Sunday, December 26, 2010

Is there any doubt now?

Mike Holmgren had to have seen it sitting up in his ivory tower Sunday at CBS. He had to have seen his head coach once again mangle time management at the end of the first half. He had to have seen how little progress his team has made since a mid-season burst. He had to have seen better days ahead and the only way those days could get better is with a different head coach.

Watching his Browns fall once again to the Baltimore Ravens as the season becomes more embarrassing by the game, he has to know by now what he must do.

Randy Lerner brought Holmgren to Cleveland to straighten out his franchise. And with the Browns headed ingloriously toward the same 5-11 record they hung up last season with Mangini in charge, retention of the head coach does not appear to be on the team president's agenda. Or does it?

He's being very coy about his intentions once the season mercifully ends. He has not committed himself at this juncture, which is understandable. With only one game remaining, it doesn't make sense to cashier Mangini now.

But if he hasn't already made up his mind on Mangini after watching him in action for 15 games, then something is terribly wrong and, as stated last week, Lerner brought the wrong man to Cleveland.

It has been 12 years since the return of the Browns and the plight of professional football in Cleveland is approaching critical mass. It won't be long now -- for all we know, it might have even started already -- before fans will stop coming to games. They have better ways to spend their money. Losing year in and year can have that kind of an effect on those with a close emotional attachment to a team.

Losing most of the time turns into fan frustration. Frustration turns into anger. Anger turns into whatever anger turns into. And that leads to the greatest enemy to sports franchises -- apathy. Once that sets in, owners feel it where they can be hurt the most -- the bottom line.

Fans want winners. That's to be expected. The reason the Browns have been so successful at the gate the last dozen seasons despite their dismal record is because Cleveland fans fear losing the franchise again. They didn't deserve to lose the team originally back in 1995.

Cleveland is a great football town. It has a rich and tradition-laden history. That history and tradition have been stomped on for way too long. It has got to stop.

The city deserves a better football team. It doesn't have to win a championship, although that would be nice. After 12 seasons, fans would be thrilled first with a team that competes on a game-by-game basis and not just for one season. That's not asking too much. The suffering needs to stop. The bleeding needs to stop. And only Holmgren can make that happen.

If that's asking too much and putting too much pressure on him, then he needs to move on. Accepting the Cleveland job was a mistake. Otherwise, he needs to stand up and make the right move with regard to his head coach.

Makes no difference how much time Mangini has left on his contract. Makes no difference how much money he will be owed if he is fired. Lerner can afford to pay him off.

Most fans -- not all because there are still some Mangini zealots out there; not sure why -- most fans are tired of watching him play not to lose. They're tired of watching him fail to make adjustments as the game unfolds. They're tired of watching the same mistakes being made week in and week out. Shades of Romeo Crennel.

They're just plain tired of all the losing.

Eric Mangini is not a good head coach. He might be a very good defensive coordinator. But he lacks the essentials to be a good head coach. He has more than proven that in two excruciatingly long seasons.

Too often, his teams show up unprepared to compete. The Browns' performances in losses to Buffalo and Cincinnati more than buttress that argument.

They are 2-9 under Mangini (make that 2-10 with next Sunday's loss to Pittsburgh) against at the AFC North.

Truth be known . . . the Browns are a failed field-goal attempt (Carolina) and a dropped pick 6 (Miami) away from being 3-12 now instead of 5-10.

Mangini hung his coaching hat on the four-game winning streak the Browns finished with last season. This season, that hat rack better be nowhere in sight.

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