Eric Mangini Fired: Is Mike Holmgren Heading Back To the Sideline?

Joseph ChasanCorrespondent IJanuary 4, 2011

Eric Mangini Fired: Is Mike Holmgren Heading Back to the Sideline?

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    ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 14: Head coach Mike Holmgren of the Seattle Seahawks watches his team play against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on December 14, 2008 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Seahawks beat the Rams 23-20.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwa
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    With the news breaking today that Browns president Mike Holmgren has put Eric Mangini out of his misery and relieved him of his duties as head coach, the question that immediately springs to mind is obvious: is this the beginning of Mike Holmgren's return to coaching?

    After he was brought on in the role of president last season, many people have thought it was only a matter of time before we'd see him back where he's most familiar to us: headset on, clipboard in hand, barking instructions to his players.

    But is he really lurking just around the corner, ready to install himself as president and coach, in a power play ripped straight from Pat Riley's handbook?  Or is he truly content to stay behind the scenes, in a somewhat less public role?

    Only time will tell for sure, but here are some ideas of the things that could sway what Holmgren's decision will ultimately be.

Reason 5 He'll Coach: He Knows Offense

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Mike Holmgren has always been an offensive minded coach, and those roots go deep. When he started his coaching career at the age of 23 way back in 1971, it was as the offensive coordinator for Lincoln (CA) High School.

    He continued in this capacity in his later posts at San Francisco's Sacred Heart High School, at San Francisco State University, and eventually with the San Francisco 49ers. In the 1980's, he was the Niners' quarterbacks coach, under the tutelage of the legendary Bill Walsh, pioneer of the revolutionary West Coast offense.

    Once he became a head coach, he was blessed to be paired with a young Brett Favre, and his focus on winning with a strong passing attack continued in Seattle with Matt Hasselbeck.

    Why is this important for Cleveland?  Well, their offense has been languishing at or near the bottom of the league for years now.  In the last three seasons, they've ranked 30th, 29th, and 31st in scoring offense, and 31st, 32nd, and 29th in yards. For the franchise to turn things around, they have to find some way to spark the offense.

    There's nobody who's going to be available who's better at doing that than Holmgren.

Reason 5 He Won't Coach: He Doesn't Have a Franchise QB

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    CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 02:  Quarterback Colt McCoy #12 of the Cleveland Browns fumbles the ball after being hit by defensive end Brett Keisel #99 of the Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns Stadium on January 2, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Mat
    Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

    One major factor in Holmgren's offensive prowess is that he's usually had a rock at the quarterback position.

    In San Francisco, he had Joe Montana and then Steve Young. In Green Bay, of course, Brett Favre fell into his lap. And in Seattle, it was Matt Hasselbeck. Okay, Hasselbeck isn't quite in the same league as those other three luminaries, but he's certainly never been a slouch, either.

    At the moment, the Browns look committed to giving Colt McCoy a chance to be their quarterback of the future And McCoy has shown some promise as a rookie after being handed the reins midseason, throwing for 1,576 yards and completing over 60% of his passes. But he also threw just six touchdowns along with nine interceptions.

    He can certainly still grow and improve, but nobody's going to be confusing Colt McCoy with Joe Montana or Brett Favre. Does Holmgren really want to deal with the uphill battle of nursing a young, unproven quarterback at this point in his life?

Reason 4 He'll Coach: He Wants The Challenge

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    CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 02:  Defenders Larry Foote #50, Lawrence Timmons #94 and James Harrison #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers tackle tailback Peyton Hillis #40 of the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium on January 2, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (P
    Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

    One common thread in the personalities of all great coaches is that they revel in "the challenge."

    The challenge of building a winner, of making the decisions, of putting the puzzle pieces together that make a team fit. After all, why else would he have come back to the game at all after retiring from Seattle at the end of the 2008 season?

    Sure, it was in a front office capacity, but even then, he had to be getting the itch again. And honestly, what would be more of a challenge than changing the culture in Cleveland, where the Browns have had just two winning seasons and one playoff appearance since the new franchise was born in 1999?

