Relating Pat Shurmur to Eric Mangini is Foolish

By pretty much all accounts, I think the Browns made a mistake sticking with Eric Mangini an extra season.  It is all hindsight now of course, and don’t take this as a criticism of Eric Mangini.  If anything, any critical words I might have for this period of Browns history are directed at owner Randy Lerner who authored the Eric Mangini / George Kokinis debacle.  In the end, Lerner created that whole situation.  He created it for Eric Mangini.  He created it for George Kokinis.  Eventually, he also created it for Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert.  It seemed pretty unfair considering Eric Mangini resuscitated a locker room that was loaded with landmines, but I don’t think there was any other way for it to end once Mike Holmgren was brought in to run the team.  I can’t blame Mike Holmgren for it.  I blame Randy Lerner.  Which brings me to the real point.  I am getting quite tired of having to talk about Eric Mangini every time we talk about Pat Shurmur.  Even if Shurmur doesn’t work out Mangini’s story is written.  I don’t think he needs any more analysis, criticism or validation.

The reasons that the Browns made this move should be starting to come into focus.  They are coming into focus for me not because Pat Shurmur is doing a great job yet.  In fact, some of my worst nightmares appear to be somewhat realized through the early part of this season.  Last February when it became clear that Pat Shurmur was going to go without an offensive coordinator, I wrote the following.

The prototypical coaching staff is made up of a head coach, defensive coordinator and offensive coordinator. Sure, the head coach has a specialty, but only in certain cases does the coach call his own plays. Off the top of my head, Ken Whisenhunt is probably the newest coach on the block that has called his own plays. Andy Reid is probably the most experienced of the bunch to do it. So, it isn’t like it is totally unheard of.

Some of this is my own neurosis. I had this vision of the Browns hiring a young guy and getting the most experienced coordinators available to help guide him along. Now that it isn’t going to happen, I don’t want to sound like a whiny baby, but it is going to take a bit for me to warm up to the idea. I am sure by the time the season rolls around, I will find a way to talk myself into it.

Truth be told, I never actually talked myself into it.

So if the plan is seemingly going awry, why do I still feel like the Browns made the right move and maybe should have fired Eric Mangini a year earlier?  Even if Pat Shurmur doesn’t work out in the long run, much like Mangini he had an unenviable task of bringing about major change.  He was tasked with installing a brand new system.  He also was tasked to doing it without a training camp and with what amounts to a rookie quarterback and inexperienced receiving corps.

So far, the offense hasn’t produced very good results.  Gaffes on defense like the quick snap against the Bengals and the special teams embarrassments against the Raiders certainly make it seem like the Browns head coach could be in over his head wearing too many hats.

Where I blame Randy Lerner for Eric Mangini’s situation, this situation is all Mike Holmgren’s problem.  Nobody knows this more than Mike Holmgren, I am sure.  That makes it all the more ponderous that he didn’t set the organizational philosophy a year earlier by getting his types of people in place before Mangini’s second season.  At the same time, think about this.  What if Shurmur continues to look woeful in the job for the rest of this season and next season assuming he gets the chance?

Then Mike Holmgren replaces Shurmur, but whoever comes in will presumably still be running the same type of systems.  Instead of setting up a scenario where Eric Mangini has to clear a house of bad apples, or Shurmur has to clear guys who don’t fit into the team’s systems, it should be a more seamless change.

That’s why teams like the Steelers roll along even as they lose Bill Cowher for Mike Tomlin.  The drafting and player acquisition philosophies don’t need to change much if at all because the general philosophies on the field aren’t changing.  While I am disappointed in the lack of success and progress so far under Pat Shurmur and while I am still very suspicious if he will make it as head coach and offensive coordinator, I at least don’t expect to have to go through the massive stylistic change anytime again soon.

Point being, Shurmur and Mangini are apples and oranges other than the fact that they both once worked for the same team owned by Randy Lerner and were treated wholly differently by the media.  Even if the Browns could have been better this year with Eric Mangini running things, and even if Eric Mangini wasn’t treated wholly fairly due to circumstances, it still would have been wrong to keep up the charade that Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert didn’t want to work within the comfort of their own philosophy and experience.  When you think of it that way, comparing Shurmur to Mangini in any way shape or form is kind of silly.

So let’s just blame Randy Lerner for that while trying to hold Mike Holmgren, Tom Heckert and Pat Shurmur accountable for improving going forward.  We have enough other things to analyze and criticize without devolving into a wholly less pragmatic line of criticism.

  • Lyon

    They all suck – agreed

  • I was actually looking forward to this post.

