AFC North: NFL coaches 010211

After a bizarre back-and-forth, the Cincinnati Bengals have re-signed head coach Marvin Lewis to a contract extension, the team announced Tuesday. Both sides reportedly had tense moments throughout the day before reaching an agreement.

Did the Bengals agree to give Lewis significant upgrades in the front office and scouting departments? Will the team build an indoor practice facility? Also, how much say does Lewis now have with the 53-man roster and hiring and firing assistant coaches?

As we mentioned earlier, Lewis didn't have much leverage after going 4-12, and it's probable that he settled without getting some or most of these improvements in place. All the details will come out eventually.

But in the end, the Bengals get to bring Lewis back for a ninth season, and Lewis remains an NFL head coach, which is a job he probably wouldn't have landed anywhere else this year.

As usual, things weren't easy for the Bengals and Lewis. But now it's time for both sides to focus on improving the roster and being more competitive in 2011.

Latest on Marvin Lewis, Bengals

January, 4, 2011

Oh, those wacky Cincinnati Bengals.

Just when you thought they couldn't be any more unpredictable, the Bengals keep finding ways to top themselves.

Here is the latest: ESPN's Adam Schefter is reporting head coach Marvin Lewis left the team facility Monday after both sides couldn't agree on the team's direction. Now Lewis' future in Cincinnati is in jeopardy, when just a few hours prior both sides were expected to get a deal in place.

Earlier Monday we wondered how much Lewis, who has little leverage after a 4-12 season, could really squeeze out of Cincinnati's notoriously frugal ownership. Lewis wants significant upgrades to the facilities, front office and scouting department. But the Bengals weren't willing to give that to Lewis before. How much could really change after an underachieving four-win season?

This isn't over, as both sides are expected to return to the negotiating table. So stay tuned.

Browns to interview Mike Mularkey

January, 4, 2011
After firing Eric Mangini on Monday, some coaching names are starting to surface for the Cleveland Browns. Yesterday it was Perry Fewell. Today it's Mike Mularkey.

The Denver Broncos and Browns are among the teams waiting to interview Mularkey, who is the offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons. Here is more from NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas.

Mularkey has done a good job in Atlanta as offensive coordinator. But he flamed out as a head coach, going just 14-18 in two seasons with the Buffalo Bills from 2004 to 2005.

Browns president Mike Holmgren said Monday that he will exhaust every avenue to get the best head coach possible to Cleveland. It's still very early in the process, but the first two names to go public haven't been overwhelming.
With average facilities, a scant front office and questionable ownership, the Cincinnati Bengals were not going to land a more experienced and accomplished head coach than Marvin Lewis.

Coming off a vastly underachieving 4-12 season, Lewis also wasn't going to land another head-coaching job this year in the NFL.

[+] EnlargeMarvin Lewis
Frank Victores/US PresswireBengals coach Marvin Lewis is expected to remain with Cincinnati.
In the end, neither the Bengals nor Lewis can do better, and that's why both parties agreed to extend their tenuous marriage on Tuesday. Details of the deal were not disclosed, so some questions still remain.

Did Lewis get major upgrades across the board? After eight seasons in Cincinnati, he has a clear vision of what it takes to compete annually with the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North. That includes spending millions of dollars on free agents, hiring a general manager, beefing up the scouting department and building an indoor practice facility for the team.

But Bengals ownership, led by owner Mike Brown, has refused to agree to these upgrades in the past. That is why Lewis didn't sign a contract extension coming off a playoff appearance last year, despite numerous attempts by Bengals management.

Whether Lewis was promised some or all of these improvements when he signed Tuesday remains to be seen. But based on Cincinnati's history, it's doubtful. Lewis had less leverage than he did a year ago, which means he may have "settled" for not getting everything he wanted.

But this is still a win-win for both sides. The Bengals return their experienced coach, who brought them out of the dark ages and led the team to two playoff appearances since 2005. At the same time, Lewis remains an NFL head coach and bought himself more time to improve his stock for better, more stable opportunities.
The Cincinnati Bengals and head coach Marvin Lewis are expected to work out their differences and reach a contract extension within the next 24 hours, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter. This is the second major coaching decision in the division this week, as Eric Mangini was let go by the Cleveland Browns on Monday.

Lewis is one of the NFL's longest-tenured coaches after eight seasons with the Bengals. We will have more on Lewis staying in Cincinnati coming up on the AFC North blog.
BEREA, Ohio -- Although Cleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren left the door slightly open Monday, he has ruled himself out of the team's coaching search.

Holmgren says he doesn't consider himself a candidate for Cleveland's coaching job "at the present time." That small caveat provides the freedom to have a change of heart if necessary.

[+] EnlargeCleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren
AP Photo/Tony DejakCleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren said he does not want to return to coaching.
But for now Holmgren says he's dedicated to finding a top-notch candidate to replace the recently fired Eric Mangini. Holmgren, 62, says he understands the amount of hours and commitment it takes to be a successful head coach, and Holmgren is not sure he's ready for that commitment again.

"At this stage in my life that's not what my first priority is. It really isn't," Holmgren said. "I am enjoying and relishing the role that [Browns owner] Randy Lerner in confidence has given me."

But Holmgren also was candid about the possibility of returning to coaching.

"To tell you right now that I will never coach again, here or anywhere, that probably wouldn't be honest," Holmgren said. "You know that and I know that. But as of right now I am the president of the Cleveland Browns, and my job is to find the best coach available for the job and the right coach available for the job."

