Two very interesting bye weeks confront us now, and I think we all know how much fun a bye week can be.
One is in Cleveland, where all indications are that Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner seems pretty much sick to death of the Eric Mangini regime, though not yet ready to can the coach whose most impressive résumé item remains his cameo on The Sopranos.
|Tom Cable's 6-14 record is only part of his baggage. (Getty Images)|
In reverse order:
Cable, who just got through the criminal phase of his relationship with Randy Hanson en route to civil court, was outed by one ex-wife for domestic violence, cited by a second in a divorce filing and by an ex-girlfriend. Worse for him, ESPN was the instrument of that outing, which suddenly makes it Roger Goodell's concern.
And on top of all of that, the Raiders are 2-6 after losing in desultory fashion to San Diego, giving Cable a 6-14 record, almost the same mark that Lane Kiffin achieved when he was canned during last year's bye week.
Davis probably won't fire him only because Davis is the sort of fellow who wants to make sure that when he fires someone, it's for the right reason. Kiffin's reason was relentless irritation/insubordination, and a 5-15 record. Cable has not been insubordinate so far as anyone knows, but 6-14 is 6-14, and being 6-14 with a growing résumé of temper management issues makes it even harder for Davis to find a reason to keep him, especially if commissioner Goodell takes a more aggressive interest in Cable's deteriorating situation.
And Goodell might just do that, if he can find a way to impose punishment or mandate counseling from a 20-year-old claim that Cable admits to, a more recent claim that his second ex-wife repudiated in a statement and the allegation from the girlfriend that was investigated by police and dismissed.
All this raises troubling claims, suggestions, counterclaims and counter-suggestions about A) a double standard of discipline for players as opposed to other club employees; (B) a double standard of discipline for black employees and white ones; (C) the limits, if there are any, to Goodell's disciplinary power, period.
On A) and B), these are still at the level of inference rather than fact, but on C) the concern is more tangible, especially if the only actual verifiable domestic violence claim against Cable predates his employment in the NFL.
In any event, it could all be made moot if Davis decides this is one (or three) too many headaches for a coach who, while devoted to Davis' way of doing things, is still winning one of every four games. Davis is an old-school guy who will fire people but seems to want to fire them only for reasons he finds objectionable rather than what might be politically or publicly expedient. Plus, firing Cable after the same number of games as Kiffin might be too superficially symbolic for Al's tastes.
Still, 6-14 with all this extra baggage might be more than the owner wants to carry. And with two weeks to stew about it, well, you see Cable's problem.
As for Mangini, the Browns are 1-7 and are by any measure worse than the Raiders by a healthy margin. Running back Jamal Lewis all but announced he would retire rather than endure this for another year and Lerner essentially told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that Mangini's way is not only not effective but downright offensive.
In short, he has lost the audience, and the owner is leaning toward siding with the audience.
In a brief but telling interview with estimable Plain Dealer writer Mary Kay Cabot, Lerner said he wouldn't fire Mangini during the bye week, but added, "The highest priority that I have is a strong, credible, serious leader within the building to guide decisions in a far more conspicuous, open [and] transparent way. I can maybe defend decisions by saying I've sought advice and I've brought people in, and we've gone to see people -- and I think my highest priority is to have a stable figure that represents the voice that explains the decisions."
Ouch, with a side of damn.
Lerner has already brought in former Cleveland star Bernie Kosar as a "second pair of eyes," which is corp-speak for "the guy who's going to tell me to fire the building and start over." Mangini's aide/confidant/director of team operations Erin O'Brien, whom he brought with him from New York, apparently was dismissed in the past week, although the team said she resigned for personal reasons. In short, Mangini is not on thin ice, he's treading water in one of those holes ice fishermen make before killing a day on the pond.
Lerner also told Cabot he wanted "a day or two to wrap my mind around it. There's a lot going on right now," and added that, in terms of what fans might expect in the near future, "I don't know that I have a great answer for what to hang your hat on right now, other than a massive amount of thought and analysis and reflection and personal honesty is going to go into thinking about what's going on. The answer is soul-searching."
In other words, Lerner knows he screwed this up and wants to figure a way out of it, even though it will mean buyout money and putting his judgment, already undermined before he hired Mangini and gave him the keys to all the doors on an apparent whim, before the public yet again.
In sum, the only real issue in these next two weeks is just how much more ridicule Davis and Lerner can endure in the face of two coaches who have no real compelling argument for keeping their jobs save, "I don't want to lose my job." Two weeks without a game make for idle minds, and idle minds find things to occupy them. Both Cable and Mangini seem safe, but "seem" is a pretty loaded word.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.