Sabrina Parr from WKNR reported this morning that regardless of what Mangini does in his last three games, he is out as head coach. Co-host Chris Fedor then added that the Browns are having difficulty finding a new offensive coordinator because there is a lack of willingness in candidates to work with Mangini.
Now, we have no idea whether this is true or not; I have no idea what confidence level to place on this rumor. But let’s just pretend that it is true for the sake of discussion. It is important to finally get this out there because I haven’t talked a lot about the raging “Mangini debate.” The reason is that the debate has been mostly flawed up to this point. Nobody can seem to figure out what they are really talking about and stay focused. Here are the various camps in the debate.
First there are the people who want to look at what Mangini is doing with the Browns this season to figure out whether he will keep his job or not. They will talk of win totals, statistics and other intangibles about how hard the team is playing. Most of the people in this camp will tell you that the team is markedly improved while still maintaining a considerable talent deficit compared to the teams on their schedule. This is the camp that I am most often in. Notice that I haven’t told you that the Browns should definitely bring Mangini back next year? I am waiting until after the season. Some in this group like Pete from Cleveland Frowns have already conclusively told you that Mangini needs to stay.
Secondly there are the people who want to look at what Mangini is doing on the field, but don’t think it is good enough. These people talk about “magical” win totals that Eric Mangini needs to coax the Browns to in order to keep his job next year. Some of the Browns’ beat reporters even fall into this camp, as if the Browns need to win two out of the last three, or all three, or whatever in order to awash Holmgren in enough pixie dust that he keeps Mangini as his coach. This kind of thinking seems particularly silly to me. Win totals are nice for betting in Vegas, but it is certainly not the only measure of a coach’s capability, and certainly not the way Mike Holmgren judged Mangini a year ago when he let him stick around.
Finally, there are the meta-critics. These are the people who don’t care about what Mangini is doing on the field right now because clearly, in their minds, there are much better options. The confusing thing about these people is that they pretend to be in the second group analyzing game-day goings-on even though they have already made up their mind that no matter what Mangini does on the field, there is someone else out there. Usually that someone else is Jon Gruden. So they get you into the debate about whether Mangini is doing a good job or not, and then in the middle of that debate, they say something like, “Well it doesn’t matter. Jon Gruden is a better option than Mangini anyway.” These people are particularly frustrating because arguments are tough enough without moving targets.
So, what should the Browns do? Well, it is impossible as an outsider for me to say conclusively, but here’s what I am thinking. I think Mangini has done a solid job turning the culture of this team around. I think he has done an exceptional job getting the team to fight even in the face of not making the playoffs. Before today and WKNR’s report, my general stance was that the Browns should keep Mangini around and bring in an experienced, veteran offensive coordinator. Obviously these are fluid situations though.
If Holmgren is trying to do just that, but Mangini’s reputation is keeping him from getting the help on offense that he wants and that the Browns clearly need, then who am I to tell Holmgren to keep Mangini? If Mangini’s reputation truly is hurting Holmgren’s ability to get quality people to work with him, then Mike Holmgren is in a no-win situation too. He will be accused of setting Mangini up to fail if he doesn’t help him get the “best” coaches to be on his staff.
So the real answer is, “I don’t know.” Avoid anyone (like the plague) who claims to know exactly what should happen. There are just too many moving pieces. Ultimately either you trust Mike Holmgren or you don’t. So far, based on the fact that he kept Mangini and company following their season-ending streak a year ago, I have no reason not to trust him to make the right decision at the end of the year.
Know this, though. If Mangini does get fired after this season, don’t bother talking to me about what happened on the field this year. If Mangini gets fired, it is pretty clear to me that it has more to do with either Mike Holmgren’s perceived talent assessment of the incoming coach, or some kind of political situation involving Mangini’s reputation, assuming WKNR’s report is true. If Holmgren truly wants to work with one of his guys as some often claim, then that shouldn’t be a reflection on Eric Mangini so much. The bottom line is that if Mike Holmgren thinks Eric Mangini is hurting the Browns’ ability to infuse organizational talent, he will have to do what he has to do.
Overall though, even if that happens, I won’t consider Mangini’s run as coach with the Browns a failure by any stretch. The one thing the Mangini haters refuse to acknowledge is that there are no guarantees in this world. Jon Gruden is no guarantee. Even if you think he is the better option, you should realize there is always a chance that a Cleveland Browns era with Jon Gruden at the helm could make you miss Eric Mangini.
You never know. Avoid anyone who says they know everything.