“If you want me to make dinner, let me buy the groceries.”
—Bill Parcells, on his desire as head coach to have control of personnel
“You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken (excrement).”
In yet another season of unsatisfied hunger for Browns fans, we would do well to look at where we started, how we finished, and how we got there. After all, while our collective stomach is still growling we did get a few treats at the end.
1. In the Beginning: The Empty Kitchen:
The season started with a hungry fan base, but Cleveland Browns Head Coach Eric Mangini walked into a kitchen with not only an empty refrigerator and empty cupboards, but rodent droppings all over the floor.
The 2008 campaign ended with a team that had given up on its beloved “players’ coach.” Said team had not scored a single offensive touchdown in its final six games, limping home to a 4-12 record with its collective tail between its legs.
The books were in such shape that, if it were a household, the lights were barely kept on and the credit card bills were enough to make the occupants hide from the mail carrier.
Four draft picks were all that remained, and the salary cap was being scraped by bloated contracts.
At the end, while none of us expected or got filet mignon, we got enough Happy Meals to hold us off until the next season.
Eric Mangini closed the campaign by winning four consecutive games, setting a record for Browns v 2.0, and matching the streak last achieved in Cleveland by his original mentor in 1994.
Mangini’s squad knocked two contenders out of the playoffs, beat two teams on its own level, and did it by punching its opponents in the face.
2. Building the Foundation:
Not only was the kitchen empty and filthy, but the rest of the place had enough code violations to keep a city housing inspector drawing a paycheck for at least another week.
At the very least, the Browns now have three-fifths of an offensive line.
Instead of Salary Cap Hell, Cleveland heads into 2010 with plenty of room and 11 draft picks with which to build for the future.
The Browns closed the season playing with discipline, aggressiveness, and purpose.
Most of the violations have been fixed, and 11 draft picks, along with a new Grand Poohbah (Mike Holmgren), are in the cupboard.
3. Dr. Mangini, to the OR, Stat!
First, the chef had to clean up the rodent droppings in the kitchen.
Or, as they say in business, he donned the scrubs, got out the scalpel, and cut some tumors out.
First to go was Kellen Winslow, Jr. Many Browns fans loved him, but he ate up too much cap space, his knees were shot, and blocking was far from his strong suit.
Next was Shawn Smith. Who? This defensive lineman, best known for decking an injured quarterback from Notre Dame late in the 2008 campaign, earned his outright release for dogging it in training camp.
Smith’s next stop was Detroit. With the Lions, who finished 0-16 the previous season, he met the same fate.
Braylon Edwards was shipped off to the New York Jets before the trading deadline for two picks and two serviceable players after he had a confrontation outside of a Cleveland nightclub.
In Cleveland, his drops earned him the sobriquet of “Edwards Scissorhands.”
In New York, the trade that brought him to the Big Apple to continue dropping passes has become known as “Mangini’s Revenge.”
Finally, it may be no coincidence that, not long after Jamal Lewis went onto Cleveland’s ESPN Radio affiliate to criticize Mangini’s tough practices, the running back was placed on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.
Instead of throwing Lewis under the bus, Mangini may have allowed him to retire with dignity by going out on IR.
Say what you will about Mangini, while he had plenty of deserving candidates on his team, he never threw a player under the bus in public.
And with the tumors gone, the team eventually coalesced and responded.
4. No More Dirty Laundry:
Or, at least not much dirty laundry, anyway.
In 2009-10, the Browns went from the second-most penalized team in the NFL to the third-least penalized team.
Gone were the exasperating, drive-killing false start penalties of the Crennel regime.
Even when the Browns were getting blown out earlier in the season, the team played intelligent football.
After the bye week, the Browns actually achieved a positive turnover ratio.
And, Six Points must note, this was accomplished with a porous secondary and nothing resembling a legitimate starting NFL quarterback.
5. The Browns' Identity:
To quote Mangini’s mentor during his tenure in Cleveland, “I can only go by what I see.”
