Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ho hum

Finally, some movement on the coaching front from the Browns. All it gets from this corner, however, is one big yawn. Same old, same old.

Late last week, the club announced that Dick Jauron is the new defensive coordinator. Today, Chris Tabor was named special teams coach, although teams now like to call their special teams coaches coordinators.

Summarizing, the Browns have taken a decided step sideways as Pat Shurmur prepares for his freshman season with the Browns.

In Jauron, Shurmur has succeeded in quieting the locker room. The decibel level drops to almost inaudible status as Rob Ryan takes his bombast deep into the heart of Texas. Jauron is the polar opposite of the man he replaces.

As colorful and non-diplomatic as Ryan was, the new DC is as low key as they come. After all, he’s a Yalie. He coaches from the neck up. It’s all between the ears. Ryan’s coaching style, on the other hand, is rooted in the larynx.

More on Jauron in a bit.

Tabor comes over to Cleveland spending the last three seasons as assistant special teams coach in Chicago under Dave Toub. Key word in that last sentence is assistant. Granted, the Bears are one of the National Football League’s best teams in that department, but Toub is the major reason, not Tabor, his assistant.

Why at this juncture are the Browns hiring someone with relatively little NFL experience to head a unit that also has been one of the best in the league under Brad Seely the last couple of seasons? It appears as though they have lowered the bar in replacing the veteran special teams guru.

Certainly, there had to be someone better than Tabor out there on the assistant coaching landscape. Hard to believe he was the best choice.

Now then, back to Jauron. Other than familiarity, it’s hard to understand what Mike Holmgren, Tom Heckert Jr. and Shurmur saw in this guy.

He runs a bend-not-break defense. He tends to favor the more vanilla approach to defense. As Tom Coughlin’s original defensive coordinator with the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars, he was part of a coaching staff that produced three winning seasons in four years.

Statistically, Jauron’s defenses consistently ranked in the middle of the pack in scoring defense, were weak against the run, racked up a decent number of sacks (130) and lagged in overall defense before he left to become head coach in Chicago..

In other words, nothing about which to get excited. There is little reason to believe he has changed his philosophy.

It’s beginning to appear as though the Browns are trying to ratchet down the aggression on defense (not a good sign because defense is all about aggression) and ratchet up the offense with a pass-first philosophy.

If they are, indeed, serious about slapping some makeup on a rather faceless offense under Eric Mangini and Brian Daboll, then it behooves Shurmur and the front office to go after someone who would not be in learning mode. Just because the new coach wants to call the plays doesn’t mean the new coordinator should be a neophyte.

There would be nothing wrong with going after a veteran coach, someone who knows how to choreograph a splashy offense. Someone like Brad Childress, who was Andy Reid’s top offensive guy in Philadelphia for three seasons before taking over as head man in Minnesota.

Now before you go off the deep end, hear me out.

Nothing wrong with Childress coming in as offensive coordinator and giving the rookie head coach Shurmur some sage advice along the way. Calling plays and being a head coach simultaneously is difficult enough on a veteran, let alone someone doing it for the first time.

Shurmur is going to need some help and someone like Childress would be a solid choice to fill that role. I’d like to think he is the kind of guy willing to subjugate himself for the good of the team.

However, if the Browns follow their pattern of selecting coordinators in the same manner as the past week, it does not bode well for Shurmur and lessens my confidence in what he’s trying to accomplish.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Rough start

It’s been about a week now since Pat Shurmur slipped on his head-coaching hat and already, fans are barking at his doorstep about his coordinators. Or lack of coordinators.

That’s right. It’s been a whole week and we still don’t know who will draw up plays on offense for the Browns and design the club’s defenses. And the fans are freaking.

All the good coordinator candidates are being swept up by other teams and the poor Browns are left with the scraps, they moan. They have already seen two offensive candidates land elsewhere. That means whoever Shurmur taps will be no better than third choice to replace the very replaceable Brian Daboll.

By declaring he’ll call plays this season, the new coach has basically tied the hands of the man he selects as his offensive chief. It looks as though whoever takes the job will be someone desperate to land any position and willing to subjugate his role. That does not bode well unless Shurmur opts for some college hot shot.

And it’s looking as though the same scenario is unfolding on the defensive side of the ball. Three former NFL coordinators are in the mix. The good news is no one has officially turned the club down. The bad news is all three are retreads.

Dick Jauron and Dave Wannstedt are polar opposites of the departed Rob Ryan. They appear to be sedated by comparison. Both were schooled in the 4-3. And Bill Davis, the only one who schemed an NFL defense last season (a 3-4), can’t be proud of what his Arizona Cardinals accomplished.

Jauron is expected to remain in Philadelphia and coordinate the Eagles’ defense following the surprising firing of Sean McDermott. Wannstedt, who hasn’t been in the NFL since leaving to coach at the University of Pittsburgh in 2005, remains a viable choice.

Davis, a Youngstown native whose father was a front-office executive with the Browns about 30 years ago, was summarily dismissed by the Cardinals a couple of weeks ago after serving two seasons as defensive boss.

The Cardinals plunged from the top of the NFC West last season to the basement this past season and Davis, whose defense gave up the third-most points in the league (434), was coach Ken Whisenhunt’s scapegoat. Never mind that the Cards looked lost on offense without retired quarterback Kurt Warner.

They also looked lost on defense with the loss of four key starters (linebackers Karlos Dansby and Chike Okeafor, and defensive backs Antrel Rolle and Bryant McFadden) from the 2009 season. Replacements Joey Porter, Paris Lenon, Greg Toler and Kerry Rhodes fell far short of expectations.