    I’m disheartened because the progress and discipline that had been achieved over the last two years by Mangini (that seemed apparent to me, at least) has been completely undone in the first 6 weeks of the season.

    I cannot recall the last time any player spoke out to the media about what wasn’t going right. Whether it’s Evan Moore telling the media “I don’t know where I fit in, talk to coach”, or Cribbs stating “I’m not part of the offense, I’ll go back to covering kicks”. Or the entire Hillis contract situation, which is beyond a joke.

    The glaringly obvious reason for the media’s contempt of Mangini is that the locker room was under control, and it seemed apparent that players knew that they had better not spout off to the media if they weren’t happy. The other option here is that they didn’t feel the need to go to the media. This part is debatable.

    On the opposite end of this, the reason that the local beat reporting hacks will love Shurmur is because this is quickly spiraling into a complete circus, making their job much easier. Not coincidentally, this is the same reason why I’m really starting to dislike this entire situation.

    It feels like the Browns are quickly heading back to the days where the players ran the team. I’ve already seen this episode, and I’m not looking forward to seeing it again.

  • RyInCBus

    After the Browns inadvertantly gave the Bengals 2 first round picks on Sunday, while managing to still lose to the Raiders, I think I’m ready to be done for a while. This team just keeps adding insult to injury and I don’t know how much more I can take.

  • No offense Ryan, because I honestly mean it that I don’t want to offend you, but I hate statements like that. If not following the Browns is somehow some kind of option, I don’t know about it personally. Calling your shot like you might just be done now is kind of like announcing you are going to unfollow someone on Twitter. Don’t make a production out of it. If you’re going to stop following just do it.

    I’m not and I can’t imagine a situation where it would ever be an option anymore than I can stop liking music because the state of pop music is crappy at certain times.

  • After the way the vast majority of the media called for Mangini’s head 5 games into his tenure in Cleveland, I wouldn’t expect them to do anything but defend Shurmur for quite a while. If it wasn’t so sad, it would be laughable the way Holmgren, Heckertt and Shurmur were lauded as geniuses and McCoy was thought of as a future HOFer toward the end of the pre-season.

    Anyway, it is that sad. The Browns will be perennial door mats and losers until a regime is here for more than 2-3 seasons. This sucks balls and I hope this is really all due to simply missing the entire off-season during a regime change.

  • Tsunami

    LOL craig you are a POOR LISTENER my friend. Ryan just wants a hug and you’re telling him “There’s NO CRYING ON THE INTERNET!”

    Great Post Chris M – my sentiments exactly.

  • RyInCBus

    Craig, of course you are right and I took no offense to your post. I was just on Twitter last night chastising fans for being so negative. TThen this Palmer trade today hit me below the belt for some reason and I needed to let off some steam. I apologize for using your blog as a platform to do such. But I think you “know” me better than that. Like Tsunami said, I just needed a hug. Ha ha.

  • Subadai

    Right on point, Craig.

    I still find myself saying “(expletive deleted) Lerner!” through gritted teeth at the end of every bad game. Might have to replace Lerner’s name w/ Holmgren’s if this continues. Ultimately

    I’m still… hopeful is the wrong word. I still have an expectation that Holmgren will not let this get too far out of hand. But if that expectation is going to be met he should be talking to Shurmur like yesterday.

  • RyInCBus

    I think the most maddening thing is that we really don’t know what is being done or said behind the scenes. We can only ascertain based on what the outside looks like. Right now, there appears to be dysfunction at some level but we can’t pinpoint where. All we know is that murmurs in the locker room are leading to losses on the football field. Things get magnified when you lose. Realistically, things probably aren’t as bad as they seem. But unless the Browns operate in complete transparency, we fans will be left just guessing. In the meantime, winning will be the only thing to make the guessing go away.

  • mgbode

    if Heckert continues to draft well, then it won’t matter as much who the coach is because the talent foundation will be there. i mean, coaching obviously matters, but we would at least go from perrennial doormat to consistently mediocre, which would be enough of an upgrade to quell alot of fans for awhile.

  • Bryan

    I disagree with the main point of this point.

    If we continue to see strong evidence that Shurmur is unprepared to be a HC relative to Mangini, then two important conclusions follow:

    1) Holmgren’s leadership should be questioned. He hired an unqualified coach for the simple reason that he is a “Holmgren guy” when he had a young, talented coach already in place.

    2) The judgment (and opinions) of the media who supported Shurmur over Mangini should be severely questioned.

