AFC North: Tony Richardson
For the past week, folks back home in Cleveland have been inundating me with questions about Eric Mangini and whether they should be excited or concerned about him becoming the Browns' next head coach.
|AP Photo/Tom Mihalek|
|After interviewing Eric Mangini, the Browns essentially called off their coaching search.|
As a former member of the Fair Hooker fan club and somebody who has closely followed Mangini's time with the New York Jets, I can say I'm at least mildly enthused.
Browns fans might jump to the conclusion they're taking on some other team's rubbish.
Here are three reasons, based on Mangini's performance with the Jets, that he is the right choice for Cleveland:
1. The Jets' 9-7 record and late-season collapse aren't all on him.
Although the Jets flatlined down the homestretch under Mangini's watch, many of the reasons were out of the coach's control.
Some of his last images on the Jets sideline were of pained exasperation, wondering what in the heck Brett Favre was doing. As Mangini's close friend Teddy Atlas, a boxing trainer and ESPN analyst, noted to the New York Post, Mangini went into 2008 intending to base the offense around running back Thomas Jones, but "the whole plan, the whole blueprint got thrown out the window when Favre came."
Mangini also had the respect of his players.
"I still feel bad," Jets tackle Damien Woody said. "I just feel like there's no reason this team shouldn't be in the postseason right now.
"He shouldn't have gotten fired. As players, we let him down. We didn't play our best ball down the stretch. We had everything in our control, and we let it slip away from us."
2. Mangini showed flashes of what he can do.
Mangini's record in his three seasons with the Jets was 23-25. But he often was better than mediocre.
In his rookie season as head coach, he took over a team that had gone 4-12 the previous season and guided it to 10-6 and a trip to the playoffs.
The Jets returned to 4-12 last season, and the "Mangenius" label was replaced with "Mangidiot" -- among other names.
The Jets' front office made a concerted effort to turn the franchise around and compete with the New York Giants and New York Yankees for the Big Apple's attention by spending $140 million on such free agents as guard Alan Faneca, Woody, fullback Tony Richardson and outside linebacker Calvin Pace and trading for Favre and nose tackle Kris Jenkins.
That was a lot of patches to quilt together, and Mangini handled the task for much of the season. The Jets became Super Bowl darlings after defeating the New England Patriots and previously unbeaten Tennessee Titans on the road.
They were 8-3 and playing with remarkable balance. Jones was running like an All-Pro. The Jets threw when they wanted. They throttled opponents with an impenetrable run defense.
Although it all unraveled with four losses in New York's last five games, Mangini managed to assemble a heap of new parts for a significant portion of the season.
3. Mangini's obviously indefatigable.
While the Jets still are hunting for his replacement, it says something about Mangini that he already has found a head-coaching job.
When he was fired, it seemed a safe assumption Mangini would need to undergo career rehabilitation as a defensive coordinator or position coach somewhere. Most coaches don't get fired from their first job and make a lateral move, and Mangini still had the Spygate stigma to deal with.
Yet one day after he was fired, Mangini was able to shake off the biggest setback of his career and dazzle Browns owner Randy Lerner in an interview that went so well the team essentially ended its search.
"He has a vision of what it takes to win a championship, and he's got a lot of football ahead of him," Woody said.
"I couldn't be happier. Eric's a great guy, an excellent young coach. He's always on top of the details, from the smallest things to the big picture. I think it's a great fit for Cleveland. Eric's the type of coach to get them back on track."