It also didn’t help that the Arizona offense scored just 18 points a game, with Warner practicing his terpsichore on Dancing With the Stars, and turned the ball over at an alarming rate. The defense, much like the Browns’’ defense, was gassed midway through the season. Someone had to pay.

So it appears as though Shurmur will have to settle working with coordinators just looking for any kind of job. Not a good sign for the freshman head coach.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Pat Who? Part 2

Based on his introductory news conference with the Cleveland media Thursday, Pat Shurmur comes off as a no-nonsense guy with a good head on his shoulders.

The new Browns coach said all the right things, dodging a few questions along the way for obvious reasons, but with the grace of a bullfighter. It was easy to discern he paid attention in the classroom.

He’s no dummy, this Shurmur guy. Neither was Eric Mangini. But somewhere between his office and the football field on Sundays between September and January, Mangini lost numerous brain cells. And he paid a dear price.

Shurmur, now officially a head-coaching neophyte, looked, sounded and acted like a veteran head coach in front of the media. He was extremely sure of himself. No hesitations. Always decisive with his answers.

In theory, that bodes well. Because what the Browns have lacked on the sidelines the last dozen years is someone who can make the correct decision and make it quickly. As in thinking five plays ahead, 10 plays ahead.

Good coaching, smart coaching is all about anticipating not only what your opponent will do, but what you will do in a given situation. Outsmart the other team. Outcoach the other coach. That’s what sets Bill Belichick apart from his colleagues.

Most successful coaches play the what-if game during games. What do I do if this happens or that happens? What do I do if their team changes strategies? How do I counterpunch? Plan ahead.

On the surface, Shurmur exudes that quality. Football is in his DNA. He is the legacy of his late uncle Fritz Shurmur, a long-time defensive coordinator in the National Football League. He has learned well.

He also called himself a teacher, an educator. All that is nice, but in the world of the NFL, it takes a lot more than that to be successful as a head coach. It takes passionate, dedicated players who know how to win.

In Pittsburgh, for example, the Steelers have Troy Polamalu and James Harrison on defense, and Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward on offense. They make life so much easier for Mike Tomlin.

In Baltimore, it’s Ray Lewis and Ed Reed for the defense. And that’s good enough for the entire Ravens team, which seems to play well beyond its talent and overachieves as a result. They thrive on the inspiration generated by Lewis and Reed while John Harbaugh sits back and turns them loose.

Why those two teams? Because they play in the same division as the Browns, who should strive to be like them. It’s imperative if they want to compete on the same level.

The aforementioned players all play with extraordinary passion and an almost overwhelming desire to succeed. They abhor losing and do not handle it well. The Browns, on the other hand, take a more casual approach to losing.

It’ll be a large part of Shurmur’s job to identify someone similar to Lewis or Polamalu or Reed and get him on the roster. With the roster he inherits, that player does not exist. At least on the surface. The Browns have a roster full of followers. They need leaders.

Shurmur was asked how he relates to players. "I would say my relationship with players is very professional,” he said. “I really do think, and I've always believed this, players are different and coaches are different. You folks (the media) will determine what my style is, but . . . we have to do the very best we can to get the best out of the players we have. There are some men who don't perform unless they are physically and emotionally challenged in a lot of ways. I'm at peace with that.

“There are some guys that a couple of quiet words is enough to get them to do their very best. I think the key to being a coach at especially this level is to get to know your players as well as you can, understand what helps them perform at their best and then not use tactics, but basically communicate with them in those ways.”

It’s following through on the communication part, if we are to believe him, that will serve Shurmur well. If the deeds do not quickly follow the words, then all this talk is nothing more than just that . . . talk. It is meaningless.

We have had enough of that for far too long. It’s time for the Browns to become meaningful and relevant again in the NFL.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Pat Who?

It was roughly 10 days ago that Pat Shurmur’s name entered our consciousness. Only those who follow the National Football League religiously knew who he was.

When his name initially surfaced as a candidate for the Browns’ head coaching vacancy Mike Holmgren created by firing Eric Mangini, most fans asked, “Pat Who?”

And that’s how Shurmur arrives in Cleveland Friday when he becomes the Browns’ fifth head coach in 12 years. Pat Who?

Like Mike Smith was Mike Who? when he accepted the Atlanta Falcons’ head coaching job; and John Harbaugh was John Who? when he took over in Baltimore for Brian Billick; and Mike Tomlin was Mike Who? when the Rooney family chose him to succeed Bill Cowher.

Smith, Harbaugh and Tomlin, three of the most successful coaches in the NFL the last three seasons. And all arrived as question marks because their resumes provided no clues as to how quickly – or even whether – they would achieve success.

None had head coaching experience. Smith listed several years as a defensive coordinator on his resume; Harbaugh was nothing more than a special teams coach most of his career; and Tomlin had been an NFL defensive coordinator for just one season.

For every Tomlin, there are a large number of Romeo Crennels. For every Smith, there are plenty of Butch Davises. For every Harbaugh, there is a boatload of Eric Manginis.

When Crennel and Mangini were hired by the Browns, I was immediately and vehemently opposed to the hires. I didn’t feel comfortable that either man was capable of recapturing the glory days of the Kardiac Kids or Bernie Kosar-era Browns.

They were disciples of Bill Belichick, whose brilliance as a head coach and personnel evaluator did not rub off on either of them. They clung philosophically to his apron strings and that flat out did not work in Cleveland. Never had a chance.

Unfortunately, it took four years for the Browns to realize that with Crennel, and two very long seasons with Mangini to discover he was Belichick Lite and not much else.

