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.


  1. Rich, I've read some of your stuff at the OBR. I probably agree with your take about half the time. You are a good writer but seem to be a lightning rod for controversy at times. Now that I've found your site I'll be checking back regularly to see what your thinking.

    I'd prefer Mike over Marty. He's done his work under defensive head coaches and he knows what it takes to win in the afc north. He's done an excellent job with young qb's.

    Hiring Marty would be like hiring a Belichick coordinator which hasn't panned out very well for us. Marty, an OC, has been serving under Andy Reid, an offensive head coach, who even calls the plays.

    The media seems to be giving Holmgren a pass on this choice. I hope you won't. I can't give anyone in the organization a pass or blind faith anymore. The Walrus should have to justify his coaching choice and demonstrate he has made an upgrade in the offense, defense, and special teams coaching. Given the cake schedule next year he should get to 500 or this change should be considered a failure as Mangini and company would likely have been 500 next with a little more talent upgrade and players another year in the system.

  2. Would love to address you more personally, anon. What's your name or handle?

    Now then . . . If it came down to Mike or Marty, I'm with you. I'd prefer Mike Mularkey because he experienced some success in Buffalo before leaving. But I disagree that a Mornhinweg hire is akin to a Belichick hire. He is a Holmgren disciple. Unless, that is I misunderstand your reference.

    As far as giving Holmgren a pass on his choice, it depends on who that choice is. I give passes to no one. I'm not a blind-faith kind of guy. I leave that to the sycophants of the world.

    So let's sit back and see how this all unfolds and then we'll get a much better idea of the kind of football man Lerner hired when he brought Holmgren to Cleveland. This is his first -- and probably most important -- litmus test.

  3. I didn't intend to be anon but am not too tech savvy. I'm rockinrolldawg over at the orb. I chose that handle as my son is a drummer in a rock band in columbus.

    What I was trying to say about Marty being like a Belichick hire is this. We've tried Romeo and Mangini ; both of which head coaching debuts ended badly. I guess I'm saying they got those jobs by being associated Belichick; and Randy may have overestimated their expertise as a result. So likewise any offensive success achieved by the Eagles likely has more to do with Andy Reid's expertise rather than Morningweg's contribution. Just a rope a dope theory, or as George Bush said... "There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."

    I'm sorry I don't have a google or another account, so the only way I can post seems to be anon.

  4. OK, anon it is. But all you anons look alike. You might wanna try the drop down in select profile below and type in your handle in Name/URL and go from there.

    Anyway . . . A Mornhinweg hire would be more like a Holmgren hire since he is so closely associated with him. It took two bad coaching hires for Lerner to realize he was tapping the wrong team. All he has to do is watch what they do in Pittsburgh and copy. Wrote that once for the Orange & Brown Report and got skewered. I still stand by that contention.

    As for your Bush reference, more of a dopey theory than a rope-a-dope. Sure glad he never got into football.