Browns owner interviews Mangini, Pioli

CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Browns ended the year talking to candidates they hope will make it a better 2009.

Browns owner Randy Lerner interviewed Scott Pioli, New England's
vice president of player personnel, on Wednesday to be his new
general manager. It is not known whether or not Lerner offered the
job to Pioli, who has been Bill Belichick's right-hand man with the
Patriots for the past nine years.

On Tuesday, Lerner met with fired Jets coach Eric Mangini in the
New York about his coaching vacancy.

Lerner, the Boston Globe reported, was upset when former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher spurned the Browns. Lerner is prepared to make "a huge" financial offer to Pioli. The offer would full control of the organization and the money to bring in Pioli's choice as head coach, Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, or Mangini.

Picking up the pieces of a 4-12 season that ended with the
firings of coach Romeo Crennel and GM Phil Savage, Lerner has spent
the final hours of 2008 meeting with the men who may take over his
team. The Mangini and Pioli interviews were the first scheduled
this week by Lerner, a billionaire who is determined to get his
football franchise -- he also owns Aston Villa in the English
Premier League -- back on its feet after a horrid year and will
spare no expense.

Browns spokesman Bill Bonsiewicz had no update on Wednesday,
except to say there was no news to report.

That could change quickly.

Lerner has also set up interviews with New York Giants defensive
coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim
Schwartz, who spent three years in the Browns' personnel department
as a pro and college scout in the 1990s, and Patriots offensive
coordinator Josh McDaniels, a Canton, Ohio, native.

Lerner also received permission to interview Atlanta president
Rich McKay, who was bumped upstairs last year but is said to be
craving a return to a GM-type role. That interview is expected to
place Thursday.

Also, the Browns may be attempting to set something up with
former Denver coach Mike Shanahan, whose stunning dismissal rocked
the NFL on Tuesday.

Pioli is Lerner's top GM choice, and one face-to-face sit down
may be enough to strike an agreement.

The 43-year-old Pioli, who began his NFL career as a pro
personnel assistant with Cleveland, may be finally ready to step
out of Belichick's imposing shadow. In New England, Pioli and
Belichick have assembled a football machine that has won six AFC
East titles, four conference championships and three Super Bowls
since 2001.

Pioli just finished his 16th season working with Belichick, who
has enjoyed final say on roster issues with the Patriots.

In Cleveland, Pioli would likely have complete control over the
football operations and if hired, it might be him -- not Lerner --
who hires the next coach.

And that could be Mangini, another branch off the Belichick
tree. Like Pioli, the 37-year-old Mangini began his NFL career in
Cleveland. He started out as a Browns ball boy and was later a
public relations intern. He has never forgotten his football roots.
When the Jets played the Browns in recent seasons, Mangini bought a
catered lunch of Italian food for Cleveland reporters.

Mangini was dismissed after the Jets collapsed by losing four of
their final five games. But Lerner is believed to be intrigued by
Mangini's potential and may want to sign him before another teams
gets a chance.

However, Shanahan's emergence as a candidate could alter
Lerner's plans.

At a tear-filled news conference on Wednesday, Shanahan, who won
two Super Bowls with the Broncos, said he wants to go somewhere and
try to win a third.

"My goal is to win a Super Bowl," he said. "The next job I go
to will be based on one thing: Who's willing to do the things that
gives you the best chance to win."

Shanahan went 146-91 in Denver, a record that could influence
Lerner more than Mangini's promise.

Lerner is following simple guidelines to choose his next coach.

"I'm looking for a head coach who is very, very organized, has
a very clear system and has a very strong and very understandable
approach to discipline and organizational structure," he said
earlier this week.

As the Browns drama unfolds, Cleveland Indians general manager
Mark Shapiro has watched from afar.

Shapiro has a vested personal interest in Lerner's searches. He
is good friends with Pioli. Mangini is his brother-in-law.

"Eric and Scott are important people in my life," Shapiro said
on the phone from the Bahamas where he's vacationing. "I'm a
strong advocate of those two guys. I care for them personally and
professionally. It would be special to have one or both of them in

Another possibility to coach Cleveland is Iowa's Ferentz.
He and Pioli worked together in Cleveland, where Ferentz was the
Browns' offensive line coach.

"For my first interview in Cleveland, Scott's the guy that
drove me back to the airport," Ferentz said Wednesday at the
Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla. "I had my tail between my legs, and he
said 'You know, you didn't do that bad.' He gave me a little pep
talk there. I guess maybe he knew something I didn't know because I
ended up getting called back. I think I was like the ninth choice
to be the line coach at Cleveland.

"We're good friends. I've got tremendous respect for Scott as a
football guy. He's just a tremendous person. I caution everybody:
don't try to predict what Scott is going to do either. He's got a
great job right where he's at."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.