Now, we have in Shurmur someone who is the anti-Belichick. And I must confess I’m not nearly as upset at his hiring as I was with his two immediate predecessors. Not that I’m exactly sanguine about the pick. I’m just not that down on it.

Perhaps that’s because Shurmur brings offensive credentials to Cleveland. That side of the football has been aching for a change for at least the last six years. Browns fans have been maltreated to stunningly boring offensive football for far too long.

Ostensibly, there will be no more dull, button-down football on offense, No more runs setting up passes. No more smash-mouth football.

Now, again ostensibly, we can look forward to a return to the style of football Sam Rutigliano embraced 30 years ago. Wide open from the first snap. The kind of football that excites fans and puts pressure on opposing defenses.

That’s probably why Holmgren and Tom Heckert Jr. honed in on the 45-year-old Shurmur. Heckert knew him from their days in Philadelphia and Holmgren knew him obliquely through Eagles head coach Andy Reid, a Holmgren protégé.

Sometimes, it’s not necessarily what you know. It’s who you know. And this time, perhaps for the first time since The Return in 1999, there will be a comfort level that finally exists in the football operations of the Browns.

If it’s all about familiarity, then no one else had a shot at this job. It was all Shurmur. It was, in essence, his job to lose. Only a poor interview separated him from returning to St. Louis as the Rams’ offensive coordinator and landing his first head-coaching gig.

“ . . . I came away from our interview very impressed with him as a person, his extensive knowledge of the game and his track record of success as an assistant coach in this league,” Holmgren said in a statement released by the club. “Most importantly, I feel as though he possesses the necessary qualities which make him the right man to lead our football team.”

He did not delineate on what those necessary qualities were.

All that despite Holmgren’s contention he would was in no hurry to name Mangini’s successor. “I’d like to get it done sooner than later,” he said 10 days ago. “At the same time, I’m not going to rush the process.”

Ten days is rushing it.

He added, “We’re opening it up. It’s a pretty wide search . . . we’re not limiting ourselves in any way.”

Wide search? Three candidates (Shurmur, Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell) constitute a wide search?

Say what you mean and mean what you say.

The big question now is whether to trust Holmgren and Heckert on this one. The fans trusted Randy Lerner with the hiring of Crennel, Phil Savage and Mangini. And they trusted Carmen Policy with the hiring of Chris Palmer, Dwight Clark and Davis.

We all know, unfortunately, where that trust led.

Who knows? This time, it might be the Browns’ turn to get lucky with an unknown coach. This time, the good coaching vibes might finally cast their eyes covetously toward Cleveland.

So who is Pat Shurmur? We don’t know. We knew about Crennel, Davis and Mangini before they arrived in Cleveland. Shurmur? No clue.

We have to rely on the words and instincts of Holmgren and Heckert. And then we wait. Wait to find out whether he’s a Harbaugh or a Tomlin or just another coordinator who is a much better coordinator than head coach. Or perhaps a mere extension of Holmgren.

No question the team president is taking a calculated risk in naming Shurmur when other more glamorous names were available. He is clearly rolling the dice.

Do we trust the H&H guys? After all, they are football men. Lerner and Policy weren’t. And is Shurmur going to get a free pass as a result? If Crennel and Mangini got free passes, count on it.

But he won’t get one here. Free passes do not exist here. They must be earned. Like anyone else, Shurmur must prove himself first in order to get passing grades.

Even more important, he has to prove himself to the players. And that promises to be his most difficult job. Gaining respect of the locker room is paramount and a vital contributing factor toward the success of any team.

So is he Pat Who? Or is he the real deal, the one perfect coach this franchise has sought for nearly a generation?

We’ll find out soon enough.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The really, really bad Cavaliers

How bad are the Cavaliers? So bad, calling them the Cadavaliers is a compliment.

They are so beyond bad, there might not be a descriptive enough adjective to pin an accurate label on them.

Eight victories in their first 38 games is more than enough to conjure up thoughts of the club’s inaugural season. Not since the 1970-71 expansion club has a Cavaliers team been this awful. That first team won only 15 games in its initial season, an ignominious number that will clearly be threatened by the current team.

A perusal of the two teams reveals some extremely interesting similarities and some surprising differences.

For example, seven of those 15 victories in the first season were at the expense of the Buffalo Braves, a fellow expansion team. Two others were against another expansion club, the Portland Trail Blazers. The current team doesn’t have expansion cupcakes on the schedule.

Those pioneer Cavaliers of coach Bill Fitch, playing in a 17-team league (compared to today’s 30 teams), averaged a surprising 102.1 points a game in the first campaign, a more than respectable number by today’s standards. Imagine that. Scoring 102 points a game and winning only 15 games.

If the current Cavs, who average nine points a game less at 93.3, scored that well, there’s no way they bring up the rear of the National Basketball Association.

Flip that coin and you’ll notice the expansion Cavs gave up 113.3 points a game, compared to the 103.9 this season’s team permits. Chalk one up for the current crew.

Long losing streaks were common to Fitch’s team. They wrapped 15- and 12-game losing streaks around their first victory on Nov. 12, 1970, a 105-103 triumph in Portland. Following the 12-gamer came their first home victory (against Buffalo). Then they rang up a seven-gamer. So after 36 games, they were an astonishing 2-34.

Which means they were a very respectable, comparatively speaking, 13-33 the rest of the season.

The newest edition of the Cavs has come close to matching those embarrassing statistics. If it weren’t for a 109-102 overtime victory at home against the New York Knicks on Dec. 18, the Cavs would now be riding the crest of a 22-game losing streak.