    He wouldn't be coming back to coach the Patriots or the Saints. He'd be coaching the Browns. Now that's a challenge.

Reason 4 He Won't Coach: He Doesn't Really Want The Challenge

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    BEREA, OH - AUGUST 04:  Team president Mike Holmgren of the Cleveland Browns sits in a golf cart 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

    Yes, being the president of an NFL team is a stressful position. But it's a different kind of stress. It's a white collar type of stress, compared to the blue collar stress of coaching. Coaches are more likely to down Tums and Alka-Seltzer every night.

    Does Holmgren really want to deal with the stress of being back on the front lines for a team like Cleveland? As much as coaches talk about wanting the challenge, and building a winner, they're not dumb. That's why Phil Jackson decides to coach where Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen are playing, and when he comes back, where does he go? Oh yeah, where Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant are playing, that's right.

    The fact is, more often than not, great players make great coaches. Cleveland doesn't have that; not right now, at least. Holmgren can either step into the fire of being the public face of the franchise, and take all the heat that goes along with that position, or he can stay behind the scenes, out of the limelight, and quietly bide his time while putting some better pieces in place. What sounds more appealing to you?

Reason 3 He'll Coach: Cleveland Could Rock

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 20:  Mohamed Massaquoi #11 of the Cleveland Browns reacts during their NFL game against the Kansas City Chiefs on December 20, 2009 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. The Browns defeated the Chiefs 41-34. (Photo by J
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    There's no getting around it: the Browns have struggled mightily, and they've been struggling for a while. But at the same time, there's no denying that there are legitimate reasons to think they're already headed in the right direction.

    I've already talked about Colt McCoy. For all of the question marks that still surround him, it's also evident that he's got potential. Look no further than New Orleans for an example that a quarterback who's a bit undersized can still be as effective as anybody.

    They also have a reasonably solid young core of play-makers on the offensive side of the ball. Running back Peyton Hillis, 24, is coming off a breakout season during which he rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns, and wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, also 24, has shown glimpses of greatness even though his two seasons so far have been marked by inconsistency.

    On the other side of the ball, last year's first round pick, defensive back Joe Haden, played every game and grabbed six interceptions as a 21 year-old rookie, second rounder T.J. Ward led the team with 80 tackles, and second year linebacker Marcus Benard established himself as a pass rushing force with 7.5 sacks.

    As foundations go, there are teams that are worse off than Cleveland is right now.

Reason 3 He Won't Coach: Cleveland Hasn't Rocked

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    CLEVELAND - SEPTEMBER 2:  Cleveland Browns head coach Eric Mangini looks on during the preseason game against the Chicago Bears on September 2, 2010 at Cleveland Browns Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. The Browns defeated the Bears 13-10.  (Photo by Justin K.
    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Look at the history of coaches in Cleveland. Whoever is on the sidelines in 2011 will be the Browns fifth head coach in just over a decade.  Things don't seem to stick there. First it was Chris Palmer, then Butch Davis, then Romeo Crennel, and finally Eric Mangini. Each has left with less luster than they had when they came.

    Mangini has definitely been tarnished by his two years there. There was hope he could reclaim some of that 'boy genius' aura that originally surrounded him when he was one of the youngest head coaches in the league with the Jets, and made the playoffs in 2006. But his players seemed to tune him out, and his two years were marked by repeated clashes, leading to him appearing out of touch.

    Holmgren's legacy is already intact. He has 161 wins as an NFL head coach. He's won eight division titles, and been to the Super Bowl twice, winning it once. He risks tarnishing that legacy a bit if he were to return to coaching in Cleveland and fail.

Reason 2 He'll Coach: It's Now Or Never

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    DETROIT - AUGUST 28: Mike Holmgren President of the Cleveland Browns watches the action prior to the start of the preseason game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on August 28, 2010 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Holmgren will be 63 by the time next season rolls around.

