AFC North: Romeo Crennel

Fun facts on firing coaches

December, 31, 2013
Just some quick facts on the firing of coaches:
  • The last four coaches fired in the AFC North have been by the Cleveland Browns.
  • Since January of 2009, the Browns have fired Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmur, Rob Chudzinski.
  • That’s four coaches fired in five years.
  • Two of those coaches fired were given two seasons to win, one was given one season.
  • Mike Tomlin, John Harbaugh and Marvin Davis have all been on the job in Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati since before 2009.
  • The number of coaches in Joe Thomas’ seven-year career? Soon to be five.
  • The number of coaches in Cleveland since the team returned in 1999? Soon to be eight.
  • Five plus eight equals 13, which is the exact number of games the Browns have won the past three seasons.
  • The number of coaches fired since January 2012: Two.
  • The number of coaches hired since January 2012: Soon to be two as well.
  • The Browns have lost 10 games in a season in 10 of the last 11 seasons.
  • This season marked the sixth in a row that the Browns have lost more than 11 games. According to Elias, only the Raiders did that for a longer period -- they lost 11 every season from 2003-2009, seven in a row.
  • The Browns will have a chance to match that mark in 2014. With a new coach, new systems (is there any doubt we’ll all be writing and talking about the switch back to the four-three defense?), new coordinators, new quarterback and new running back, the odds would have to favor matching this mark.


There’s nothing like it.
There's no games with AFC North teams playing each other Sunday, so it was a tough decision on which game to cover. But I can't miss the return of Ben Roethlisberger. That means I will be in Pittsburgh for the Steelers-Chargers game. As for today, let's start with your wake-up call ...

RAVENS: Ray Rice still won't complain about the lack of touches despite ranking 13th in the NFL with 198 carries this season. He didn't receive one carry in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss to Pittsburgh. "Could we have run the ball on situations? Yes. But obviously when you sit back and look at it, we definitely could have executed a lot better," Rice said, via The Baltimore Sun. "If we would have executed a lot better, I'm sure I would have gotten the touches. That wouldn't have been the question. Going forward, we are going to do as I always say, work on our execution, and my touches will definitely come."

STEELERS: Sunday's game marks the first NFL start for cornerback Cortez Allen and the end of Ike Taylor's streak of 135 straight games played. "Replacing Ike or stepping in for him is a big shoe to fill," Allen told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I have a lot of respect for him and just what he brings to the field and outside the field he's my mentor, in a sense, as far as the game is concerned." Taylor is expected to miss the next two games with a hairline fracture to his right ankle.

BENGALS: The Bengals could be going with a new kicker Sunday. Mike Nugent didn't practice Wednesday because of a calf injury. It's serious enough that the Bengals brought in three kickers for a tryout, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Nugent has made only 82.6 percent of his field goals this season (19 of 23). This comes after he missed four field goals in his final three games last season (hitting 7 of 11), which included a playoff loss at Houston. The Bengals are trying out Josh Brown, Neil Rackers and Billy Cundiff, according to the Enquirer. Cundiff has already kicked for two AFC North teams in his career (Baltimore and Cleveland).

BROWNS: The Plain Dealer's Bud Shaw believes Browns fans should acknowledge "the rock" of the Chiefs organization when Kansas City plays at Cleveland on Sunday. Romeo Crennel, a former Browns coach, has displayed uncommon poise during a difficult time with the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide incident. "There's no cheering in the press box, or I'd be clapping out of respect and support for Romeo Crennel Sunday," Shaw wrote. "The former Browns' coach has thrown a warm arm around his football team at a time when he might need the biggest hug of all. He deserves that much from Cleveland fans when he leads his Chiefs out of the tunnel to face the Browns. More importantly, he could use it."
Raiders running back Michael Bush is now expected to hit the free-agent market on March 13 after Oakland used its franchise tag on strong safety Tyvon Branch.

