Eric Mangini was shown the door today. The former head coach of the Cleveland Browns likely knew that he would be let go after the team’s bad loss against their most bitter rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. He may have known as soon as a few weeks ago when the team’s season took a turn for the worse. Stunning and unexpected wins were overshadowed by uninspiring, inconsistent team play and mind-boggling losses to close out the schedule.
As in any coaching change around Browns Town, the media and the fans will always provide their input. Among the comments, many believed that Mangini didn’t have enough time to get the football team turned around. Many more also thought that he inherited a really bad football team when he was hired two years ago. The irony is that just less than two years prior to his hiring, the Browns had won ten games that season, barely missing the playoffs. The following year, the same roster of players essentially tanked the season. Was the talent that good and the coaching that bad, or vice versa? Probably a mixture of both. After all is said and done, however, any conclusion that is made in evaluating the performance of a coach has to start with two foundational principles…the won-loss record and the team’s progression under his leadership. If the record is lousy, the team must still show a measure of progress and competitiveness on the field. The level of the talent on the roster is important, but even great players need effective coaching, direction and motivation.
Mangini lost his job because both of his Browns teams finished with 5 wins and 11 losses. Last year’s 5-11 team, however, was different from this year’s 5-11 team. Last year’s team started 1-11 and won their last 4 games, including a stunning 13-6 upset victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, which knocked the Steelers out of the playoff race. The team was playing better each week, arguably with players that were originally not even starters or on the original roster. This year, with more talent on the roster than last year’s team, albeit with a tougher overall schedule, the Browns started slow but had tremendous victories over playoff-bound New Orleans and New England. Just when everyone believed that the team had improved, the Browns inexplicably stumbled and lost their last 4 games this year (two losses were against bad Cincinnati and Buffalo teams), and would have lost to the worst team in the league, Carolina, if not for an assist from a goalpost upright. There was no measurable progression from last year to this year, especially at the end of the season, where the Browns were embarrassed by the Steelers at home, 41-9.
No one expected the Browns to make the playoffs this year. Even the most casual fans, however, want to see a team compete on the field week after week, and not play down to the competition. Unfortunately, Mangini’s team either ran out of gas at the end or lost their competitive edge…either way, that’s not a team getting better…that’s regression. Team President Mike Holmgren believed that the Browns should have won more this season. I agree. As much as I hate that fact that Mangini was let go after two years, there’s something to be said about his track record with the New York Jets and now with Cleveland, where he made progress only to have his teams fade late in the season.
Should Mangini have had more time? After weighing the evidence, one is hard pressed to defend a coach whose team was moving on a downward trend. In today’s NFL, coaching mediocrity will usually keep them employed. Bad records and a lack of progress won’t. It was time to make a change. Here’s hoping that Holmgren’s next hire will stop the maddening changes of head coaches in Cleveland.
Copyright © Melvin Gaines. For more content, please see melvingaines.com and melvingaines.blogspot.com.