The Browns and Their New Plan

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.

  • Matt

    Well done Craig, you captured the varying styles and results of each Browns HC perfectly…great summary

  • Harv 21

    I really like the analogy, Craig. I see the characters a little differently, though.

    Mangini is the control-freak guy the owner needs when the inmates have taken control of the asylum. He knows little about certain important aspects of the business – identifying quality inventory, shipping, closing deals with purchasers- but control is what he does, how he got on the career fast-track and how he has learned from past jobs to protect his own position.

    The owner’s issue is not that progress is too slow. It’s the realization that while everyone is now punching in on time, workplace accidents are down, and inventory is no longer missing, an efficient factory is pointless if the product sucks, even though the manager says he’s still learning a lot.

  • Josh

    love the analogy – good job Craig.

  • Rico Despeedstra

    …But I’m good with people dammit…

    Ofice Space’d…

  • V

    Does this make Pittsburg Cogswell Cogs?

  • Chuck

    I think it’s pretty obvious as to why Holmgren has done what he has done so far. Keeping Mangini an extra year was a win-win for him. If Mangini produces a winner, Holmgren looks like a genius for keeping him, if not, he can say “I tried you out, now it’s time for someone I can control.” And I think that’s exactly who Pat Shurmur is. Why else would he allow a rookie head coach call his own plays? Shurmur is a head coach in name only. He’s really going to be a puppet for Holmgren to control. And, if this experiment doesn’t work right away, Holmgren has yet another scapegoat that will allow him to keep his job. If Holmgren comes down from on high to be head coach and doesn’t make it happen, then his rear is on the hot seat. This way he’s safer…he’ll get heat for hiring Shurmur, but he can easily wriggle his way out.

  • CoachA12

    Mangini’s widget factory was slowly starting to turn profits while the two BIGGER, FASTER, MORE TALENTED widget factories to the east have been competing in the Widget Factory playoffs year after year.

  • NJ

    @6 – I’d add is that Holmgren also has one last ace up his sleeve if Shurmur fails – namely coming down to the sidelines to coach the team himself.

    I could see 2013 rolling around with things still going poorly and fans getting frustrated with Holmgren. If he were to take the reins in a situation like that, I think most of fanbase would be back on board in an instant.

  • NJ

    Okay, apparently I didn’t read your entire post since you mentioned that.

    The guy really walked into a perfect situation as far as covering his own behind goes.

  • BisonDeleSightings

    I heard the old factory manager cut out all his middle managers, then had panic attacks and quit.

  • Russ

    What steady improvement? H&H picked up a few weapons during the last offseason (Hillis, Fujita, Ward, Haden, McCoy) that made the games a little (a LITTLE) more interesting to watch, but with the same net effect: a 5-11 record. We had an old, mediocre defense at best, and a bizarrely inept offense whose only two methods of scoring did not involve throwing a ball.

    I ask again – what improvement?

  • Craig Lyndall

    Russ, they didn’t play the same schedule. Ultimately we all agree that the team needs to improve and that they need to prove they have gotten better via wins and losses.

    However, throughout the rebuilding process, I think it is fair to look at some more subtle measures of team quality and success. Subsequently, you can look at offensive and defensive statistics and margin of defeat and determine that one 5-11 team is markedly improved over another 5-11 team. That being the case, the Browns of 2010 were improved over the Browns of 2009.

    Those are the facts.

  • Russ

    I hear what you’re saying – it’s fair. But at the “marked” rate at which we improved from 09 to 10, how long would it take us to actually get to the playoffs? 12 years, if we get half-a-game better every year? I mean cripes, we’re not the Bengals. We’re actually willing to pay people to come here and win – why one would choose Eric Mangini, Brian Daboll, and a bunch of 30-something linemen over and above all the other possible options, I have no idea.

  • Sean Sheldon

    I tend to agree with you on the majority of the analogy and think it was very well thought out. Kudos to you on that. Would like to hear your thoughts on how Holmgren and Shurmur will handle the draft and free agency (if they ever end the damn CBA stuff) Keep ’em coming!