Eric Mangini Out, Who Is Right for the Ailing Cleveland Browns?

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    With the news, to an end comes another dismal era of Browns football.

    Today, Eric Mangini was relieved of his coaching duties in Cleveland, and now the speculation can begin on who the Browns and Mike Holmgren will bring in to be the next head coach.

    Right now, as we all sit and ponder what the future will hold for the Browns, one thing has become abundantly clear; Cleveland MUST make the right choice at the Head Coaching spot this time around, no questions about it.

    The list of has-beens that have commanded the sidelines as head coach since '99, frankly, is pretty disgusting, and demonstrates the ineptness that Cleveland’s brass has operated with for years.

    That ineptness is precisely the reason the Cleveland has been largely irrelevant since their return to the NFL, and is also why Cleveland must do it right this time.

    Thinking back through the coaching changes of the last 10-plus years, I don’t believe that there has ever been a time that landing the right guy is more important than now.

    Why?  Well, Cleveland has some talent now.  They’ve got a couple of stellar rookie DBs in Haden and Ward that a defensive-minded coach can bring the best out of.  They’ve also got some very solid lineman in Thomas, Mack and Steinbach. 

    They have a running game that, when healthy, can simply dominate, and they may have found, finally, a QB that can carry the team.

    Additionally, with Mike Holmgren, a proven NFL coach and GM in place, the time is now.

    So, who’s the most likely candidate to end up in Cleveland?  Let’s take a look in this slide show with arguments for and against and my prediction of who will be leading the Cleveland Browns in 2011.

Jim Harbaugh: The College Candidate Holmgren Spoke Of

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    In the words of Cleveland hip hop legends Bone, this guy is “hotter than a barrel of fire." He’s turned a once laughable Stanford program into a legitimate contender, and he did so in quick fashion.

    There are going to be a lot of people flirting with him this offseason.  Namely, the 49ers and Broncos.


    The Argument For Harbaugh

    Of all the coaches at the College level who will likely be considered (Kirk Ferentz and Bob Stoops among others), Jim Harbaugh may be perhaps the most NFL-ready candidate.

    He runs a pro-style offense and is a pro-style coach, and with his success in the NFL as a player, I believe that will benefit him immensely.  After all, he did take a dreadful Colts team to within one game of the Super Bowl.

    Another positive for him is that while he lacks experience, he's a football mind. That shouldn't be underestimated. Knowing the NFL is instrumental in success, and the argument could be made that he's as knowledgeable as ANY other candidate right now.

    Also, he's an Ohio guy.  Yes, I know he went to Michigan, but he's an Ohio native, hailing from Toledo.  Maybe that gives him the chance, which he's wanted for a while, to go home.


    The Argument Against Harbaugh

    There are a lot of really good coaching candidates out there this season.  Guys like Brian Billick, John Fox, John Gruden and Jeff Fisher, not to mention all of the coordinators who will likely be considered.

    That means Harbaugh could simply be out because of the depth of the pool of candidates.  I find that unlikely, but it could happen.

    Also potentially adversely affecting Harbaugh could be the lack of NFL coaching experience.  College is one thing, the NFL is completely another.  It’s night and day, and that could impact his chances.


    Final Thoughts

    Frankly, I like Jim Harbaugh...A LOT.  I think the way the guy approaches the game would benefit Cleveland exponentially.  He’s much like Mangini in his team-first mentality, and with what Mangini has left behind, Harbaugh could be a good, seamless fit.

    He gets his players to play for him and clearly has the ability to mold players into upper-echelon talent (Andrew Luck), and with Cleveland being so devoid of talent, perhaps a master motivator and molder would be good.

    Not to mention, seeing him patrol Cleveland’s sidelines and beat up his brother John at some point would be really nice!

Jon Gruden: The Former Super Bowl Head Coaching Candidate

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    He’s a fantastic coach who could easily come in a make the Cleveland Browns a much better team, but is he the Answer?


    The Argument For Gruden

    The biggest argument for him is simply that he’s done it all, at a high level, before.

    The guy is a Super Bowl-winning, passionate, excitable coach who has a track record of success, and he’s a card-carrying member of the “Holmgren Coaching Tree," which is undoubtedly a positive.