The only way the cap-strapped Raiders would've kept Bush was putting the franchise tag on their backup running back. Now, Bush can look for a starting job elsewhere because he won't be the top back with Darren McFadden in Oakland.

I can see Bush coming to the Cincinnati. The Bengals want to improve over last year's starter, Cedric Benson. They have the salary-cap room to lure the free agents that they want. They offer Bush a chance to play near his hometown of Louisville. And they have new assistant Hue Jackson, who was Bush's head coach last season in Oakland.

Bush would become the Bengals' No. 1 back, but he wouldn't carry the entire load. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is leaning toward using a running-back-by-committee, which should suit Bush. After running for 100 yards in back-to-back weeks, he seemed to wear down in his final six games, averaging 63 yards on the ground.

At 27, Bush doesn't have the usual wear-and-tear of other free-agent running backs because he's been a backup for most of his career. He's a bruising runner who can gain the tough yards. He's also an above-average receiver, which would add another element to the Bengals' passing game.

"He's big, he runs hard, he's fast, and when you get him to the second level he's extremely hard to tackle," Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel said of Bush last year. "He can catch also. I forgot to mention that. He's the total package."

The other division team who could show interest in Bush is Cleveland. But it appears like the Browns will first attempt to re-sign Peyton Hillis at a reasonable price.

November tough on Browns coaches

November, 2, 2011
The month of November hasn't given Browns coaches many things to be thankful for over the years.

As Steve Doerschuk of the Canton Repository pointed out, the last coach to finish with a winning November record for the Browns was Marty Schottenheimer, who was 14-8 in this month but was last seen on the Cleveland sideline in 1988. That's 23 years ago.

It's been a tough month for the coaches who have followed him: Bud Carson (2-4-1), Bill Belichick (6-15), Chris Palmer (2-6), Butch Davis (5-10), Romeo Crennel (7-10) and Eric Mangini (2-6).

This doesn't inspire much hope for the Browns, who have fallen to 3-4 after losing three of their past four games. For first-year coach Pat Shurmur, his November opponents are: at Houston (5-3), home against St. Louis (1-6) and Jacksonville (2-6) and at Cincinnati (5-2).

Morning take: Pouncey's leadership

August, 17, 2011
Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday in the AFC North:
  • Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey is taking a leadership role on the offensive line.
Morning take: Pouncey is already the team's best offensive lineman in his second season. But the Steelers need to surround him with other pieces to make the unit complete.
Morning take: The top players are signed, but there are still several players around who may help a team. Look for Baltimore to make another small push once Haloti Ngata's extension frees up cap room.
Morning take: The vibes in Cincinnati are not good after an abysmal start to the preseason. But it's too early for any team to hit the panic button.
Morning take: Brown had the big fumble return for a touchdown last week against the Green Bay Packers. Brown played in Cleveland under Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini. Now, Brown hopes to impress rookie head coach Pat Shurmur.

Top Browns draft since 2000

March, 10, 2011
The AFC North blog continues its series on the top draft classes of the past decade. Thursday we take a look at the Cleveland Browns.

No. 3: Class of 2007

Best picks: OT Joe Thomas (first round), CB Eric Wright (second round)



Analysis: This was not a stellar draft for the Browns, but Cleveland has the slimmest pickings of all division teams. So 2007 made the cut. The Browns hit a home run with Thomas with the No. 3 overall pick. Thomas has been to four straight Pro Bowls and is one of the best at his position. Despite Wright's struggles this past season, he was a starting cornerback for Cleveland and turned out to be a decent second-rounder. The Browns also drafted cornerback Brandon McDonald in the fifth round, and he was a contributor for three seasons. The biggest miss in this draft was first-round quarterback Brady Quinn. He was expected to be the long-term solution, but was shipped to the Denver Broncos after three uneventful seasons for tailback Peyton Hillis.

