In a move head coach Eric Mangini would never have bothered with, team president Mike Holmgren initiated a teleconference with season ticket holders on Friday.
Holmgren and General Manager Tom Heckert invited all 17,000 season ticket account holders to participate in a question-and-answer session with no subject off-limits.
While the substance of the discussion was nothing new to anyone who has been paying attention, the fact that Holmgren and Heckert decided to reach out to the worn-down and irritated Cleveland fan base spoke volumes about how committed this regime is to living up to their mantra for change.
The only real nugget of "new" information was Holmgren indicating the Browns could take someone completely unexpected with their first pick, saying the Browns will go for the best value at that pick rather than just seek to fill a need.
I defended Mangini last year on several issues, especially prior to the season, but one area I have steadfastly refused to give one inch of ground on was Mangini’s treatment of Cleveland fans.
Mangini always took the Bill Belichick attitude of basically telling the fans to shut up and leave him alone. He didn’t feel he owed them anything off the field.
To an extent, Mangini and Belichick are right; they don’t owe the fan base anything except putting a winning product on the field. That being said, public relations is part of a head coaches’ job whether they like it or not.
Mangini loved to give filibuster coach-speak non-answers to just about every question, showing complete disdain for everyone not on the Browns’ payroll, and even some who were.
The fact is, the NFL is a product, and keeping your customers happy when your product is garbage means you have to give a little extra effort in the public relations department.
Does this excuse any Cleveland fan for whining or griping until they’re blue in the face?
No, it doesn’t, but that doesn’t give coaches like Mangini and Belichick an excuse to be jerks, either. Belichick has gotten away with being a jerk for as long as he has because the Patriots are winning. Let’s see how long the Boston media puts up with his arrogant dismissals if they finish 6-10 this year.
One more thing to consider, and I’m not saying it’s right, is that the Browns have only had one playoff appearance since returning to the league in 1999, and only one season above .500 since then.
So telling a Cleveland fan starting the 2009 season 1-11 was “part of the process” just isn’t going to fly with anybody, and it shouldn’t. Mangini’s “process” mantra became an excuse for failure last year.
By continually coming out and treating the fan base with respect, Holmgren has earned himself free passes on some of his offseason moves that Mangini would’ve been crucified for.
That doesn’t mean Holmgren shouldn’t be held accountable down the road if the team falters again, it just means the fans actually will wait for the season to start before they bring out the torches and pitchforks.
Amazing what showing a little respect for your customers can do.