That victory shattered a 10-game losing streak, but they since have outdone themselves with an 11-gamer during which they have removed yet another 1970-71 stain from the record books. They’ll plumb even greater depths with visits to Utah and Denver this weekend.

Their way-beyond-embarrassing 112-57 loss to the Lakers Tuesday night in Los Angeles was their 17th straight game on the road without a victory. The best the expansion Cavs could do in that department was a 16-gamer. Somewhere, Fitch is smiling.

Some more startling stats: The expansion team put up numbers of which today’s Cavs would be jealous. It scored fewer than 90 points only nine times in 82 games. This season’s team has already scored fewer than 90 points in 12 of its 38 games.

The expansion Cavs held opponents to fewer than 100 points only five times, but won three of those games. By contrast, this season’s Cavs are 5-5 in games limiting opponents to fewer than 100 points.

With the team playing at its current level, there’s no reason to believe they won’t ultimately set other team records for futility before the season concludes. No one seems to be taking charge. There appears to be no will to win.

It’s almost as though the Cavaliers are tanking the season with the hope of garnering the largest number of ping-pong balls for the lottery in June. Unlike their last journey into the lottery, there’s no LeBron James this time.

All they can hope for now is for Mo Williams and Daniel Gibson to suddenly develop consistency; Antawn Jamison to remain healthy enough to be relevant to the cause; J. J.Hickson to finally step up and play as well as he did last season; and Manny Harris to surprise everyone and become a scoring threat.

Without all those factors, the club’s record for futility is definitely on the line.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Not quite right; not even close

In a recent story about the top sports stories of 2010, a popular Web site cited LeBron James' "The Decision" as the No. 1 story. And it wasn't even close. Then the author of the piece made a mistake. A big mistake.

"It wasn’t what LeBron James did," he wrote, "but how he did it."

Wrong. Way wrong. About as wrong as you can be.

Yes it was what LeBron James did. Clearly. Unequivocally. Most assuredly. Without question.

If you live in northeast Ohio and relate heavily to all things sports, then yes, it definitely is what Lebron did. The way he did it only added to the hurt.

The nation perceived it in a far different manner. That's because they cannot fathom the depth of the hurt inflicted upon NE Ohio sports fans by LeBron's defection. They cannot in any way understand the personal anguish those fans felt the moment he uttered those infamous words "I'm taking my talents to South Beach."

He's just another player trying to win a championship and he wasn't going to do that in Cleveland, they reasoned.

No, LeBron is not just another player. He never has been. He is one of those once-in-a-generation players who transcend greatness and come along far too infrequently. He is a special talent. The game comes easily to him. He sees it played in slow motion.

He was given a gift and did not abuse it. He has abused the feelings and emotions of Cavaliers fans, to be certain, and has damaged the competitive structure of the National Basketball Association as a result of his actions.

Fans and sports writers from around the nation looking from the outside in do not know what LeBron meant to the NE Ohio area. He was not just a sensational basketball player. He was local. He understood. He was one of them.

He was the shining beacon of light who was going to lead a pro sports team from Cleveland to national glory. He was the one who was going to remove the loser label the city had acquired over the many years of frustration and embarrassment.

That's precisely what he did by slinging the moribund Cavaliers on his back and elevating them to elite status in the NBA in just a few years. He did it with grace, a phenomenal work ethic and a dedication to be the best who ever played the game.

And then he undid it with one graceless, ill-advised move. In a metaphorical sense, it parallels Art Modell's defection to Baltimore with the Browns in 1995. In LeBron's case, it was only a player. In Modell's case, it was an iconic National Football League franchise. Big difference. LeBron ripped only himself away from Cleveland. Modell removed an institution.

And now that he's gone, we see in a most dramatic way, how valuable LeBron really was to the franchise. In a word . . . everything. Without him, the Cavs have once again returned to their sad sack ways. Their plunge to the bottom-feeding depths of the league is astounding.

LeBron was the franchise. And the hurt his unconscionable move to Miami caused will never be fully understood by outsiders. That's because they do not know the visceral depths to which Lebron's marvelous talents touched NE Ohio sports fans. And they never will.

So to any and all who believe otherwise, remember this and remember it well. Yes it was what Lebron James did that early July evening in Greenwich, Conn.

Clearly. Unequivocally. Most assuredly. Without question.

Friday, January 7, 2011


There are times in a blogger's world where waiting has its rewards. This is not one of those times. In my last effort, the one right under this one, I wrote the following:

"It’s already having an effect on Jim Harbaugh’s future plans. Now that Luck has decided to come back and actually get his college degree – how novel is that? – before heading out to the pros, Harbaugh just might stay on as the Cardinal coach for one more season before he, too, heads out to the pay-for-play ranks."

Well . . . regarding that Harbaugh-just-might-stay-at-Stanford reference? Um . . . never mind.

The money offered by the San Francisco 49ers spoke a whole lot louder than the money from Stanford and now, Harbaugh has a new job title. Good for him. Good news for 49ers fans and good news for Buckeye Nation.

That's because Harbaugh is not going to the University of Michigan, where a lot of people believed he could turn around the Wolverines' football fortunes. We're all enjoying Ohio State's domination over Michigan in the Jim Tressel era way too much to see that change.

So for all the Michigan football fans, back to the drawing board.

The Luck of the draft

Andrew Luck's decision to remain at Stanford for one more season very well could have a dramatic effect on whom the Browns select in the National Football League's college draft April 28-30.

It’s already having an effect on Jim Harbaugh’s future plans. Now that Luck has decided to come back and actually get his college degree – how novel is that? – before heading out to the pros, Harbaugh just might stay on as the Cardinal coach for one more season before he, too, heads out to the pay-for-play ranks.