No. 2: Class of 2006

Best picks: LB Kamerion Wimbley, LB D'Qwell Jackson, FB Lawrence Vickers (sixth round)



Analysis: The second draft of the Phil Savage-Romeo Crennel era in Cleveland turned out to be the best. The Browns landed two starting linebackers in Wimbley and Jackson. Wimbley never quite lived up to expectations, but recorded 26.5 sacks in four seasons with the Browns. He was traded to the Oakland Raiders last year and recorded nine sacks. Jackson led the Browns in tackles in 2008 and had two 100-tackle seasons before suffering a pair of pectoral injuries. Vickers is one of the best fullbacks in the NFL and a great find in the sixth round. The Browns also drafted fifth-round tailback Jerome Harrison, who showed flashes before falling out of favor in Cleveland and being traded to the Philadelphia Eagles. Regime changes resulted in some of these players having to switch teams, but this was a solid class.

No. 1: Class of 2010

Best picks: CB Joe Haden (first round), S T.J. Ward (second round), QB Colt McCoy (third round)



Analysis: I'm going out on a limb, but I think the 2010 class will be Cleveland's best of the past 10 years. As you can see, this class doesn't have too much to compete with. The first two picks -- Haden and Ward -- have great ability and project to be longtime starters in the secondary. McCoy showed some good things and is vying to be Cleveland's franchise quarterback, although he still has a lot to prove. The Browns also have two rookies in tailback Montario Hardesty and guard Shawn Lauvao who could turn out to be good players. Hardesty is coming off a torn ACL, and Lauvao got mostly backup time in 10 games last season.

On Friday we will conclude our series by ranking the best overall draft classes in the division.

Could Shaun Rogers replace Haynesworth?

February, 11, 2011
As expected, it didn't take long for former Cleveland Browns defensive lineman Shaun Rogers to get interest as an unrestricted free agent. After getting released by Cleveland earlier this week, Jay Glazer of reports the Washington Redskins are already showing interest in the three-time Pro Bowler.

Washington is in need of a defensive tackle after dealing with the Albert Haynesworth fiasco. Haynesworth was involved in a public feud with Redskins coach Mike Shanahan and was eventually suspended for conduct detrimental to the team. Washington's immediate interest in Rogers is a sign the team is searching for a replacement.

When healthy and motivated, Rogers is one of the NFL's most dominant defensive linemen. He had his best year in 2008 with Cleveland under former head coach Romeo Crennel but had two lackluster seasons under former Browns coach Eric Mangini.

Rogers was the biggest name of the six players released by the Browns on Wednesday.

Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace speak

September, 15, 2010
BEREA, Ohio -- Injured Cleveland Browns starting quarterback Jake Delhomme and backup Seneca Wallace both met with the media Wednesday.

Here are some highlights:
  • Delhomme has a boot on his right foot and said his goal is to get better every day. He didn't rule out playing Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, and Browns coach Eric Mangini said a decision on who will start will not be made until the end of the week. But Delhomme wasn't happy about missing practice time.
"It's disappointing; I will say that," Delhomme said. "I've been very lucky in my career injury-wise. It's embarrassing to me; that's just kind of the way I look at it. That's just the way that I am. I believe you should be out there with your guys. But I know this is for the best."
  • Wallace, who received first-team reps in practice, said he's ready to run the offense Sunday if needed. He had 14 career starts with the Seattle Seahawks.
"This is a different system than what I was used to in Seattle," Wallace said. "But all the hard work that we did in OTAs and in training camp, I became very familiar with this offense and I feel comfortable with it."
  • Cleveland linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who has a pectoral injury, confirmed that he will try to return to practice this week, but he's waiting on word from the doctors. Mangini said Friday could be a target date for Jackson. Also, Browns defensive lineman Shaun Rogers (ankle) and rookie guard Shawn Lauvao (ankle) didn't practice on Wednesday.
  • Sunday will mark the return of former Browns head coach Romeo Crennel, who is now the defensive coordinator for Kansas City. Crennel's defense gave up just 14 points Monday in a win over the San Diego Chargers. Crennel coached the Browns from 2005-2008 and went 24-40 in that span.

