I don’t want everyone to jump on me for this post as if I am supporting Mike Holmgren and the Browns blindly. I am not. The Browns have done a few things that leave me scratching my head. I am still a little befuddled that they hired Pat Shurmur and immediately allowed him to call his own plays. The overall timing of letting Eric Mangini stay a year before the potential lockout is also a beard-tugging maneuver. Even with some of those things, I think I do understand what the Browns are trying to accomplish and why they made the moves they did.
I still think Eric Mangini has a future in the NFL. I also think he did more good than bad in his time in Cleveland. As it turns out, Mangini caused a lot of his own problems and simultaneously found himself the victim of circumstances created by Randy Lerner. Life isn’t fair. Life in the NFL isn’t fair either, but at least you get a lot of money for putting up with it. If Eric Mangini did more good than bad with decidedly little talent, then how can I say that I understand the Browns and their new plan?
Again, I am not saying it is a lock to work, but I understand the thinking. Consider the Browns as a factory. They produce widgets and their success is determined by the number of widgets they produce on an annual basis.
When Romeo Crennel ran the factory, there was no order at all, but the employees worked fast and loose. There was a ping pong table in the lunch room where everyone let off steam. Sometimes output of widgets was astonishingly high. The problem was that the results were unpredictable and you never knew who was going to show up for work.
Eric Mangini was hired to get control of the factory. He had a few pretty productive employees who were totally out of control. He decided to fire them and bring in a bunch of good company guys. They were never superstars, but you knew they would show up every day. The company didn’t make ridiculously high profits, but they were improving month over month, slowly pushing closer and closer to profitability.
Randy Lerner decided that he didn’t know enough about making widgets, so he brings in a new plant manager to re-tool the entire thing. Holmgren takes some time to analyze all that is going on. He recognizes the slow, steady improvements of Eric Mangini. He knows that if he waits it out he’ll probably be consistently profitable over time as the factory improves it’s efficiency and productivity.
That being said, Mike Holmgren is a risk-taker. He likes to play the stock market and wants to increase shareholder value much much faster than buying into the annuity that is Eric Mangini. He decides to reorganize the entire factory floor with a completely new process. No matter that the re-training of the employees will take time. The thinking is that this new process should raise the potential of the factory to yield widgets.
At least that is the bet. It isn’t that Mangini was a complete and utter failure. It isn’t that he didn’t make improvements and wasn’t going to keep improving the team. Ultimately, Holmgren though the Browns’ ceiling at the rate they were going was lower – or at least at a much smaller growth rate – than he could achieve by changing it all out.
Whether it works or not remains to be seen. Holmgren hasn’t done everything perfectly. Still, I think it is plain to see what the goal is here. That’s the thing about embracing risk though. Sometimes you score a giant victory. Other times you just flame out completely.