With Luck, a virtual lock to be the No. 1 pick in the college lottery, out of the draft scenario, everyone moves up a notch. That takes players the Browns are targeting and moves them one notch away from the club’s No. 6 draft position.

Alabama running back Mark Ingram just declared, but the Heisman Trophy winner in 2009 was hampered by injuries last season and even though he might be the top-rated runner, it’s unlikely he will crack the top 20 prospects list.

Players such as wide receiver A.J. Green, defensive linemen Nick Fairley and Da’Quan Bowers, and cornerback Patrick Peterson, all of whom would fill a critical need for the Browns, probably won’t be there when it comes time to select.

The Carolina Panthers will almost certainly strongly consider Green or Fairley with the first pick even though they need a quarterback. But Ryan Mallett of Arkansas, the second-rated quarterback behind Luck, is not worthy of such a lofty choice. Nor is third-ranked QB Blaine Gabbert of Missouri.

Even if the Panthers pass on Green, he won’t reach the Browns since the Cincinnati Bengals, drafting fourth, will waste precious little time in calling his name. That’s because Chad 85 will be catching passes for someone else next season now that Marvin Lewis has been retained.

Bowers, who might have slipped down to No. 6 if Luck had declared, will go higher now. And the Browns, getting a little long in the tooth along the defensive front, could use a lineman or two. Alabama’s Marcell Dareus is a possibility. North Carolina’s Robert Quinn, more of a 4-3 defensive end, doesn’t fit the Browns’ scheme unless they switch back to the 4-3.

Cleveland also needs help in the secondary, especially at corner. Patrick Peterson of Louisiana State, a shutdown type cornerback, most likely will be off the board when the Browns are on the clock. But someone like Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara, rated slightly below Peterson but a top five prospect, should be available.

It’s no secret the Browns also need plenty of help at wide receiver. Colt McCoy needs a playmaker. But with Green probably gone, the next best available is Julio Jones, a boom-or-bust type receiver. And the Browns have enough of those already. Think second or third round there.

The top tier of this draft is populated by quarterbacks – three possible first-rounders in Mallett, Gabbert and Jake Locker – and defensive players, most notably along the defensive line.

Too bad Luck didn’t opt to come out and push everyone else down a peg. The Browns’ only hope is that someone screws up in front of them and takes a player not projected to be a top 10 pick.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mike vs. Marty

It's not even close to crunch time with regard to finding out who will be anointed the next head coach of the Browns and already fans are snarling with derision with the mention of two names.

Mike Mularkey and Marty Mornhinweg. Two highly regarded offensive coordinators in the National Football League with parallel careers. They were born within four months of each other. Both have head-coaching ambitions. And both are being eyed by the Browns as the possible (not necessarily probable) successor to Eric Mangini.

But after what the Browns have been through the last 12 seasons, they are also two coaches most Browns fans would rather land anywhere but in Cleveland.

Why? Both have already failed once as a head coach, Mularkey in Buffalo and Mornhinweg in Detroit. The latter's 5-27 record with the Lions -- he had to work with lightweight quarterbacks Charlie Batch and Ty Detmer -- stands out not only because of its dramatic statistical imbalance, but also because of a coaching decision he made after winning the overtime coin toss in a tie game. He chose to kick off. And lost the game as a result. How dumb can one man get? That's a cross he's had to bear for nearly a decade.

Mularkey, on the other hand, could be labeled by some as a quitter after he resigned as the Bills’ head coach -- he was 14-18 in two seasons -- following a philosophical disagreement with a new front office. He was not fired, as some still believe. He stepped down.

Both men have resurrected their careers to the point where they once again are being considered to be the top man. Mularkey is being credited with the development of quarterback Matt Ryan in Atlanta. Mornhinweg is getting the lion’s share of the credit with helping Mike Vick resurrect his career in Philadelphia.

Mularkey also should be familiar to Browns fans. He was Bill Cowher’s offensive coordinator for three seasons (2001-03) in Pittsburgh. The Steelers reached the AFC title game in his first two seasons with quarterback middleweights Kordell Stewart and Tommy Maddox.

He was known for his innovative offense that included a number of trick plays built around the versatility of his players. You could count on at least one trick play a game. As a result, he picked up the sobriquet “Inspector Gadget.”

Mornhinweg, on the other hand, runs an offense more like Mike Martz, the former St. Louis Rams head coach now the offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears. Martz is a pass-first, run-second kind of coach. So is Mornhinweg. Both men have aggressive offensive styles.

Mularkey vs. Mornhinweg. Mike vs. Marty. How does one distinguish between the two? And should they be seriously considered for another shot at head coaching? Of course they should.

Seth Wickersham wrote an interesting piece in ESPN The Magazine a year ago at this time. In looking for the next great NFL head coach, he came up with a formula that points to someone already mentioned here. He wrote:

Over the past few years, a number of NFL teams and independent researchers have been working hard to devise a quantifiable method for finding a great coach. In analyzing more than 100 bench bosses, they have considered the presence of every imaginable factor, from Super Bowl victories to experience as a pro player to coaching trees to race.

But in the end, the majority of the most successful NFL head men -- past and present -- have possessed at least one of the following four characteristics:

1. They were between ages 41 and 49.

2. They had at least 11 years of NFL coaching experience.

3. They were assistants on teams that won at least 50 games over a five-year span.

4. They had only one previous NFL head-coaching gig.

Accordingly, I applied those conclusions to this year's assistants and most-discussed candidates, looking for guys who met all four of the criteria. My research led to a man who's not on any owner's radar: Marty Mornhinweg.