Walker's weekend mailbag

May, 22, 2010
Let's see what's in the weekend mailbag.

Nick from Knoxville, Tenn., writes: Do the Cincinnati Bengals have a backup plan at quarterback?

James Walker: Nick, the Bengals are in the same boat as most NFL teams, where if the starting quarterback goes down they're in trouble. There are not enough good quarterbacks in the league for teams to stash away two or three quality starters anymore. Some teams don't even have one proven quarterback. Reportedly the Bengals have looked at adding JaMarcus Russell, but nothing has come to fruition. Like last year, J.T. O'Sullivan and Jordan Palmer are the backup quarterbacks in Cincinnati.

K from Anacostia, Washington D.C., writes: With all the talk about Jared Gaither, I would like to know why there has been no talk of starting him at right tackle for this year and then giving him the franchise tag next year.

Walker: The NFL is such a year-to-year league, K. If Gaither struggles or is injured this season, the Ravens wouldn't be interested in putting the franchise tag on him. But the tag is a possibility. If the Ravens are unwilling to pay Gaither a large contract extension this offseason -- and it seems that is the case -- the best move for Gaither might be to try to convince the Ravens not to tag him if he agrees to play out the season without incident. That way, Baltimore can focus on its 2010 season and Gaither will get his money from the Ravens or somewhere else next year.

Vinnie from Atlanta writes: I wanted to ask a current Cleveland resident what the pulse of city is like? Yes, this question is about the Cavs and LeBron James' future. How is the city doing?

Walker: The city of Cleveland is not doing well, Vinnie. It's a Browns town, but right now all the conversation is about LeBron James. Is he leaving? Where is he going? What happened against the Boston Celtics? The consensus here is that it would be a bit of an upset if James stayed. On top of that, expectations are not very high for the Browns, and it doesn't help that several new players are demanding new contracts. It's simply a bad run for Cleveland sports right now.

Don from Camp Hill, Penn., writes: With the storm that Ben Roethlisberger has drug into Pittsburgh, are the Steelers looking at a major decline of performance?

Walker: Don, in my opinion, the only reason Roethlisberger is still on the team is because of his ability to perform at a high level. If Roethlisberger was a second-string tight end or a fullback, the Steelers probably would have cut bait. Roethlisberger needs to perform well this year. If his performance no longer outweighs the headaches he is causing the franchise, the Steelers may consider finding a replacement.

Aaron from Johnson City, Tenn., writes: Do you think the Steelers would sign T.O.? I know I'm crazy, but I think he could be a good slot receiver.

Walker: Aaron, I think every team in the division wanted Terrell Owens at one point or another. It's not happening in Pittsburgh. Let that one go.

RJ from Virginia Beach, Va., writes: It seems like every week you hear about another NFL player complaining about their contract, skipping workouts, thinking they deserve more money, etc. It's become pretty standard. Are they not acting ENTITLED?

Walker: Unfortunately the business side of the NFL is very ugly, RJ, and it goes both ways for the team and the player. When a player underperforms on a contract, the team cuts him without fanfare. Also, when a player outperforms his contract, he usually wants a raise. That comes with the territory when contracts are not guaranteed.

David from Los Angeles writes: I realize that this is a copy-cat league. But why are so many teams trying to make the transition to the 3-4 defense when so few teams actually have the right players to implement it?

Walker: Good question, David. Success of the 3-4 defense has provided more opportunities to implement the scheme and for more 3-4 coaches to get jobs as defensive coordinators and head coaches. The Bill Belichick tree, for instance, recently produced Romeo Crennel (Browns, Kansas City Chiefs) and Eric Mangini (New York Jets, Browns), who both brought their defensive philosophies to other teams. For most coaches, their philosophy is what they unequivocally believe in. So they will try to make it work regardless of the roster. Eventually, each coach feels they can shuffle in the right players over time.

