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.