Well, Mornhinweg didn't get a shot back then, but now is on the Browns’ radar. But close behind is Mularkey, who qualified in every category except No. 3. The most games he was part of as a Steelers assistant was 48. Does close count?

The big difference is whether either man is well suited to be a head coach. Some guys are better suited to be a coordinator. Some are better suited than others to be a head coach. It's a roll of the dice. The Steelers got lucky with Mike Tomlin, The Falcons with Mike Smith. The Ravens with John Harbaugh. The Saints with Sean Payton.

But for every Bill Walsh or Bill Cowher or Bill Belichick, there are hundreds of Chris Palmers, Butch Davises, Romeo Crennels and Eric Manginis.

What makes a good head coach? Depends on whom you ask. The criteria varies from person to person. Obviously, the Browns have gotten it wrong the last dozen years. Who knows? Maybe this time, they'll get lucky like the Steelers, Falcons, Ravens and Saints.

Right now, there’s no question Mularkey and Mornhinweg are long shots to nail down the Cleveland job. But that doesn’t mean they will not be strongly considered.

If nothing else, Mike Holmgren appreciates good offensive minds. You can bet that will be a strong consideration when making probably the most important decision he’ll ever make as the Browns’ president.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Very late Monday leftovers

Alexander Graham Bell first uttered the line. “When one door closes, “ he said, “another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”

Perhaps Eric Mangini should take heed. He might have lost his job as head coach of the Browns, but that doesn’t mean all is lost. Perhaps as far as another head-coaching job in the National Football League it is, but certainly not on another level.

All Mangini has to do now that the Cleveland door has closed behind him is look toward home and notice another door has opened. A door of opportunity that should be much more satisfying and rewarding.

Home in this case is Connecticut, where Mangini was born, raised and schooled before heading out into the nasty world of professional football. In case anyone hasn’t noticed, Randy Edsall at the University of Connecticut resigned as football coach to accept the top job at the University of Maryland.

Edsall took a Division 1-AA program 11 years ago and elevated it to big-time status in Division 1, climaxed by an appearance at the Fiesta Bowl this year as co-champion of the Big East Conference. The Huskies didn’t win the game, but the invite enhanced Edsall’s reputation.

Mangini, unless he insists on holding out for another NFL job, would be a perfect fit with the Huskies. He’s young, bright, a good teacher and would step into a ready-made program. Edsall has set up a winning culture at Connecticut from which Mangini would benefit.

So instead of maybe feeling some regret over losing the Browns gig, perhaps he should cast a glance toward the northeast and that door that is wide open before someone, perhaps less qualified, sneaks in ahead of him. Time is a-wasting.

Mangini needs UConn as much as UConn needs him.

Don’t read too much into the Browns interviewing Perry Fewell for the head coaching vacancy. The move satisfies the requirements of the Rooney Rule. It does nothing more than mollify those who seek strict enforcement of the rule.

For the unwashed, the Rooney Rule, established in 2003, requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for vacant head coaching jobs and opportunities regarding high-level football operations. While it has enabled a few minority coaches to obtain such jobs, it is unfair to those candidates who must be interviewed because of the rule even though they have little or no chance of getting some of those jobs.

Fewell, the New York Giants’ defensive coordinator, falls into that category unless, of course, he blows away Mike Holmgren, Tom Heckert Jr. and Randy Lerner during the interview process.

That’s what Mike Tomlin did with Pittsburgh. His hire surprised a lot of people who believed either Ken Whisenhunt or Russ Grimm would get the job. Turns out the Rooney family made the correct decision.

It’s beginning to look as though the bluster that is Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will be coaching elsewhere next season. Ryan certainly talks a big game – and makes certain you know it – when it comes to the accomplishments of his defense.

But after Sunday’s pulverizing by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ryan was conspicuously silent. The Steelers took apart his defense in an unmerciful manner after he boasted how well that defense has played this season.

It has played relatively well, but not nearly as well as Ryan boasted. He bragged last Friday that the Browns were seventh best in the NFL in points allowed. The Steelers’ 41-point onslaught dropped them to 13th, one point ahead of Miami.

Then be boasted about the club’s red-zone defense. Only 19 touchdowns in 43 forays inside the Cleveland 20-yard line. The Steelers drilled that total with four touchdowns in four trips. Sometimes, it’s best to keep one’s mouth shut.

CBS-TV color analyst Dan Fouts delivered an amusing and surprisingly candid remark during that network’s telecast of the game against the Steelers. When Mangini opted for a field goal on fourth and goal at the Pittsburgh 2 early in the second quarter and the Steelers leading, 14-0, Fouts couldn’t contain his disbelief.

“It’s the last game of the year, it’s against the Steelers and he’s going to kick a field goal??"!! he railed. “C’mon!!” He was incredulous that anything less than a play from scrimmage would be a sign of surrender, although that’s not what he said.

Apparently, Fouts hasn’t seen many Browns games throughout the season or else he would have dismissed the decision as just another Mangini gaffe. Browns fans have seen enough of that the last two seasons and become impervious to such blunders.

