The similarities are striking.
The Browns are 2-11, the Chiefs 3-10. Coaches Eric Mangini and Todd Haley are in their first years and worked side by side as low-level assistants a decade ago under Bill Parcells.
The Browns rank 30th in points scored, 32nd in yards gained, 32nd in passing and 31st in defense. The Chiefs are 28th, 30th, 27th and 30th.
They are tied at 28th in rushing defense, allowing 148.1 yards a game.
“Both these teams were broken and it’s a big process trying to get it fixed,” Haley said. “It’s not an overnight process.”
The difference between franchises is drastic.
Haley’s job security hasn’t been questioned, while Mangini’s been on the hot seat nearly as long as he’s been on the job.
“I don’t know why that is,” Mangini said Friday in a news conference. “Why is that, guys? Why are you talking about it?”
It starts at the top.
If owner Randy Lerner was committed to Mangini, he could’ve dismissed all the speculation by adamantly, and repeatedly, stating his coach would be back for 2010 and beyond. He didn’t.
Lerner, whose frustration level grows with each losing season, gave lukewarm support more than a month ago, but has been silent on the topic since. Meanwhile, he searches for someone to lead his football operations, preferably Mike Holmgren, who hasn’t accepted or rejected Lerner’s offer.
Lerner believes the new hire must be given the power to pick his own coach, and therefore won’t promise Mangini anything. Haley thinks Mangini deserves better.
“Change, as I’ve told these guys here a bunch, is painful,” Haley said. “It’s not easy, it’s not comfortable. This job and Eric’s job is not for the feint of heart. You gotta be tough, gotta be strong-minded and able to persevere. That’s Eric’s makeup.
“I can see what’s happening in Cleveland, it is turning. I’m seeing guys play hard, seeing them get better.”
Haley’s comments may fall on deaf ears.
The black hole in the front office is the real issue in Cleveland. With a strong general manager or president in his corner, Mangini would’ve had the support he needed. But GM George Kokinis, picked by Mangini, was dismissed at midseason, leaving no one between Lerner and the coach, and no one to speak on Mangini’s behalf.
Haley has Scott Pioli.
Pioli left the Patriots after last season to take the general manager job with the Chiefs. He hired Haley, who he’s known since those Jets days with Mangini under Parcells, and is staunch in his support.
“I don’t think there’s a better situation for a first-time head coach to be in,” Haley said. “I get a guy who I have familiarity with, been mentored by the same people — Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick — think a lot alike. I know Scott’s all about one thing, and that’s winning.
“If the guy calling the ultimate shots is all about winning, you’ve got a pretty good chance.”
Haley said Pioli understands rebuilding takes time, because he was part of the process with the Jets and Patriots. Mangini was there, too, and often says he knows his plan is the right one, because he’s seen it work at those two spots.
“He knows what successful teams have to do,” Haley said of Mangini. “I think you’re seeing some of that show up in New York now, the foundation he laid.”
Mangini has been on the defensive lately, pointing to signs of progress, bringing up the breadth of the rebuilding project and preaching patience. Haley has his back.
“Teams that have continued long success, the Pittsburgh Steelers for instance, there’s a reason why they do that,” he said. “They know what they want, set the plan in place and then they just do it. They don’t waver, don’t give in, don’t change course because things immediately don’t start the right way.
“They don’t hit the panic button.”
For a while in the offseason, it looked like Pioli was coming to Cleveland. He met with Lerner, but chose Kansas City.
The relationship between Pioli and Mangini might be strained from Spygate, when Mangini’s Jets turned in the Patriots for taping their signals, but they have a history. Not only did they coach together, Pioli introduced Mangini to his wife, Julie.
When Mangini moved to Baltimore with the Browns, Pioli invited him out but told him not to talk to Julie, Indians GM Mark Shapiro’s sister.
“Of course, I sat next to her, we ended up talking and now we’re married,” Mangini said. “He’s responsible for that and I thank him for that.
“He’s another guy that just grinds and grinds and works. He’s tough. He is demanding, all those things that you’d expect from someone who’s achieved what he’s achieved.”
Without Pioli, or a reasonable facsimile, Mangini is on his own. That’s not the only significant way his situation differs from that of Haley, St. Louis’ Steve Spagnuolo or Detroit’s Jim Schwartz – other first-year coaches spared the scrutiny that’s hounded Mangini.
Those coaches have never held the head job before, while Mangini is fresh off an up-and-down three-year stint with the Jets.
Sure, the experience is valuable – and what infatuated Lerner — but the baggage can be heavy. The perceived weaknesses of Mangini followed him from New York and quickly resurfaced after a rough start: He doesn’t relate well to his players, creates an uncomfortable work environment and is rigid.
While that may be unfair, the criticism came early and began to snowball. Some of the negative reports were exaggerated (the $1,700 fine for the bottle of water) or flat-out wrong (padded players practicing against unpadded players), but all chipped away at Mangini’s reputation in the media and among his players.
The latest reports have him fired if Holmgren takes over.
“There are stories that come out that oftentimes have no merit, facts, backing at all,” Mangini said. “I’ve been a head coach for four years now. I feel good about the things that I’ve done in that role and there’s a body of work there.”
*Seattle has said that Mike Holmgren will not rejoin the team.
The Seahawks talked with Holmgren over the weekend about a senior leadership position.
“After a series of respectful discussions, Mike has declined our offer to rejoin the team given the structure we proposed,” Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke said in a statement. “We hold Mike in high regard and wish the Holmgren family the very best with their new horizons.”
The 61-year-old Holmgren won a Super Bowl with the Packers and led the Seahawks to their only Super Bowl appearance as a head coach.
“I sincerely thank Paul Allen and Tod for all their support over the years,” Holmgren said in a statement. “I thank them for reaching out to me and we conclude these discussions as friends.”
Holmgren, a candidate to run the Browns football operations, could notify the team of his decision by Monday. – The Associated Press
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.