Draft Watch: AFC North

February, 24, 2010
NFC Busts/Gems: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Busts and late-round gems.

Baltimore Ravens

Busts: The Ravens have one of the most consistent front offices in the NFL, so you have to look all the way back to 2005 to really find an underperforming first-round pick in Mark Clayton. The receiver has shown flashes with several big games in Baltimore. But Clayton never developed the consistency to become a No. 1 receiver. In the second round, linebacker Dan Cody was another miss in 2005. His career never got off the ground, because he couldn't shake the injury bug. Also, it's too early to determine the status of 2009 second-round pick Paul Kruger. But the linebacker/defensive end was mostly a non-factor in his rookie season. Gems: Baltimore has several contributing players that were found in the late and middle rounds. Most recently, 2009 third-round cornerback Lardarius Webb looks like a potential starter and has the ability to return kicks. Pro Bowl fullback Le'Ron McClain was another great, under-the-radar pick in the fourth round in 2007. Starting left tackle Jared Gaither was found in the supplemental draft in 2007 and started 26 games the past two seasons. Other key contributors include starting safety Dawan Landry and punter Sam Koch, who were fifth- and sixth-round picks in 2006, respectively.

Cincinnati Bengals

Busts: It's well-documented that Cincinnati doesn't put nearly the same resources into scouting as most teams, and it shows in its list of draft busts. Eight players the Bengals selected in the first three rounds since 2004 are no longer with the team. Several -- such as first-rounders Chris Perry and David Pollack and second-rounders Odell Thurman and Kenny Irons -- are out of the NFL. Most recently, the career of 2009 No. 6 overall pick Andre Smith got off to a poor start. But he has time to turn things around. Receiver Jerome Simpson, who was a second-round pick in 2008, is running out of chances and may not make the 53-man roster next fall. It's difficult to maintain a steady level of success when you're missing this often in the first and second rounds. Gems: Seventh-round pick Chinedum Ndukwe was not highly touted out of Notre Dame but continued to make plays for the Bengals until coaches had no choice but to play him. Defensive tackle Domata Peko was a fourth-round pick in 2006 who developed into one of Cincinnati's most important players. Last year's sixth-round pick, tailback Bernard Scott, showed flashes as a rookie.

Cleveland Browns

Busts: The Browns are on their third regime in three years. With that kind of turnover, you can expect a lot of misses in the draft as the team continues to switch philosophies. The Phil Savage-Romeo Crennel era began in 2005 with receiver Braylon Edwards and safety Brodney Pool. Edwards didn't live up to expectations and was traded to the New York Jets last season. Pool likely will be let go to free agency. It has been three years, and we still don't know exactly what to make of 2007 first-round pick Brady Quinn. The new regime led by Mike Holmgren doesn't seem too impressed, as the team continues to explore its options at quarterback. Receiver Brian Robiskie and linebacker David Veikune, both second-round picks in 2009, also need to step up for Cleveland in 2010. Gems: Starting fullback Lawrence Vickers, a sixth-round pick in 2006, was another great find. He paved the way for Jamal Lewis to have back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2007 and 2008. Vickers also helped tailback Jerome Harrison (862 rushing yards), another late gem, put up career highs last season. Most recently, 2009 fourth-round pick Kaluka Maiava may turn out to be a decent linebacker from the middle rounds.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Busts: Similar to the Ravens, the Steelers do not make a lot of mistakes at the top of the draft. Six of Pittsburgh's past seven first-round picks are starters. That includes quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, safety Troy Polamalu, receiver Santonio Holmes and tailback Rashard Mendenhall. Pittsburgh has had some issues in the second round. In 2008, the Steelers were hoping Limas Sweed could be the big receiver they were looking for, but that hasn't panned out. In 2004, second-round cornerback Ricardo Colclough had zero starts in four years before being released. Gems: Last year's third-round pick Mike Wallace already is a significant addition to Pittsburgh's offense. His deep speed was needed, and he had 39 receptions for 756 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie. Pittsburgh also has been fortunate to find starting offensive linemen late in the draft. Offensive tackle Willie Colon and guard Chris Kemoeatu were taken in the fourth and sixth rounds, respectively. Dennis Dixon, who was taken in the fifth round in 2008, also could develop into a solid backup quarterback.

