From the moment the Browns hired Eric Mangini to be the new head coach without first hiring a GM, we knew it virtually meant that still getting Scott Pioli to come to Cleveland was a long shot at best. But still, none the less, some of us held out hope that Pioli would swallow his pride and still come to Cleveland and be the savior of the franchise.
Remember, Pioli was initially considered to be the hands-on favorite to land the Browns job. In fact, some thought the hiring process would be mere formality and that within a week of firing Phil Savage, the Browns would have Pioli in place to guide the future of the Browns organization. So how did we get where we are today?
I think a couple things happened here. First of all, I think the interview that everyone thought would be mostly formality actually raised some red flags for Browns owner Randy Lerner. There are whispers of personality clashes between the two men. There has been talk of concern over the amount of power Pioli demanded. There were rumors that Pioli wanted to bring in Kirk Ferentz to coach the Browns, a move Lerner was fundamentally opposed to as he was not about to hire another college coach. I don’t think we will ever know the full story of what exactly happened, but I would say it’s a safe bet that some combination of these factors all played their role in killing the momentum of any agreement happening.
The other thing that happened was Eric Mangini was fired from the New York Jets. Remember, when Mangini was fired, Bill Cowher had already adamantly turned down Lerner for the Browns job. This meant that Lerner, who was set on finding a quality coach with previous NFL head coaching experience, had to be excited about the prospect of hiring Mangini. In all reality, the moment Cowher turned down the Browns, the only coaching candidate with experience left that was an attractive hire was Marty Schottenheimer (who, by all indications, wasn’t really excited or intrigued by the prospect of coming back to take over the Browns again). It’s easy to understand why Mangini jumped to the top of Lerner’s list.
Who knows how much Spygate really played into this and whether or not Pioli and Mangini ever could have worked together anyway, but one thing is clear, and that is that Scott Pioli was not thrilled when Randy Lerner interviewed Mangini. Pioli wanted the power to interview and hire his own coach (and why shouldn’t he?), and he didn’t like that Lerner appeared to be moving forward without him. From Lerner’s standpoint, though, he simply had to do his due diligence.
There are two conflicting schools of thought here. Some would argue that the GM is more important than the coach and that the GM should always be hired first and allowed to bring in his own coach. More and more, though, you’re seeing a different trend in the NFL. People are starting to believe that the head coach is actually more important than the GM, and that if you have a coach you want, you need to go get him regardless of what the GM thinks. I think it’s clear that Randy Lerner believes in the latter. After the interview with Mangini, Lerner knew that was the guy he wanted to coach the Browns. At that point, Lerner probably really did still want Scott Pioli to be the GM, but he couldn’t afford to sit around and wait for Pioli and let other teams start considering talking to Mangini. So Lerner went ahead and hired Mangini, and now Scott Pioli is in Kansas City while the Browns struggle to attract potential GMs due to the coach already being in place.
Only time will tell how the Browns GM search will play out. Only time will tell if Lerner made the right decision in going with his gut and making sure he secured Mangini first. Two things are clear to me right now, though. One, I actually firmly believe Lerner got the best head coach for the Browns he could. Mike Shanahan was not going to come to Cleveland. Same with Marty. Cowher had already turned them down. I really like Josh McDaniels a lot, and I think Jim Schwartz has a lot of potential as well, but it was time for the Browns to get a head coach with experience. Someone who knew what they were doing. Someone who wasn’t learning how to put together a staff, and practice agendas, and workout schedules, etc, etc, etc on the fly. It was time to bring in someone who already knew what they were doing and could focus instead on establishing an identity for the team. Eric Mangini was the best available coach, and Lerner hired him. I’m not sure I agree with hiring him before the GM, but we simply won’t know if that was the right move or not until we see this thing play out.
The second thing that’s clear to me now is that the Kansas City Chiefs will be a fascinating team to watch over the next 5 years. We’re going to have an idea of whether or not Lerner made the right decision by seeing how things work out for the Chiefs over the next few years. By all indications, Herm Edwards is as good as gone in Kansas City. That will give Pioli the freedom to hire the coach of his choosing. Keep an eye on them, watch them closely. Compare the Chiefs to the Browns over the next several years. I’m not sure I can recall too many times where it will be so easy to compare two different teams to see which philosophy would have been best.
I understand that Browns fans are frustrated and angry and embarrassed and sick of losing. We all feel that way, and it’s tough to be excited when your owner makes a somewhat obscure move by hiring a coach before the GM. But I will be reserving my judgment on this move by Lerner until I see how the Browns and Chiefs look 5 years from now. Remember, the Broncos just hired their coach before hiring their GM. In a similar move to Cleveland’s, the Broncos interviewed Josh McDaniels, felt strongly he was the right guy for the team, and didn’t want to wait on him and instead moved quickly and hired him. So Randy Lerner is certainly not alone in his thinking. But it’s not easy when you see the joy and glee of another franchise as they hire the GM we all thought was going to be ours. Especially as we sit here struggling to find guys who even seem to want the job. For Lerner’s sake, he better really be hoping that this turns out well, because there’s coming back from failure this time. Browns fans will be hoping as well, because what little hope is left is all we really have anymore.