Considering the pool of candidates, we believe Holmgren is the best choice. He can generate instant credibility and buzz with the Browns in ways other candidates such as Marty Mornhinweg, John Fox, etc., cannot. Coaching also is what Holmgren, who has been to three Super Bowls, does best.

Holmgren is probably the only A-list coach Cleveland (5-11) can land this year. Other top names like Jon Gruden will be a tough sell, considering more attractive vacancies are available.

Holmgren expressed concern Monday about the number of projected openings around the NFL this offseason. The best coaches all will be pursued by the same teams, and Holmgren faces a stiff challenge finding a way to push Cleveland to the top of that list.

"We're going to work very, very hard to get the right person, you can believe that," Holmgren said. "And I'm hopeful that we can. Am I positive? I can't say."

If Holmgren cannot find someone to meet his standards, it's possible he could rethink returning to the sidelines. When asked about that scenario Monday, Holmgren says it's "too premature."

Holmgren didn't provide names, but he says Cleveland's search will be wide-ranging.

This will be the most important decision Holmgren makes during his tenure in Cleveland. The stakes are raised even higher considering the next coach -- fair or unfair -- will be compared to what Holmgren may have accomplished had he coached the team.
BEREA, Ohio -- Although the Cleveland Browns fired Eric Mangini on Monday, the team doesn't have to look far for its best option to replace him.

"The Big Show" is already in the building.

[+] EnlargeMike Holmgren
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesMike Holmgren has a 161-111 record in 17 seasons as a head coach.
With a so-so list of possible candidates that includes former Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox and Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, there's only one person who can generate the type of buzz and instant credibility Cleveland desperately needs -- and that person is Browns president Mike Holmgren.

Cleveland's best chance to turn this struggling franchise around quickly is for Holmgren to get back to what he does best. He's been out of coaching for two years but never lost the itch to return to the sidelines. Holmgren is 161-111 (.592 percent) in 17 seasons as a head coach.

But at 62, it's now or never for Holmgren. With three Super Bowl appearances and one championship already on his résumé, Holmgren would be by far the most accomplished coach to roam the sideline for Cleveland since the franchise returned to the NFL in 1999.

Browns players -- although unsure about Holmgren's thought process -- seemed excited about the possibility as they cleaned out their lockers for the final time this season.

"I'd be excited," Browns Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said. "He's a proven winner."

“Obviously, yeah, because I’ve been with him in Seattle,” said Browns quarterback Seneca Wallace, who played four years under Holmgren. “I know how he coaches. I know what he looks for and I know what he wants. But at the end of the day, I know he’s going to make the right decision for us.”

Before anyone mentions other big-name coaches such as Jon Gruden or Bill Cowher, here’s the harsh reality about the Browns: It’s not a very attractive job for A-list head coaches. Cleveland changes regimes every two or three years. It's an unstable organization that lacks talent and has trouble competing with AFC North heavyweights Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

A-listers will pass on Cleveland for better opportunities. Therefore, the only big-name coach the Browns have a chance to land this year is Holmgren.

Cleveland can maximize its investment with Holmgren returning to the sidelines. The Browns are heading in the direction of running a West Coast offense, and there's no better person than Holmgren to make a seamless transition.

"It would be great," Wallace said of implementing a West Coast offense. "I think in this division, it could be good. I've been in that system and went to a Super Bowl in that system, and we have the talent to do that on offense."

After firing Mangini on Monday, the grace period is officially over for Holmgren. There are no more scapegoats to pin a poor season on. Everything that happens, starting in 2011, is officially on Holmgren's watch.

Holmgren may very well choose to stay in the luxury suites and watch someone else like Mornhinweg or Fox coach the Browns in 2011. But it would be risky for Holmgren to stake his reputation on someone without nearly the same credentials as a head coach.

Browns general manager Tom Heckert is more than capable of running the full operation of the front office with input from Holmgren. The time is now for Holmgren to be more hands-on and call the shots from the sidelines.
BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns fired head coach Eric Mangini Monday morning after two seasons.

Here is some reaction from the Browns organization:

Browns president Mike Holmgren

"This decision was not easy for me, and it was one into which I put a great deal of thought. Although we have made improvements this season, my responsibility is to ensure that we establish a program that will allow this team to compete at a championship level. That will continue to be our goal in everything we do. I want to thank Eric for all of his contributions to the Cleveland Browns and wish him and his family the best of luck in the future."

Former head coach Eric Mangini

"The experience coaching the Cleveland Browns the past two years has been tremendous. I appreciate the opportunity that the Lerner family gave me. I have a deep respect for the players that I have coached the past two years and how they have made a profound difference in changing the culture. ...I feel strongly that the Cleveland Browns are headed in a very positive direction and greatly value the commitment and exceptional efforts of the coaches, players and everyone in the building that I've worked with in trying to help achieve our goals."

The AFC North blog is at Browns headquarters and will get additional reaction from Holmgren and the players as they clean out their lockers on Monday.

Browns fire head coach Eric Mangini

January, 3, 2011
BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns officially fired head coach Eric Mangini, the team announced Monday morning.

Mangini was 10-22 in two seasons in Cleveland, including a 2-10 mark in the AFC North. The Browns were embarrassed, 41-9, in Mangini's last game Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

We will have much more on Cleveland's coaching change coming up in the AFC North blog.