Notes on Cowher, Crennel

January, 3, 2010
ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen have a couple of news items on two former AFC North head coaches.

Starting with former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher, Mortensen reports the Buffalo Bills had a "stealth meeting" with Cowher to gauge his interest. The Bills are interested in Cowher, but it's unknown if that feeling is mutual.

Former Cleveland Browns coach Romeo Crennel also is expected to return to the NFL as defensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs, according to Schefter. Crennel is recovering from hip surgery this season but said in several interviews that he wants to coach in 2010.

Keep an eye on these two developments in the offseason.
With the news of Mike Holmgren agreeing to become the Cleveland Browns’ president Monday, it's time to begin piecing together what the team will look like in 2010.

Besides determining a coaching staff and front office, one of the first questions is if Cleveland will keep its 3-4 defense.

The Browns have been a 3-4 team since Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel took over in 2005. The trend continued as current Browns coach Eric Mangini was hired this year. That's five consecutive drafts and free-agency periods dedicated to adding 3-4 personnel.

But looking back at Holmgren-coached teams with the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, those clubs ran a 4-3 scheme and had a lot of team success.

So what happens to a player like Kamerion Wimbley, for instance? Can Wimbley put his hand down in the pros and be a full-time defense end, similar to what he did at Florida State? Or is he a 4-3 linebacker in the NFL?

But other key players like Shaun Rogers would not face nearly as many double teams going from nose tackle to one of two defensive tackles. "Big Baby" and other defensive linemen, such as Corey Williams, would probably welcome the move.

This will be something to closely monitor as it will impact Cleveland's draft plans and free agency.

An educated guess is Holmgren, who has complete control of the team, will move Cleveland to a 4-3 defense in 2010. His previous teams didn't run a 3-4 defense. So how could Holmgren feel comfortable picking the right players for that scheme?
Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday in the AFC North:
  • Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is happy with the way his group is playing this season.
Morning take: It’s a scrappy unit that is fighting every week. Cincinnati also has quietly gone eight consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard rusher.
  • The Baltimore Ravens can prove they are legit contenders with a road win over the Green Bay Packers.
Morning take: This is a winnable game for the Ravens. Their physical style matches up well against Green Bay, but Baltimore needs to be more sound and commit less penalties.
Morning take: Pittsburgh (6-5) needs to end its three-game losing streak ASAP to have a chance at the postseason. Right now the Oakland Raiders (3-8) are standing in its way.
  • After a year away from football, former Cleveland Browns head coach Romeo Crennel wants back in.
Morning take: Good for Crennel to take a breather after hip surgery and a tough run in Cleveland. It will be interesting to see if he lands somewhere next season.

'Belichick Bowl' in Denver

September, 17, 2009
Robert E. Klein/Icon SMI
Former Belichick disciples Eric Mangini and Josh McDaniels face off as head coaches for the first time on Sunday in Denver.
Posted by’s James Walker

As the New England Patriots continue their immense success throughout this decade, the coaching tree of Bill Belichick also continues to grow in the NFL.

In that respect, Sunday will be a landmark day as two assistants Belichick raised from the ground up will face off as head coaches when Eric Mangini’s Cleveland Browns (0-1) travel to play Josh McDaniels of the Denver Broncos (1-0) at Invesco Field.

Former Browns head coach Romeo Crennel was another Belichick assistant, but Crennel also learned mostly under Bill Parcells before arriving to New England. McDaniels, 33, and Mangini, 38, are more considered Belichick prodigies as former entry-level assistants with the Patriots.

