BEREA — Coach Eric Mangini isn’t going down without a fight.
He needs the players to follow his lead.
“We’re not finished here,” he said Monday. “There’s two games left.”
As speculation grew that consecutive losses to two-win teams will cost Mangini his job at the end of the season, he again offered a spirited defense as to why he should return for a third year. He said he should be judged by more than the 13-6 loss to Buffalo followed by the 19-17 loss Sunday to the Bengals.
“Two weeks ago, we had won two games in a row,” Mangini said. “When you do look at something in its entirety, you don’t just look at it based on what has happened in the most recent past. That’s how I evaluate it or expect to be evaluated.”
President Mike Holmgren hasn’t spoken publicly about Mangini since Nov. 2 during the bye week, when he said he would evaluate the coaching staff after the season, which ends Jan. 2. Holmgren declined comment through a team spokesman, and Mangini said they hadn’t spoken Monday.
Mangini was asked if the back-to-back losses could be seen as the team going in the wrong direction. The Browns are 5-9.
“You’re going to have to ask Mike about questions like that,” he said. “I feel pretty confident in the direction this team is heading and the direction we’re heading organizationally. There’s growing pains in anything like this.
“But I’m confident in the coaches, I’m confident in the things we’ve done, I believe in what we stand for and what we teach. And I think that we’ve got a very bright future for this team and this organization.”
The contrast between the conclusions to 2009 and 2010 is harsh.
The Browns finished last season with an unprecedented four-game winning streak after starting 1-11. The strong effort, which included a commitment to the running game, saved Mangini’s job when Holmgren took over.
After back-to-back midseason upsets of Super Bowl contenders New Orleans and New England this year, the Browns were 3-5 and riding a wave of momentum. They’ve gone 2-4 since with five straight performances that fell well short of those against the Saints and Patriots.
Holmgren must decide if he’s seen enough progress from the program to keep the status quo, rather than return to his coaching roots or try to hire Jon Gruden.
Mangini changed the culture of the organization by instilling discipline and reshaping the roster with high-character guys. The Browns improved in many of the statistical categories this season.
But he’s 10-20, including 2-8 in the AFC North. The season concludes with home games against division rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
“The important thing for me and for the players, and I talked about this with the guys, is just focus on the next game,” Mangini said when asked if the last two losses will cost him his job. “I believe that that’s the way that we’re going to be successful, that any individual is going to be successful, and not worry about the other things. That will all take care of itself.
“What’s important to me is that the guys continue to improve, that we play well as a team. That’s what I want to do.”
Mangini was most upset with the run offense, run defense and third-down production as the Browns were overpowered by the Bengals. The Browns were outgained 188-59 on the ground and converted two of eight third-down chances. They are 6-for-32 on third down the last three weeks.
“Both those things now are contributing to huge swings in time of possession,” Mangini said of the 38:03-21:57 deficit. “Both areas there’s technique things that can be a lot better, a lot more consistent in terms of the reads and the fits, and they are correctable.
“We have a good group of guys and I expect that when we come back on Wednesday and put the plan in that they will be ready to work. We’ve got a great opportunity in the next two weeks against the best two teams in the division to go out and play them well.”
Safety Abram Elam believes the players will dig deep and find a way to rebound emotionally from the pair of losses to teams they believe they should’ve beaten.
“We just have to have pride and trust the guys in this locker room because we’re a family,” he said. “We want to fight for each other.”
Defensive back Mike Adams said despite the recent struggles, the team has turned a corner. But he knows the players might still be forced to deal with another coaching change – the fourth of the expansion era.
“Can we deal with it? We’re going to have to,” he said. “That’s a part of the NFL. Players in and out, coaches in and out. We have to adjust as players, and as coaches. That’s part of the business.”
Part of the business Mangini is trying to avoid.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.