Interesting stats: The Steelers needed 62 snaps to put 41 points on the scoreboard Sunday. The Browns required 64 snaps to put up nine. . . . With 271 points, the Browns were the lowest scoring team in the AFC this season and the second lowest in the entire NFL. Only the hapless Carolina Panthers scored fewer points. . . . Rookie safety T.J. Ward led the Browns in tackles with 123, 95 of them solo. No one was even close to those numbers. . . . Linebacker David Bowens had only two interceptions, but both wound up as pick 6s when the Browns upset New Orleans in week 7. . . . Rookie cornerback Joe Haden, despite limited play early in the season, wound up with a team-leading six interceptions. . . . Peyton Hillis’ 1,177 yards on the ground is the most for a Browns running back since Jamal Lewis ran for 1,304 in 2007. Hillis also was the second-leading receiver with 61 catches. And his 13 touchdowns were the most since Braylon Edwards scored 16 in 2007. . . . Interestingly, the Browns wound up with a turnover ratio of just minus 1. Which means they entered the Steelers game at plus 2. Not bad for a five victory team. . . . Joshua Cribbs’ longest kickoff return this season was just 37 yards. Well, they paid the man and the man didn’t deliver. Sure, he was hurt. But he was healthy the first half of the season. He didn’t dislocate his toes until game 9 against the New York Jets.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A new dawn

Let the fun begin. Let the rumors swirl. Haul out all the names.

Now that Eric Mangini is officially history, it’s open season on who will be the next head coach of the Browns.

And you can bet the rumor mill is grinding relentlessly as the media, as well as those in National Football League circles, speculate on a daily basis as to who will replace Mangini.

At the top of any list is Mike Holmgren, but it would be most unusual for the president of a team to take over as head coach as well. That has not happened in recent memory. Few football men hold such a lofty office in the first place.

Of the 32 NFL teams, 24 now list president as a title at or near the top of their front office directories. And none of those titled presidents is the coach. None have a coaching background.

Now it might be nothing more than a matter of semantics when it comes to referring to Holmgren as President/Coach, or some other lesser title, should he choose to appoint himself as the new leader of the Browns. At 62, he still has at least a few good years left.

But the big question is does he really want to return to the sidelines? He took the Browns’ job ostensibly because he was content to move into a front office as the lead dog and had no desire to coach again.

However, he admitted earlier in the year that scratching a coaching itch is something that still haunts (for lack of a better word) him. And after watching the trials and tribulations of the Browns this season, that itching and scratching had to have reached a crescendo on at least three or four occasions.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Holmgren will return to coaching. There’s the belief that if he hires the right man to succeed Mangini, a man whose philosophical approach to the game matches his, he would be just as comfortable remaining as president only.

Another possibility is that owner Randy Lerner strongly suggests Holmgren move down to the sidelines and straighten out this mess. If that’s the case, it would be interesting if he retains his title as president.

If arm-twisting by Lerner is in the picture and he acquiesces and takes the job, Holmgren most likely would have to turn over most of the front office and personnel duties to General Manager Tom Heckert Jr. He would have too much to worry about on a daily basis with just coaching.

As it turned out, Holmgren and Mangini were a clash of football philosophies. And that, in large part, might have been Mangini’s undoing. Holmgren is the kind of football man who doesn’t mind taking chances. Mangini, on the other hand, leans much more toward conservatism.

Holmgren coached to win. Mangini coached not to lose. Big difference. But we digress.

The most prominent names being bandied about are Holmgren favorites Jon Gruden, Marty Mornhinweg and John Fox. Gruden and Mornhinweg have extensive offensive football backgrounds. Fox is a defensive specialist.

Forget Gruden. He’s the type of guy who needs to run things. He needs to be in a position to call the personnel shots. With the Browns, that would not be politically expedient with Holmgren and Heckert making those moves. Besides, he’d demand a small king’s ransom for the opportunity and the Browns aren’t likely to go there again.

Mornhinweg, whose head-coaching resume lists a 5-27 record in two seasons with Detroit at the beginning of the millennium, has resurrected his coaching career as offensive coordinator and assistant head coach under Andy Reid, another Holmgren protégé, in Philadelphia. But that 5-27 with the Lions rubs a lot of fans the wrong way.

Mornhinweg boosters strongly suggest he coached with two hands tied behind his back due in Detroit to the inept moves of Lions General Manager Matt Millen. Don’t blame Marty, they say.

If he doesn’t get the top job with the Browns, he certainly could be a candidate to succeed Brian Daboll as offensive coordinator. He would be able call the plays, a responsibility now handled by Reid with the Eagles.

Fox, coming off a 2-14 season with the Carolina Panthers, has had more success as a head coach than one would believe. All fans see is the Panthers’ sorry record this season and automatically assume he would be a step back. Quite the contrary. He is no slouch.

A quick check of his record shows a 71-57 mark in Carolina entering this season. That includes three division championships, a 5-3 record in the postseason, an NFC title in 2004 and an appearance against New England in Super Bowl XXXVIII, where an Adam Vinatieri field goal beat the Panthers by three points with four seconds left in the game.

Fox is the kind of coach where if you give him a solid and aggressive offensive coordinator with an affinity for the West Coast offense approach to football, i.e. Holmgren’s style of football, he should be all right.

And he favors the 4-3 defense, a scheme that has been proven to apply more pressure on opposing quarterbacks than the 3-4 approach the Browns have used for the last several seasons.

Frankly, I’d love to see the Browns sign an offensive guy for a change to be the head coach. They haven’t had one since Chris Palmer -- unless you consider interim Terry Robiskie for the final five games of the 2004 season -- was stuck with the job of making chicken salad out of chicken feces with the club’s expansion teams in 1999 and 2000.

It’s been nothing but conservative football on offense with the likes of Butch Davis, Romeo Crennel and Mangini. Enough already with button-down football.

The Browns were fun to watch when Sam Rutigliano and his devil-may-care coaching landed in Cleveland. So were Marty Schottenheimer’s Browns. That is after the conservative Schottenheimer was forced to hire Lindy Infante as offensive coordinator.

Those were fun days when the Browns would never be out of a ball game because of an offense that could neutralize a mediocre Cleveland defense. We saw a little of that with Derek Anderson in the 2007 season when the Browns finished 10-6.