McDaniels and Mangini, both friends, were part of the same staff in New England from 2001 to 2005. McDaniels was a defensive assistant in 2002-03 under Mangini, who at the time was a defensive backs coach. Now they’re adversaries and a significant part of the NFL’s current youth movement of head coaches.

"Back then I’m sure neither one of us really thought much about that, but we are where we’re at," McDaniels said. "I’m sure he’s looking forward to the game as I am."

All indications are that McDaniels left New England on good terms, while it’s no secret the ire Belichick has for Mangini after the "Spygate" fiasco.

Therefore, Mangini said he doesn’t expect any good-luck notes from Belichick this week, despite two of his former pupils facing each other Sunday.

"I’m sure [Belichick is] concentrating on whoever they’re playing this week; I don’t remember who they’re playing this week," Mangini said. "I’m sure that’s what he’s focused on. Hopefully, it won’t come down to luck. It will come down to the way that we prepare."

Jury still out?

Overall, Belichick’s disciples have had mixed results as head coaches.
Robert E. Klein/Icon SMI
A former offensive coordinator in New England, McDaniels started out with the Pats as an assistant under Mangini.

Mangini was 23-25 in three seasons with the New York Jets before he was fired in 2008. Crennel was 24-40 in four seasons in Cleveland, and Notre Dame’s Charlie Weis currently faces a lot of heat in South Bend during his fifth season.

McDaniels is the only undefeated coach of the bunch after winning his debut in miraculous fashion. After trailing 7-6 late, Broncos receiver Brandon Stokley caught a tipped pass and turned it into an 87-yard touchdown with 11 seconds remaining to take a 12-7 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

The sequence already is an early candidate for play of the year in the NFL.

"We’re very fortunate to be 1-0," McDaniels admitted. "But we also feel we played hard for 60 minutes and never gave up."

Was it all beginners’ luck or Belichick-like skill?

"They did a lot of things right leading up to that point," Mangini explained. "They were in that position. Sometimes the ball bounces that way."

The Browns actually interviewed McDaniels for their coaching opening that eventually went to Mangini. McDaniels said the experience was very valuable, and later that offseason he wowed the brass in Denver to land the Broncos’ job.

A lot was being made of McDaniels' inexperience after some early run-ins with star players Jay Cutler, who was traded to the Chicago Bears, and receiver Brandon Marshall. But in Week 1 Denver played very hard for its rookie head coach and looked organized down to the final seconds in beating the Bengals.

"One of the early lessons that I learned is that it doesn’t matter how old you are, what you look like, you could be 80, you could be 20, right on down the line," Mangini said. "If the players know that you’re giving them an opportunity to get better, and a chance to win, that’s what they respect. With a guy like Josh, he does that."

Broncos middle linebacker and former Brown Andra Davis said it’s clear in Denver that McDaniels is seasoned despite his youth.

"He’s been around football all his life," Davis said. "His father is a legendary coach out there in Ohio. He’s coached under a Hall of Fame coach in Belichick. So he knows football.

"It doesn’t matter the age. If you know what you’re talking about, guys are going to follow and pay attention."

Important meeting

This is a big early-season matchup for both teams and its head coaches.

Mangini and McDaniels are working hard to change the culture and quickly put their imprint on their teams. The easiest way to do that is by winning games.

The Broncos are off to a good start, and going 2-0 in the AFC West would put them in a great spot where many are automatically crowning the San Diego Chargers (1-0). The Browns (0-1), meanwhile, are trying to avoid the dreaded 0-2 start, where they would quickly fall behind in a tough AFC North.

Cleveland also has a tough road game next week against a division rival and AFC contender in the Baltimore Ravens (1-0), making this week’s game even more important.

But to get their wish, one Belichick pupil will have to outcoach the other this Sunday.

“It’s a very difficult preparation,” McDaniels said of facing Mangini. “He’s going to test you in every way, shape or form possible. You know his team is going to be very well-coached.”