    Also, John Gruden is an Ohio guy, growing up just outside of Cleveland in Sandusky. 

    During the Cleveland Sunday Night game, it was inherently obvious that Gruden loves the Browns.  He was far from neutral and seemingly was upset by seeing his childhood team struggle as badly as they did.  Clearly, he’s passionate about Cleveland and may relish the chance to be back home as well.


    The Argument Against Gruden

    Being that Jon Gruden has been around the block a couple of times, one thing is certain, he’s likely going to want to more power than most.  That’s not been confirmed, but a reasonable conclusion can be drawn.

    Also, Jon Gruden is insanely tough on QBs.  Need proof? Ask Rob Johnson.  With that said, him dealing with Colt McCoy could be a double-edged sword.

    He could build him to a fantastic QB, and then tear him down after a bad game.

    He showed his knowledge of the game during the ESPN program “Gruden’s QB Camp," but it’s clear he has little patience with QBs. Here’s the link to Colt McCoy’s trip to QB Camp :


    For those that haven’t seen this, give it a watch—it’s intriguing, to say the least. "Do you yodel?" = hilarious (watch to find out).


    Final Thoughts

    Gruden would be a fantastic hire for the Browns.  He’s a Browns fan from childhood, he’s a passionate coach and can win games.  However, the Browns may not be a good fit at this point for him.

    They’re probably lacking the exact players that he wants, and it would take considerable time to build that team.  However, if he were to come in and work with what he had and not go Josh McDaniels and run everyone out of town, it could work.

    Still, careful consideration should be given here.  It could be a great thing or a very bad thing.

Perry Fewell: The Minority and Defensive-Minded Candidate

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    With the Rooney Rule (which is a completely absurd rule in this day and age) in effect, Cleveland will be required to interview at least one minority candidate, and I believe that Fewell will be the guy. 

    Leslie Frazier would have been in line here, but he’ll be retained in Minnesota, according to AP reports.


    The Argument for Fewell

    Perry Fewell is a fantastic coach.  He excels with the defensive aspect of the game and could help Ryan or the new DC get the most out of the defense.

    He’s been in around the league for a long time and has performed in the head coaching capacity before, with the Bills last season, when he went 3-4 in seven games.  So preparing his team, coaches and staff wouldn’t be a stretch for him.

    At the end of the day, the defense will likely be better.


    The Argument against Fewell

    Last season when Buffalo settled on Chan Gailey ahead of him in their coaching search, the biggest “knock” on Fewell was that offensively he wasn’t “as well-acclimated” as others.

    This will likely be an issue with Holmgren, as he’s stated that he’d like to have an offensive-minded coach in place.  Someone that can create scoring, and plenty of it.


    Final Thoughts

    I think Perry Fewell will be a very good NFL coach.  I think he’s smart enough and experienced enough to make the transition to HC and be successful.

    However, I don’t know that Cleveland needs a guy like him at this point.  Cleveland, I believe,  needs experience and someone who can lead with conviction—not that Fewell can’t, but I believe there are better candidates.

Russ Grimm: The Offensive-Minded Candidate

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    Russ Grimm is the current assistant head coach and OC for the Arizona Cardinals, and a very good OC, at that.

    He’s been interviewed before, by Pittsburgh in 2007 and Chicago in 2004.  In both scenarios, he was passed on for another candidate, Mike Tomlin and Lovie Smith, respectively.


    The Argument For Grimm

    Offensively, Russ Grimm is as good of a candidate as Cleveland fans are going to find.  Even this season, with no QB, no RB,  a bad O-Line and serious loss of talent around them, he still managed to make Arizona at least respectable. 

    Just for comparison, the Cards averaged 19.1 ppg while Cleveland averaged a lowly 16.7.

    He’s also been praised by Ken Whisenhunt for his ability to read, diagnose and adapt to defenses during play, which is something the Browns fans would LOVE to see.  Especially after Daboll’s stagnant offensive game-planning.

    The big knock on Grimm in 2007 and 2004 was that he didn’t get the defensive aspect of the game well enough to win that, whereas Tomlin and Smith did.  He finished second to each of them.

    After four years learning and improving that, surely he’s gotten better.


    The Argument Against Grimm

    Potential suitors will be curious about his game-planning, program and overall scheme implementation, as he has no real experience doing that.