    Both of these issues are relevant moving forward, as they help us better understand the roots of the possible institutional failure that lead to the Shurmur-nator. A lack of quality reporting from the media and a blind faith in Holmgren are two legitimate problems the Browns face, and the ghost of Mangini helps daily illuminate these issues.

    None of this, of course, justifies rooting against Shurmur. We all want Shurmur to succeed. But if he doesn’t we need to understand why, so we can avoid the same failure again.

  • RyInCBus

    One other thing to consider… Holmgren assured everyone that Shurmur would be the only coach he hires here in Cleveland. So Shurmur’s rope is as long as Holmgren’s. They’re in this together for better or worse.

  • So it’s “foolish” to compare a guy who was fired to the guy who was hired to replace him? How else do you evaluate the guy who made the hiring and firing decision? Or should we not be interested in doing that?

    Is that it, that we’re “foolish” if we’re interested in answers to questions like, “could ‘philosophical differences’ have been that important here?,” “Why?,” or “Why couldn’t/shouldn’t Holmgren have been more open-minded with respect to a head coach who was already here and was already making obvious progress at what’s proven over the last decade to be a historically difficult job?”

    I’m just trying to understand the rules here, and how big of a fool that I am. Thx.

  • Also what Bryan @11 said.

  • @Bryan

    “1) Holmgren’s leadership should be questioned. He hired an unqualified coach for the simple reason that he is a “Holmgren guy” when he had a young, talented coach already in place.”

    Holmgren deserves all the criticism in the world based on what Shurmur does. I don’t think his firing of Mangini is on him. That is reflective almost 100% on Randy Lerner and Randy Lerner alone. Holmgren is responsible now because it is all his philosophy and all his people.

    “2) The judgment (and opinions) of the media who supported Shurmur over Mangini should be severely questioned.”

    The media’s judgments can be criticized, but they have very little if anything to do with Mike Holmgren’s decisions. If the media had a vote, Eric Mangini would have certainly been fired after his first season.

    @Frowns, I think it is fair and necessary to assess Holmgren, but not for the sins that were committed before he got here. Not to say that Mangini was a sin, necessarily, but the whole “setup” of that organization by Randy Lerner was just a nightmare, quite obviously in hindsight.

    Pat Shurmur’s lack of success so far is on Mike Holmgren, but has absolutely nothing to do with Eric Mangini. I don’t blame Mike Holmgren for unifying the organization behind a singular philosophy and style. (If you would like to blame him, you are welcome to do it, obviously.) But I don’t blame him for deciding to move in that direction. In many ways, I try to portray Mangini as something of a victim, I think.

    And even that might be a little too nice to Mangini considering how many wounds he self-inflicted unrelated to the media’s biased bashing.

  • mgbode

    speaking of the Mangini era.

    Jerome Harrison traded to the Eagles at the trade deadline for another RB (again)

  • Harv 21

    Kind of bemused by the weird and sudden Mangini nostalgia, as if the biggest debate a year ago wasn’t whether he should have been canned after 2009. Maybe it’s because the only things his teams offered – discipline to snap counts and periodic early game creativity – are absent right now.

    But how can you compare now? Mangini left after having been a head coach for a full 5 years here and in NY, and he was a known quantity. He came here protecting his own position by hiring the callowest possible GM as his “superior” and the most-grizzled players to cover him in the locker room at the expense . He put on a different face when he got an actual boss but there was plenty of games to evaluate what he could do and not do. Shurmer’s input is coaching, he has had no working off-season, one training camp and 5 games in his career. He may absolutely be the wrong hire but Mangini nostalgia, really? Sometimes I think this never ending trail of bad Cleveland sports orgs have just twisted us into spouting pretzel logic out of sheer frustration.

  • mgbode

    @Harv – well, pretzels are the only way to form logic for some of the messes that have happened here 🙂

  • Bryan

    Thanks Craig. Interesting rebuttal.

    One point of departure between us (I think) is the belief that “philosophical unity” is a sufficient defense for hiring Shurmur. Holmgren’s job is to find the best coach, not the best coach who happens to be “philosophically” aligned with him (whatever that means). If it turns out he fired a better coach for a worse one, then that is his fault not Lerner’s. His job is to discern such differences and make the right decision, not hire his buddies.

    @Harv – The Mangini nostalgia is not sudden. I have always felt Mangini was the best coach we have had here since 1999, and was annoyed when they canned in for an unproven coach who happened to be the nephew of Holmgren’s good buddy Fritz.

  • mgbode

    @Bryan – i want to be on the side of ‘best coach’ but if they end up anywhere similar in ability as coach, then you want the coach that the GM is more capable at providing talent for their system.

