There's a group of people who I interact with (real life friends and social media acquaintances) who just don't understand why I'm so concerned about the current Browns regime.
Call me a hater, Mangini's #1 fan, an idiot, a moron, someone lacking football sense all you want. The fact is I have some very deep concerns that are football related, and if you want to listen and open up your mind, you will understand that my arguments are strongly based in logic. Where do we begin?
-Rewind to 2009: Eric Mangini just led the Browns to 4 wins in a row. Mike Holmgren comes in and decides to retain Mangini. Seems like a good move at the time. Hell, I agreed with the move. However, here's where the train starts taking the wrong turn...
2010 Offseason: Holmgren tells Mangini and the media that he wants to win now (or what the current trend of what mostly girls like to say: "RIGHT MEOW!!!!!!!!"). By doing so, the Browns sign Scott Fujita (a great locker room guy and solid player, but not an impact guy), Chris Gocong (see: Fujita, Scott for description), trade for Peyton Hillis (smart for 2010), and sign over the hill turnover machine Jake Delhomme and solid career backup Seneca Wallace.
Now, all these vets serve a purpose, even Delhomme. However, this purpose has absolutely nothing to do with "winning now." These are locker room guys who are meant to provide adequate production, and in the case of Delhomme he's a veteran meant to teach a young guy how to play the position of QB. In no way would any rational mind think these guys are impact players meant to fulfill Holmgren's mandate of "winning now."
The 2010 Draft was solid despite the gambles on Montario Hardesty and Colt McCoy. This draft is still panning out, and for all we know Hardesty can show us something next year being a full year removed from the ACL tear. However, to expect your impact players to come from a single draft and to make an impact as rookies is once again irrational and does not fulfill Holmgren's mandate of "winning now."
So here we are going into the 2010 season with a roster void of impact players and lacking a true starting QB option, and the coach has a Team President-mandate to win now. It just so happens that the schedule is the toughest in the NFL, too.
Is this really fair to Mangini? Not at all, but I trusted that Holmgren was a rational thinker: that this is year two of a massive rebuilding project, and year one of said rebuilding project with a true General Manager at the helm. Of course Mangini wasn't truly expected to win now, was he? He wasn't going to make Mangini the fall guy for a subpar roster so he didn't look bad...was he?
2010 Regular Season:
The Browns were clearly undermanned week in and week out, but somewhere along the line established an identity: they ran the football down your throat with a punishing running game and played generally solid defense. The run defense was massively improved compared to years past, and Rob Ryan's schematic vision was finally starting to be seen by the masses: Browns fans were starting to envision just what this exotic defense would look like with TRUE playmakers on defense. The Special Teams were once again spectacular.
However, Jake Delhomme was not playing well even before his ankle injury. Seneca Wallace still played like a backup QB. Then Seneca got hurt and the focus moved to Colt McCoy. Colt was impressive in his first start against the Steelers, decent against the Saints (truthfully, the defense won that game), and sensational against the Patriots. The Browns worked their way up to 3-5, going 3-2 in the last 5 games...but even before that, fans could see just how close to victory the Browns were against truly tough teams (Bucs, Chiefs and Falcons come to mind). In many cases, coaching got them close, but fumbles and other non-coaching related blunders kept the Browns from victory.
The Browns had momentum going into the Jets game, which in my opinion was the turning point of the 2010 season. It was Coach Mangini's old team, with many of the players he coached up, vs. his new team. It was Colt McCoy's most impressive game, in fact, I truly thought the game tying drive signaled his arrival to the NFL. The Browns got within field goal range but a Chansi Stuckey fumble in overtime signaled the end.
It was downhill from there. Scott Fujita was injured in the game and ruled out for the season after that. This was a major injury because Fujita was a major reason behind the improvement of the run defense. Without Fujita, the defense devolved back to the shoddy run defenses of years past.
