The Cleveland Browns finished the 2009 season in manner that has become familiar for the franchise since rejoining the league in 1999: with double digit losses and another high first round draft pick. Their 5-11 record has many fans and media outlets wondering if owner Randy Lerner will ever be able to turn them into a contender. I will even admit that at the beginning of the season I was one of these disbelievers. However, I feel that in the last several weeks the Browns have made several decisions that should propel them into a playoff contender in the next couple of seasons. The big reasons I believe the Browns are beginning to right the ship for 2010 are the hiring of Mike Holmgren as team president and his subsequent decision to retain the services of Eric Mangini as head coach for at least next season.
Hiring Mike Holmgren to serve as team president will serve the Cleveland Browns well for many reasons. Having been an assistant under Bill Walsh at San Francisco, and leading both Green Bay and Seattle to Super Bowls as a head coach, Holmgren knows what it will take from not only his players but also his coaches to turn the Browns into a legitimate contender. He was also general manager in Seattle, so he has the ability to look at the task of making personnel decisions from both the coaching and front office perspectives. I also like the enthusiasm he brings to the table having watched his introductory press conference on the Cleveland Browns website. The main thing that impressed me, however, about that press conference was that he did not pretend to have all the answers before starting the job but that he would gather as much information about this organization he could and make the best possible decision based on that information. I think this is important because I believe other regimes have come into Cleveland with a predetermined mindset of how to make this franchise successful only to see the Browns come up short. But Holmgren's knowledge of the game and willingness to learn about this franchise make him a refreshing departure from the norm.
Holmgren's first act as team president, deciding to retain head coach Eric Mangini and his staff for 2010, is certainly not without controversy but one that I applaud. This is certainly a departure from my belief earlier this season, when I felt that Mangini could have possibly been the worst coach the Browns ever had. Mangini did not help his case when the Browns lost 10 of their first 11(including their first four), and had waffled on who would be the starting qb after stating publicly during the preseason that whomever he named starter would remain the starter for the duration of the season. Several things happened however, that made me change my mind. The first was beating the Pittsburgh Steelers, something this team had not done in its past 12 tries and also something his predecessor Romeo Crennel had never accomplished(it is also worth noting that Crennel, only game better than Mangini at 6-10, was retained for more than one season.) The next was that he was able to coach his team to victories in each of their last four contests, something not done by a Browns head coach since Bill Belichick in 1994 and not at the end of the season since Marty Schottenhemier's Browns in 1986, who then went on to play in the AFC championship against Denver. There are some though that would question the strength of the Browns schedule during that time period with wins over Kansas City and Oakland; lets not forget that two of their wins came against Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, both teams fighting for a spot in the playoffs. And despite the offensive struggles his team had, his staff was able to help the Browns improve to the 11th ranked rushing offense in the league, with Jerome Harrison leading the way with 862 yards despite only starting for less than half of the team's games.
The biggest reason I believe Mangini should stay, though, is that the players are starting to believe in him, something which is key for any winning organization. Even Joshua Cribbs, the special teams extraoridnaire who might not be in Cleveland next year due to contract disputes, still supports Coach Mangini. That's saying alot. In this day and age of win now or watch your back it is sometimes hard for players to adjust to numerous coaching changes. Mangini is the fourth coach hired since returning to the league; the Steelers and Ravens by contrast have only had two in the same time period, and even the Bengals have gone through less coaches. How are the Browns supposed to get better if they keep changing who is running the show year after year? The one area I feel Mangini needs to improve upon is making better personnel decisions, which is why I believe Holmgren was brought in.
The Browns have endured tough times since rejoining the league more than 10 years ago, but there might be light at the end of the tunnel. If the recent hiring of Mike Holmgren and his decision to keep Eric Mangini as head coach are any indication, good times for Browns fans and media might be as close as next season.