    Now, that's not ancient by any means, but it is starting to get into the territory of age being a factor. The language he's used in interviews has hinted that he has certainly not completely closed the door on coaching again. But if he wants to hold that door open, he better walk through it sooner rather than later.

    Already two years removed from his last coaching gig, the longer he waits, the less likely he is to stop waiting. If he ever wanted to get back out there, he should get back out there now. There's no time like the present.  Keep your skills sharp, there, Mike.

Reason 2 He Won't Coach: His Time Has Passed

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    SEATTLE - DECEMBER 21: Head coach Mike Holmgrem of the Seattle Seahawks waves to fans after his final home game as head coach against the New York Jets on December 21, 2008 at Qwest Field in Seattle, Washington. The Seahawks defeated the Jets 13-3. (Photo
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Mike Holmgren has never been accused of being an egomaniac.

    Sure, almost all coaches who reach the levels he's reached have to be somewhat of a type A personality, but as his graceful exit from Seattle two years ago showed, he's someone who knows when to hang 'em up.

    By consolidating his power over both the off-field and on-field operations in Cleveland, he'd be coming precariously close to making a statement that it was all about him. And that's not a very graceful thing to do.

    He's aware of how he's perceived in football circles, and he's not immune to being affected by that perception.

Reason 1 He'll Coach: Who Else?

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 08:  Head coach Jon Gruden (R) of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers shakes hands with head coach John Fox (L) of the Carolina Panthers after the game at Bank of America Stadium on December 8, 2008 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by S
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    There have already been a good number of big names thrown around as potential candidates. Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, and John Fox.

    But as appealing as these names, and any others, may be, the fact is that Cleveland probably won't be their first choice. There are other openings around the league already, and there are bound to be more by the time the playoffs come to an end. Some of these openings will be more appealing to guys like Cowher or Gruden than the Browns.

    As historic a franchise as the Browns are (at least in name), the fact is that they're essentially football purgatory. The likelihood of one of these A-listers accepting the Browns job is slim at best.

    If Holmgren wants to make a move for a headliner that will serve as a lightning rod to a disgruntled fan base, as a symbol that the franchise is to be taken seriously from here on out, his hands are somewhat tied. He's the best choice.

Reason 1 He Won't Coach: It Wouldn't Be Much of a Change

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    CLEVELAND - DECEMBER 27:  A Cleveland Browns fan cheers against the Oakland Raiders at Cleveland Browns Stadium on December 27, 2009 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
    Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

    Browns players and fans are already used to seeing Holmgren.  He's been around since last season. No, he hasn't specifically been the coach, but there's always been speculation that it's been him somewhat pulling the strings behind the scenes all along, anyway.

    So, if he's trying to make a bold move, to make a statement that things around Lake Erie are going to change, what would he really be saying by installing himself? That the way things have already been are good enough? But they weren't.

    A real changing of the guard requires a real new coach. Someone from outside the organization who can instill fresh blood, different ideas.  Holmgren wouldn't exactly accomplish that with himself.

Conclusion: Yeah, He'll Coach

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    BEREA, OH - MAY 01:  Team president Mike Holmgren of the Cleveland Browns looks on during rookie mini camp at the Cleveland Browns Training and Administrative Complex on May 1, 2010 in Berea, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Who am I kidding? In the end, there's really only one real decision to make here, and that's when to make it official.

    The only reason not to do it would be if he simply didn't want to coach again. But Holmgren wouldn't even be using vague language and letting people speculate if he weren't already considering it. And if we accept that he's considering it, then why wouldn't he do it?

    He'd give the franchise an instant degree of credibility it's been lacking ever since this new version of the Browns rejoined the league in 1999. He already has some level of familiarity with the players and the rest of the staff.

    He will also be entering his third year as president. At this point, it's time to start seeing results. He's on the hot seat anyway, so he may as well be where the buck stops in all respects so he can at least say that he did everything he could.

    You don't leave your best player on the sidelines. And you don't leave your best coach off of them.