Colt McCoy was hurt in the following game, and a (now healthy) Jake Delhomme squeaked out a couple wins despite looking like he was driving an out of control car ready to crash it at any second.
However, when Colt came back, he wasn't the same Colt we saw from before. He suddenly looked like a rookie...defenses had finally figured out how to game plan against him and he was ineffective. By this point, rumblings of Mangini's job security had shaken Berea, and Mangini lost the locker room.
Until the wheels fell off on the season and questions about Mangini's job security became apparent, we could say this about the Browns: they were an undermanned yet physical football team. The Browns may not win, but the next morning, you KNEW you played the Cleveland Browns the day before. The team was well-prepared and well-coached every week.
And then, despite a roster devoid of playmakers, a merry go round at the QB position, and the toughest schedule in the league, Mangini was fired.
At that point, I knew deep in my heart: Mangini was set up to fail, set up to be the fall guy for a roster that wasn't ready to compete yet. That doesn't sit well with me because it shows a lack of integrity by those who put him in that position. And that comes squarely at the top. They were supposed to have his back and they didn't. Ever get sold out by your superiors at your job? I have (not at my current job, I love my current job). It's not a fun feeling.
The blame game began: Brian Daboll's offense was archaic, I'm bringing in someone to run MY offense, this was Mangini's hand picked roster to win it all (the most laughable argument I've ever heard but people bring it up all the time when slamming the guy), etc.
Then it happened: the Browns hired Pat Shurmur. Shurmur's resume did not read of someone qualified to be an NFL head coach, however I sold myself because of Holmgren and Heckert's familiarity with him. I thought maybe the anonymous guy could be the guy to bring us out of the doldrums.
It made sense because it was a perfect storm: Holmgren's hand-picked coach takes over a roster in Year Two of Heckert's rebuilding process with year two of a QB who showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie year (but also showed some serious warning signs, which I'll get to in a minute) going against a much softer schedule than Mangini faced in 2010. Shurmur was set up for success!
Except it didn't happen. Shurmur's offense makes Daboll's look like the Greatest Show on Turf Rams in comparison. Shurmur undid everything Mangini established with the physical running game and strong special teams. And worst of all: the team is ill-prepared week in and week out. It was apparent Week One against the Bengals when the defense was asleep at the wheel when AJ Green went streaking past everyone to give up the game-clinching TD. Special Teams gaffes have killed the Browns this season. Poor preparation (asleep at the wheel for hurry up offenses, fake field goals, etc) has killed the Browns this season. Most of all, Shurmur doesn't come off as a strong leader: he comes off more like Holmgren's puppet than anything else.
Most of all, we saw the warning signs from Colt McCoy in December of 2010, and Holmgren decided to stick with Colt in 2011 without providing any competition. I understand the reasoning behind it, but I have seen this script before with Charlie Frye in 2006. It did not end well.
What really sticks in my craw this season? The excuses: Colt is a "rookie QB" (no he isn't), The Browns HAD to get younger this season (if that's the case then why the hell didn't we get younger last season?), this is "year two of year one" (again, NO IT IS NOT!!!!!!), the lockout (Jim Harbaugh isn't hurting from it).
Here's the bottom line: Mangini may have not been the best coach on the planet, and no one is saying that he is, but if you're going to replace him after setting him up to fail, you better replace him with someone who looks like a genius by comparison.
I can accept the argument than Mangini was not the guy to lead us to the promised land (but I'll also argue he's been dealt awful hands by both teams he's worked for), but I can't accept that one year after being given a mandate to "win now," suddenly the Browns are making excuses for their new coach because he's their hand-picked guy. Something reeks like bad fish about it. It shows a lack of integrity.
Given everything we have seen this season that has shown ill-preparedness, aloofness and arrogance by the coaching staff, how can we expect a bright future? What makes this front office think that Pat Shurmur is a great coach who will be here for a long time aside from the President's ego?
Don't forget: the buck stops at your desk, Mike Holmgren. Your move.