In the past few months we have been struggling to pump out any sort of consistent writing on the blog, but there are a few things that really need to be talked about. The growing debate in Cleveland is surrounding the Cleveland Browns coach, Eric Mangini. The Browns have had an up and down season, losing a lot of impactful players to injury and struggling to put their best team on the field, regardless the Browns had some incredible stretches during the season. With one game left the Browns face a playoff bound Pittsburgh Steelers while our beloved Brownies limp to the end of the 2011 season. The Browns played so well in the middle of the year that it made a 7-9 or 8-8 season feel very possible, but they have limped through the last few weeks on their way to finishing with, most likely, a 5-11 record. The entire season has seen a very heavy focus on the Mangini and weather or not he will be back for the 2011 season, he was given this year by Team President Mike Holmgren to show his stuff and see if he could improve on the team’s 2009 performance. While the team’s win-loss record may end up the same as last year, the performance on the field has been obviously better. The question is, has Mangini done enough to warrant another season as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns. It could end up being the case that, like the Jets, al the work that he put into building the team might end up paying off for the next coach more than it does him. Not to say that Rex Ryan has not done a great job in New York, I am just saying that a lot of that personnel that is playing so well for him was put together by Mangini. No one knows what Holmgren and General Manager Tom Heckert are feeling and thinking about the Mangini situation heading into the last game of the season, but I have a feeling that his fate might ultimately be decided by this Sunday’s game. It is also being reported that the announcement on whether he is the coach moving forward will be made by Monday following the game.
So what would cost Mangini his job? Well the fact that the team played down to it’s competition. While playing against teams like the Bills, Panthers and Bengals the Browns really struggled to stop them, and struggled even more to put points on the board. The fact that they played up to the level of competition against the Patriots and Saints could be seen as a positive as well though. The win-loss record could also affect the decision making, while improvements have been made, it is not evident in the record and that could really be an issue for Mangini. Another thing that could be seen as a nail in his coffin is the 2nd half struggles of the Browns this season. The Browns were one of the better first half teams in the league, always playing better int he 1st half of games than the 2nd half of games on every side of the ball. For whatever reason they continuously came out flat in the 2nd half and it cost them many games. Games against the Buccaneers, Bills, Bengals, Ravens, Chiefs, Jets and Jaguars were lost solely on the performance of both the offense and defense in the 2nd half. I don’t know if it was a lack of focus, lack of conditioning, lack of coaching or what, but I think that this inconsistency will play a huge role in losing the job for Mangini.
If that isn’t enough to get Mangini fired, the last 3 weeks certainly would be. The team seemed to visibly quit on their coach, putting forth little to no effort in many phases of the game against Baltimore and Cincinnati. It has been a long hard year, but the last 4 weeks of the season for a building team like the Browns are pivotal to future success. The fact that the team back tracked so much in the final weeks of the season really spells doom for Mangini. If the team does move forward with him as the coach, it will be hard for him to motivate his players and it could cause things to get worse next year rather than better. This is where the importance of Sunday’s matchup against the Steelers comes in. If the team plays flat, emotionless football again, then Mangini is done. If he can’t inspire them to step up and play hard against their bitter rivals, it is clear that his time in Cleveland is done and that Holmgren will be seeking a new coach to help groom this team and it’s young leaders moving into next season, and it is possible that Holmgren’s mind is already made up and that Mangini is out, maybe the players feel that way and that is why they have stopped performing late in the year. Maybe Holmgren already has his next coach picked out, a coach who will know exactly how to make Colt McCoy into the stud that we all think he can be. Just maybe.
What can save Mangini? Decisive wins against New England Patriots and the defending Super Bowl Champs New Orleans Saints. Those two games highlight just how good this Browns teams has the potential to be, and that is with the lack of offensive playmakers and a defense that is prone to long lapses of ineffectiveness. What Mangini had this team believing early in the year, really up until the game against Carolina, is what might make his case for another year. No one expected the Browns to even be competitive in those games, let alone beat the Patriots by 20 points and embarrass the Saints at home. I think if Mangini does stay, his offensive coordinator certainly will not. Brian Daboll I have thought all year long is the one who is really on the chopping block, since I think any head coach really needs 3 or so years to get a fair shake at the job. Mangini though may catch the blame along with Daboll, because the game plan and everything ultimately comes down to him.
How can the Steelers game Sunday save Mangini? Simple… Win. If they don’t win, he can look much better in our eyes and in Holmgren’s eyes if the team is competitive and plays the Steelers tough, and possibly make them work really hard for it. If the Browns can put up a good fight and punch the Steelers in the mouth a few times than it will go a long way in saving Mangini’s job. Not only is this a pivotal game for Mangini, it is a pivotal game for the Browns players as well. They need to stand up against the Steelers, get a measure of revenge for the James Harrison hits earlier this year and get some revenge for the embarrassing home losses at the hands of the Steelers over the past few years. If the Browns, regardless of who coaches, are going to get better and have a chance at growing into a winning team, than they need to play well or win this game. Many people around the league, on ESPN and all of that think that the Browns team is close to becoming a contender, and the city of Cleveland needs the Browns to step up this Sunday and do something to make us proud. Mangini needs to make this happen if he wants to keep his job.
My verdict? Well I really just don’t see how Mangini could not be back next year. Crazier things have happened, but I think that he might be the right guy to bring the Browns back to above .500 consistently. I would not be shocked if he does not return next season, but I think it would be a mistake to get rid of him after a year that the team made strides and found their QB of the future. I think if Holmgren keeps Mangini and they work with him and Heckert the Browns could really just be a few pieces away from being really good. Mangini has the ability to get a lot out of his players, even the less skilled ones, and Holmgren and Heckert have a special eye for talent. While I personally would like to see Mangini return in 2011, in all likelihood it seems like he will not. I think the way the Browns have finished this season and the apparent lack of effort the past few weeks from the players, and what I am predicting to be a pretty ugly loss Sunday will make it impossible for Holmgren to bring Mangini back for another year.