    Realistically, there’s a lot to like here.  No too many red flags.


    Final Thoughts

    Grimm, in my opinion, would be a fantastic fit in Cleveland.  He can make things work offensively, and would certainly be a dramatic improvement over Brian Daboll, as he’d likely be the HC and OC.

    I think, even if passed over for the HC position, he could still get a look as an OC/Assistant Coach in Cleveland.  The Browns would do well to be able to add a guy like Russ Grimm to their staff.

    He's a Hall of Fame inductee, and really, he's a hard-nosed, get-it-done kind of coach.  Gotta love that about the guy.

    Of all the coordinator candidates, I believe that Russ Grimm is most prepared to take over at this point.  He has the Asst. Head Coach title now, and assists in all aspects of game-planning with Ken Whisenhunt, and he seems to be the most prepared for the next step.

    While he's not a young up-and-comer, he would be a new HC, and he may be the steal this year.

Brian Billick: The Candidate with AFC North Head Coaching Experience

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    Billick is a Super Bowl-winning coach and has a track record of success.  Not to mention, he’s got the personality that could fit well in Cleveland.  Being outgoing and easy to talk to, he strikes me as a very solid prospect.


    The Argument For Billick

    Billick is one of the smartest football guys around.  That can be easily seen on the NFL Playbook show on NFL Network, and honestly, he can break down anything going on with the best of them.

    Also appealing with Billick is the fact that he has AFC North experience.  He understands what works and what doesn’t, and why.  This could potentially be the reason he may be selected. Having the experience, not only in the AFC North, but also the Super Bowl that he does, it makes him almost ideal.

    Billick is a coach that is as knowledgeable in the offensive game as he is in the defensive game, but he shines in the offensive spotlight, having served as the OC for the Minnesota Vikings, most notably the 1998 season, when Minnesota was a record-breaking offense.

    Also, it’s believed by many that Billick would not command a great deal of power, even though he does wield some Super Bowl hardware, and he too is an Ohio guy, hailing from Fairborn.


    The Argument Against Billick

    Well, let’s face it, the way it all ended in Baltimore was something that Cleveland is all too familiar with.  And, the memory of just how bad Baltimore was in 2007 is sometimes forgotten, and Cleveland doesn’t want to go that way again.

    The question there has to be: Was it a fluke?  That's for everyone to debate because frankly, I don't know.

    Perhaps the biggest concern is that he seems to be content doing what he’s doing on the NFL Network.  It allows him to stay in and around the game while not having the demands that a head coach does, so he may not view Cleveland as a potential suitor.


    Final Thoughts

    To me, Brian Billick seems to be an ideal selection for the Cleveland Browns.  He may be the offensive-minded coach that Holmgren may be looking for.

    The biggest asset he has, though, is the experience in the AFC North and in big games.  In his nine years as the Ravens head coach, he had only three seasons where he was below .500, those being in 2002, 2005 and 2007.

    He appeared in eight playoff games in that time and was a solid 5-3 in those games.  He’s a big-game guy that could probably take Cleveland to a new level of success, and he may be an ideal fit.

    Also intriguing is the line of coaches who have served under him that have gone on to have success at the NFL level.  Guys like Jack Del Rio, Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Rex Ryan, Mike Singletary and Mike Smith.  Obviously the guy knows what he’s doing and has an eye for talent.

Marty Mornhinweg: The Long Shot on Odds Candidate

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    Mornhinweg is considered by many to be an offensive innovator and a guy that can, when given the opportunity, create offensive cohesiveness and domination.  Look at Philly this season, and that should lend some clarity.


    The Argument For Mornhinweg

    Even though his two seasons in Detroit were a complete and total disaster, one can reasonably assume that he’s probably learned from that and would be a better coach in his second stint.

    Also attractive here is that he does have experience building an offense and making it a good one.  Holmgren has stated that he would prefer an offensive-minded coach, and Mornhinweg fits the bill.

    I’m sure he would find new and creative ways to use McCoy, Hillis, Watson and whoever else is brought in this offseason.


    The Argument Against Mornhinweg

    Let’s face it, what happened in Detroit was flat-out bad.  During his tenure the Lions were 5-27 and were easily the worst team in the league, consistently.

