The first week of 2011 will be extremely busy in the AFC North. The Pittsburgh Steelers (11-4) and Baltimore Ravens (11-4) will be in the playoffs, and the Cleveland Browns (5-10) and Cincinnati Bengals (4-11) will determine the future of their head coaches.
Although nothing is official as of Friday, here is what the AFC North blog has been able to gather on both coaching situations this week:
Starting in Cleveland, I would be very, very surprised if Browns coach Eric Mangini gets another season. Everyone I've talked to this week believes Mangini won't survive, although opinions vary a little on the impact of Sunday's game against the Steelers. Some mention Mangini's 10-21 record. Others mention the ton of empty seats and the lack of buzz around the team. But all cite the significant philosophical differences between the coaching staff and front office, particularly on offense. The only person who knows for sure about Mangini's future is Browns president Mike Holmgren, who has been eerily silent and hasn't met with the media in nearly two months. Holmgren also must decide if he wants to be the coach of the Browns in 2011. Thoughts from people I've talked to are mixed on Holmgren's possible return, although nearly everyone agreed he still has the itch to coach and will put some thought into it. Also, there will be a lot of coaching gigs open this year, and Cleveland is not the most attractive of those jobs. It's a rebuilding team that lacks talent, and the next coach has the brutal assignment of playing Pittsburgh and Baltimore twice every year in the division. Prospects will factor that in, especially a big-name coach such as Jon Gruden (if he is interested in returning to coaching). If Holmgren feels he cannot make a splash by hiring a big-name coach, Holmgren himself could be the splash Cleveland needs to re-energize the organization and fan base.
The coaching situation with the Bengals seems more murky and complex. Opinions vary drastically from "Lewis is out" to "Don't be surprised if he comes back," particularly on a short-term deal. Coming off an NFL Coach of the Year award in 2009, Lewis negotiated with the Bengals last offseason but couldn't reach a deal. Lewis has explained that having the tools to maintain a winning culture are very important to him. The AFC North blog later reported the lack of an indoor practice facility was one point of contention. The differences between Lewis and ownership still exist. Lewis has his ideas on what is needed to be successful in Cincinnati, but he has no leverage and the Bengals won't budge to provide the resources. But I'm not sure either side could do better at this point. For Lewis, he's 4-11 and may have fallen off the radar for other NFL head-coaching gigs next year. There was probably a better market for Lewis last year coming off a playoff appearance. For the Bengals, they aren't going to pay top dollar for a well-known coach and many wouldn't come to Cincinnati anyway, considering how difficult it is to win there. So although many feel Lewis won't return, some feel it's at least remotely possible both sides may try to work out a short-term agreement. Otherwise, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer would be the favorite if Lewis leaves and the Bengals keep everything in-house.