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.


  1. Nice article Rich. However, I believe Marty did take over the play calling for the Eagles this year. Could be wrong, but pretty sure I heard this earlier in the year when the Eagles offense started getting better. It was credited to Marty I think.


  2. You're technically correct, GB. But most play callers are not filtered by their head coach. In this case, Mornhinweg draws up the game plan and calls the plays, but Reid has final say on all things offense. It's not like a Daboll-Mangini tandem where Daboll works with no handcuffs. Reid shackles Mornhinweg to some extent. In Cleveland, he would have much more freedom should that scenario eventuate.