Deposed Mangini trumpets Browns' progress, has few regrets

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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In another place, at another time, Eric Mangini would not have been fired. So he didn't win many games this season with the Cleveland Browns. Neither did Gary Kubiak in Houston. But Kubiak is back and Mangini is not because the Houston Texans have the patience that Cleveland does not.

That is not a knock on the Browns. It's an observation.

Jake Delhomme's turnover tendencies didn't help settle Eric Mangini's QB problem in Cleveland. (Getty Images)  
Jake Delhomme's turnover tendencies didn't help settle Eric Mangini's QB problem in Cleveland. (Getty Images)  
It's also the reason Mangini was home Tuesday, taking his boys to school, instead of studying the Browns' depth chart and wondering how and where to improve it. Mangini lost over twice as many games as he won in his two seasons with the Browns, and the team's management decided enough was enough.

"I really believe this was a different situation than what I went through in New York [with the Jets]," he said Tuesday morning, "because there it was all about trying to figure out who you are and how well you can do with your next chance. But in two years here my growth professionally and personally has been tremendous. I think I feel a lot more comfortable in my own skin, and that was huge for me.

"What I know now is that you don't microwave success. You build something to last, and that takes a lot of hard work, discipline and patience. Pittsburgh is a great example of that, and it's reflected by its record."

Mangini did what he was supposed to do, which was to lay a foundation for the future and return the Browns to respectability. I don't care that they were 5-11 this season. I care that he took a team that didn't have an abundance of talent but did have an abundance of injuries, as well as the NFL's toughest schedule, and made it a factor.

The Browns were the last team to beat New England. They clobbered defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans in New Orleans. They beat defending AFC North champion Cincinnati, ending a streak of eight straight division wins. They should have beaten Tampa Bay and the New York Jets. They didn't but they also didn't have the players or the talent those clubs did, with Mangini forced to play half the season with his third-string quarterback, rookie Colt McCoy, and without defensive captains Scott Fujita and Robaire Smith.

So injuries happen. They happened in all the wrong places for Cleveland, and they doomed the head coach. Look, I don't know that Mangini would've made it had he beaten Buffalo and Cincinnati or not gotten hammered by Pittsburgh at home in the season finale. But I do know that he didn't have a chance once he couldn't steer clear of those defeats.

That's supposed to be OK because that's life in the NFL. But it shouldn't be OK for Mangini because he did what he was supposed to do -- put the Cleveland Browns back on the map. Yes, you would have liked him to win more, but he made the Browns something they were not, which was relevant -- and if you don't believe me, ask the Patriots.

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"When I look back at what we accomplished, I think we dramatically changed the culture of the building and the organization. Football became relevant again in Cleveland," he said. "People were passionate about the team again, and I think that came from the passion of the players. The city felt it, and was excited about it.

"I'm proud of that, and I'm proud of the guys we had there. They're the types of players that you can build with because there are mentors now in the locker room. Because of that I think the Cleveland Browns have a chance to build something special."

They do, and it would have been nice to see Mangini have that chance to build it with them. But Jerry Glanville was right when he said the NFL stands for Not For Long. Josh McDaniels lasted a year-and-a-half in Denver. Mike Singletary was around for two-plus seasons in San Francisco. Brad Childress was fired a year after signing a contract extension. Tony Sparano may be gone after three years in Miami, and Tom Cable's future is in doubt after winning every game within the AFC West.

Mangini should've known this season wasn't going to be easy. It never is when the team's president and GM didn't hire you. But Mangini also knew what he had to do -- make a bulletproof case for himself -- and he failed, with consecutive losses to Buffalo and Cincinnati almost certainly cementing his fate.

So he was fired and now considers life after Cleveland. Already, he said, he has been contacted by college and pro teams looking to hire him, but he's in no hurry to make the next move -- and he shouldn't be. Instead of the first opportunity, he must look for the right one. In the end, Cleveland was not that place. The Browns are on the clock, and team president Mike Holmgren and Mangini come from completely different backgrounds, so it's no surprise their one-year marriage didn't last.

It's to Holmgren's credit that he stuck with his head coach after Mangini's first season, but I don't know many within the NFL who thought it could survive beyond this season. Nevertheless, Mangini declined to fault Holmgren for his dismissal. He knew the Browns had to make something dramatic happen, and they didn't. And when the team collapsed down the stretch it was over. Holmgren didn't have to say it; those empty seats in the second half of Sunday's loss said it for him.

"I'm not sure what I would've done differently," Mangini said. "I think at that moment we made the right decisions. In retrospect, there are a lot of things I might have done, but based on the information we had at the time we did the best we could. I know I wish we could've finished games better. I'm not sure what exactly broke down, and I would've studied that in the offseason -- trying to determine what was the difference in the first half and the second half."

What could have been the difference for Cleveland this season was its quarterback, and I say "could have been" because I don't know if the Browns found themselves a future starter or not. Once I thought I did. But, the Colt McCoy I watched in his first five starts was different from the quarterback I saw finish the season.

Of course, that was an issue with the Browns all year, and it started with Jake Delhomme. He was supposed to solidify a position so unstable that in 2009 Mangini won five games with his quarterbacks completing a total of 33 passes in those victories. So the Browns imported Delhomme, and he responded by committing a raft of errors -- including two interceptions in the season-opening loss to Tampa Bay, a game where the Browns blew a 14-3 lead.

"[The Browns] need more playmakers on offense," said Mangini. "Ben Watson had 68 catches, and that was a huge upgrade for us. Peyton Hillis did a really good job, but there was no back behind him, and once he was hurt [he broke two ribs in a Dec. 26 loss to Baltimore] it really slowed him down."

Yet despite all that, the Browns hung tough for most of the year. They were one of the league's toughest outs, and don't ask me how Mangini or his coaches managed with the roster they had. But they did.

"I know we were on the right path," Mangini said, "and I think the city was disappointed we didn't win more -- as we were. But I'm proud of the way the guys played and how hard they played, and that's the first step. There's not a sense of loss or regret because I couldn't be more proud of the guys and the changes we made, and that's the first step in creating something special. If that's going to be my legacy here then I look at it positively."

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