And, Six Points liked what he saw the final four games.
Old-fashioned lakefront football returned, channeling the spirit of Woody Hayes.
The offensive line was punishing,fullback Lawrence Vickers was blowing up defenders, Jerome Harrison was making it a long day for defenders, and the Browns had rediscovered their classic identity.
Before Six Points’ time, 80,000 people in the stands at Cleveland Municipal Stadium knew Jim Brown was getting the rock, along with everyone on the opposing sideline.
And it couldn’t be stopped.
If Holmgren is as astute as he appeared in his Jan. 5 press conference, that new-found identity will not be thrown out with the bathwater in pursuit of the West Coast Offense.
And, Mr. Grand Poohbah? Mike? Sir?
In order to run the West Coast Offense, you need a quarterback. We still don’t have one.
And that’s a code violation we can only hide for so long.
6. Homework, Q&A, and "The Meeting":
Holmgren, in his initial presser, said he gave Mangini a list of questions to answer in “The Meeting,” to be held this afternoon to determine the head coach’s future employment status.
Mangini, in essence, said Monday he does not feel like he is interviewing for his job, saying that he has a job and is proud of the job he has done.
Eric, face it. It’s Corporate America, this is a new regime, and you’re interviewing to keep your job. It happens all the time.
If all three readers have not gotten the gist yet, Six Points is strongly in favor of letting Mangini build on what he started.
But that might not matter. Most of us know how job interviews can go.
Party A, employer, tosses loads of bollocks at Party B, prospective employee, at which time B dodges original load of bollocks and tosses some back, while both parties smile the entire time.
But, imagine an honest job interview? It might go something like this:
MH: Eric, you’ve received a lot of criticism for your handling of the quarterback situation. How do you respond to that?
EM: Mr. Holmgren, Sir, I’m glad you’re here.
MH: Call me Mike. Please.
EM: Mike, both these guys suck! I have one fan favorite I couldn’t trust to throw the ball over a Chevy Suburban, and another guy I couldn't trust to hit a Chevy Suburban if it was the only car in the lot!
MH: As President of Football Operations, I also have to sell suites and hot dogs, as I said in my presser. I have a concern over your relations with the media.
EM: If I wanted to stay in junior high, I would have been an education major. Seriously, these writers are like 13-year-old girls in the cafeteria! If I win, they’ll shut up.
MH: How do you feel about ceding the authority you were given earlier in the season and strictly coaching the football team?
EM: Mike, there are only 32 of these gigs, and my position in this case is “Yes, it tastes great! May I kiss it again, Sir?”
Extra Point: (Forget) You, Go Coach for Buffalo!
In the gallows humor any Browns fan must have to keep breathing, a reference to former General Manager Phil Savage is necessary.
His vulgar response to a fan in a chat room ranks high in the lore of incompetence that has embodied Browns v 2.0.
If "The Meeting" does not go well, the Bills are looking for a new head coach and staff, and they could do worse than Mangini.
In a season that reached its nadir at 1-11, the Browns were still all over the national media. Never has a team with that record garnered so much national attention, and it was all for the drama.
You want to sell papers, get web hits, and get more tweets? Put Mangini in Buffalo.
The Bills are another rebuild, and they may have slightly more talent than the Browns.
In Buffalo, Mangini would face former mentor Bill Belichick twice a year, and also face his former team, the New York Jets, twice a year. As long as the Tuna stays in Miami, his two other divisional games would be against his mentor’s mentor.
Although Six Points would rather have Mangini stay where he is, if he were hired in Buffalo, it could be the de facto East Coast Newspaper Relief Act of 2010.
Imagine all the extra copies of the New York Daily News, Newsday, New York Post, Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Miami Herald, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, Palm Beach Post and Buffalo News flying off of the shelves for 17 weeks next season.
Mr. Wilson, turn your hearing aid up. If Holmgren lets him go, hiring this man might be Mangenius.