Hey, here’s an idea. Holmgren steps down to the field, hires Mornhinweg as his offensive coordinator, Fox as his defensive coordinator and that way, everyone is happy.

You can bet the culture would change dramatically in the locker room. With Heckert calling the personnel shots and this troika in charge of what happens on the field, winning football has an outstanding chance of returning to Cleveland.

I can live with that. That would, indeed, be the best of all worlds.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Only one right move

Mike Holmgren is not dumb. Nor is he blind and deaf.

He saw what went down Sunday at CBS. He sat there high above the field and watched as the Pittsburgh Steelers dismantled his Browns. Embarrassed them. Humiliated them.

He’s been around long enough to know a bad performance when he sees one. And he witnessed one of the all-time stinkers against the Steelers. Unfortunately, Browns fans have seen many more just like it.

Holmgren watched as his team all but mailed it in against its most hated rival. The Steelers slapped the Browns around as if they were a high school team. And you can bet the team president heard the boos tumble down, aimed primarily at his coach and then his team.

If Mike Tomlin doesn’t invoke his personal mercy rule midway through the third quarter in this one, there’s no telling how many points the Steelers would have inflicted on the Cleveland defense.

The fans are angry. No. Check that. They are livid. Back-to-back-5-11 seasons can do that to a fan base. So can the constant losing year after year. It’s almost as though they’re saying, “Enough. Enough already. How much more of this must we endure?”

Even the most ardent Eric Mangini supporters must admit that maybe, just maybe, a change in coaches is in order. This just isn’t working. One would think that after two years, there would be some improvement. So if a 5-11 record follows a 5-11 record, where’s the improvement?

How does that play into Mangini’s job status? After all, he does have two years remaining on his contract and owner Randy Lerner has got to be sick and tired of paying off fired coaches.

We’ll know soon enough. Holmgren meets with Mangini Monday morning to discuss the head coach’s job security. After Sunday’s demolition, it is hard to believe the coach will emerge from that meeting with anything more than a pink slip.

After what he saw Sunday, it’s also hard to believe Holmgren will do anything else but wish Mangini well, saying something like. “It just isn’t working well,” and move on. He knows the right words. He heard them in Seattle a few years ago.

Hey, Mike, you remember that four-game winning streak the Browns put together to finish last season? Sorta, kinda helped you decide to keep Mangini around for another year, didn’t it? Well, how about the four-gamer that concluded this season? Does that count, too?

If Holmgren somehow bails and Mangini manages to squeeze out another year in Cleveland, he has clearly lowered the bar. When he arrived in town nearly a year ago, most of us believed he had high expectations for his team. What we saw this past season doesn’t even come close to qualifying.

What we saw was a team frequently not ready to play the game from an emotional standpoint. Then we saw a startling, season-long inability to make adjustments as the game progressed, most notably at halftime.

Throw in some awful time management, sprinkle in some bizarre coaching decisions (field goals when touchdowns were needed, as in the Steelers game, and two-point conversion attempts when trailing by 32 late in the same game) and you have the recipe for a 5-11 season.

Yes, the Browns played many close games, but a majority of them wound up in the wrong column due to inept coaching. How many times did the Browns enter the fourth quarter with a lead only to lose the game? Too many. That’s the modus operandi of a losing team.

The man most responsible for the performance of the team is the head coach. Not the coordinators. If he gets all the credit for victories, he must then receive all the blame for losses. Comes with the territory.

A 10-22 record after two seasons, including a 2-10 mark against the AFC North, should send a loud and clear message. It took the Browns four years before they realized Romeo Crennel was not the man. It shouldn’t take as long this time,.

Before Sunday’s debacle, I began to wonder whether Mangini actually had a chance to survive.

Comments by Holmgren and constant lobbying by Mangini through the media at his news conferences led me to believe that Mangini just might pull off another miracle and sweet talk his way to another season. He’s no dummy.

Speaking with Pro Football Weekly in November regarding Mangini’s status, Holmgren said, “Wins and losses are not the only criteria. The crummy part of our business is that, most of the time, it is the main one.”

Well, yeah. That’s what helps put people in the seats on Sundays and puts a bounce in their step on Mondays following victories.

Then he went on to add, “I thought my last year in Seattle (as head coach in 2008), 4-12 on the surface, they should have fired me. Based on record, 4-12 is my worst record of all time.

“It may have been my best coaching job because we were playing with young people who gave me everything they had, but just weren’t good enough. If that taught me anything, it taught me that now in my position, there’s more to look at. Hopefully, I’ll do that properly.”

Let’s see now. Mangini had to play with a rookie quarterback for half the season, had a relatively young offense and a couple of rookies sprinkled in the secondary. Wonder how much Holmgren will factor that into the equation.

Then there’s Mangini dropping subtle hints to help Holmgren with his decision.

He has pointed out the team’s improvement “is apparent in the way we play each week.” And all the close games indicate “significant improvement in every single area.”

Are you listening, Mike Holmgren? Wait, there’s more.

Progress, the coach said, ”is showing up every single week.” He pointed out there was “a sense of community on this team, a sense of purpose. . . . That doesn’t happen by accident.” The close games “will start going in our favor. . . . It’s going to happen.”

Following losses to lowly Buffalo and Cincinnati, Mangini was asked how that would affect his job status. His reply? “When you look at something in its entirety, you just don’t look at it based on what has happened in the recent past. I’d assume he (Holmgren) would look at it that way and that’s how I expect to be evaluated.”

After the Steelers game, those words ring hollow. Hopefully, Holmgren sees it the same way.