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.

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