    Surely a lot has changed since the 2001 and 2002 seasons, but I’m not sure that I’m sold on his offensive-genius mentality that everyone else has.

    Looking at Philadelphia right now, one thing is certain—they are abundantly more talented at every offensive position on the field than Cleveland, and with dynamic players like DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Brent Celek and Mike Vick, that certainly has made it easier.

    Without that talent, how would he fare in Cleveland?


    Final Thoughts

    I like the guy, and I think he could be a good candidate for a lot of positions, I’m just not sold on him as the guy for Cleveland.

    His lack of experience and deplorable record as a head coach is a bit scary to me.  I just worry that he’s maybe not ready to take the reins of a struggling team like Cleveland.

    He's going to get a look because he has familiarity with Mike Holmgren, and there's some common ground there, but I don't know that I'm sold here.

Conclusion: Who Will Lead the Browns in 2011?

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    Again, as I stated earlier, this is a paramount decision for Mike Holmgren this year because this coach could define his legacy as a GM in the NFL, so the decision must be the right one.

    Cleveland needs to find the guy that can come in for the next 8-10 years and deliver to Cleveland and a starving fanbase some success and a Super Bowl, if at all possible.  That’s what Cleveland fans want, and that’s what they deserve.

    The positive this season is that there are a lot better candidates available than there have been in recent years.  That’s sure to make Holmgren’s job a little easier and allow him to really get a look at several solid candidates.  And that’s a good thing.

    Because Mangini got the job in Cleveland before the seat in New York had barely cooled.  That took from him the opportunity to thoroughly evaluate what worked and what didn’t and try to change what he could to ensure some success.

    And, where Cleveland is now is proof that hasty coaching decisions tend to be the wrong thing to do, and most times it’s detrimental to a team.  

    That said, I feel it important to say that I think Mangini, even with how badly Cleveland finished this season, deserved one more season. 

    Honestly, I believe that this coaching season was Mangini’s best of his career, and many echo that sentiment.  Because even with a team devoid of talent in key positions, he was able to build a team that played hard and embraced the team-first concept.

    A record of 5-11 is no good, we can all admit that; however, what Mangini was building needed a bit more time, and I believe that he should have had another year to fully implement his plan.

    But, I’m not the GM and Cleveland is going a different direction.

    With the amount of quality coordinators, and available HCs, there are a lot of solid head coaching candidates this season, but there are a couple that stand out to me as the best “fits” for Cleveland.

    Those two are Brian Billick and...wait for it...Jim Harbaugh

    Brian Billick, I believe, especially with his experience in the AFC North is an ideal candidate.  He’s got an engaging personality, and he’s a players coach.  Ray Lewis to this day still says Billick was the best coach he ever had.  That’s got to mean something.  And there are a lot of others that feel that way as well.

    He’s a Super Bowl championship coach and would bring a swagger to the Browns that they haven’t had that since the expansion.

    He could bring the Browns to new levels of success in a relatively short frame of time.  He’s the offensive guy that Mike Holmgren wants, and even though he’s a Dennis Green disciple, I think he could fit with Mike Holmgren well.

    Jim Harbaugh is an equally intriguing head coaching candidate and a guy that could establish himself quickly as an NFL head coach.

    His demeanor is perfect for the Browns.  His no-nonsense, get-the-job-done and respect-the-game mentality would fit with what Mangini was building, and that could make for a seamless transition for the players.

    His experience as a player, as a QB nonetheless, would be valuable, especially for a young QB like Colt McCoy.  He could really develop McCoy nicely, and if there’s any indication of his ability to develop QBs, just have a look at Andrew Luck.

    If you ask Luck, he’ll tell you it’s because of Harbaugh that he’s developed. Ask Harbaugh, and he’ll tell you it’s because Luck is smart and works hard at what he does...sounds a lot like McCoy. That could only be a good thing.

    At the end of the day, I believe that this is Cleveland’s most important decision on a head coach since they’ve been back, and it’s one that cannot be taken lightly.

    They are at a critical point now, and the right candidate must be selected this season.

    In a couple of months, this will all be old news, because whoever the HC is will be in place, doing his job, and we’ll be looking at the draft.  However, in less than a year, we’ll have a better idea of whether or not the man Holmgren hired is the right man.

    Here’s to hoping he is.