    Heckert is a 4-3, WCO guy. He knows how to put talent into that system. So, it is possible that even if Shurmur is slightly less of a coach than Mangini, it was still the right move.

    Now, if Shurmur ends up being a terrible HC, then yeah, it goes back to Holmgren.

  • @Bryan, the firing of Mangini could be right even if the hiring of Shurmur was wrong. This is why I find it so foolish to relate them constantly.

  • Bryan

    I guess I fail to follow this logic. We traded Mangini for Shurmur. How Shurmur performs relative to what would have happened if we kept Mangini is of the utmost relevance.

    When we assess the trade of Quinn for Hillis, we examine not just how Hillis performs, but also how Quinn develops. The trade has turned out to be such a steal because Hillis has been better than his previous production while Quinn has been worse.

    If Mangini goes on to be a great coach and Shurmur stinks, then the decision to swap Mangini for Shurmur is clearly a mistake. If Mangini goes on to stink and Shurmur is at least mediocre, the swap looks more justified. The two are intertwined, and you can not assess the decision to replace Mangini with Shurmur without reference to what would have happened if we kept Mangini.

  • No Bryan. These are two different events. Mangini was fired and the search began. Holmgren could have hired anyone out of the available options.

    They didn’t trade Mangini for Shurmur. Mangini was fired for a philosophy as far as I can tell.

    Shurmur was hired to fit that philosophy, but just because Shurmur might not work out doesn’t mean that the philosophy and firing Eric Mangini is wrong.

    They traded Quinn for Hillis, but they certainly did not trade Mangini for Shurmur.

  • Bryan

    Graig, your logic centers around the idea that Holmgren does not have a duty to consider coaches outside of his “philosophy,” and is thus absolved of any damage done by ignoring such coaches.

    Take a more extreme example. Suppose Bill Cowher called Holmgren last year and said, “I want to return to Cleveland and coach the Browns.” And Holmgren said, “Nah, I am going with Pat Shurmur because we are philosophically aligned.”

    Under your logic, such a decision would a) not be Holmgren’s fault and b) should have no bearing on how we judge the decision to hire Shurmur moving forward. I just don’t see how you can think that way. Again, Holmrgen’s job is to find the best coach, not the best coach that is in his coaching tree.

  • tim

    First of all I am a New England Patriot fan. But I am intrigued by this article. My brother and I were just talking about this topic, this past weekend regarding Holmgren and Shurmur VS Mangini. We both thought it was a huge mistake for Cleveland to bring in Holmgren and fire Mangini. The reason being, Mike Holmgren is an excellent teacher but you have to question what has he done as a GM lately. Take the last 10 years as a snapshot. His teams in Seattle were not world beaters and with the exception of the Superbowl appearance, which he lost, his teams played in the weakest division in football. He was the GM there and I don’t see the “genius” of his drafting, considering he was 86-74 and had only 3 out of 10 seasons with 10 or more wins. To fire Mangini after 2 seasons was inexcusable. How are you suppose to change the culture in Cleveland after just 2 years????? Homlgren’s first 2 years in Seattle, 9-7 then 6-10. Lerner is absolutely to blame for not sticking with Mangini. I believe he would have changed the team around eventually through the draft and the style of play if given time to do so. Now Cleveland is stuck with rebuilding again but with Holmgren at the helm it may not the playoffs for another 10 years.

  • mike

    another cleveland media moron…..mangini after the bye last yr went to NO & kicked the ass of the defending SB champs..shurmur…well…you…the 2010 team was 4 turnovers away from being a 9-7 team….care to relive them…let’s mention just one here…the chansi stuckey fumble v the NYJ…that one play was devastating…but the point is…none of the turnovers were mangini’s fault…but fans were led to believe EVERYTHING was mangini’s fault…doesn’t look that way today…mangini was the best coach this browns v 2.0 had…imagine starting a third yr in the SAME SYSTEM…rare air in cleveland…but alas we fans find ourselves in ana all too familiar position…

  • TikiHat

    Some see Holmgren’s job as bringing in the Best Head Coach. Others see Holmgren’s job as building a successful franchise. I fall into the latter camp. Some criticize him for hiring a “System Guy”. I ask why?

    Holmgren has a specific system. He knows it as well as any man alive today. He learned it as an assistant to Bill Walsh as the 49ers became a dynasty. He took that system with him to Green Bay, and built a dynasty that thrives to this day. He took his same system to Seattle and brought them from irrelevance to a Super Bowl. The System he uses works. It has a proven track record. Others have used that system with success as well. Jon Gruden had the unique distinction of winning a Super Bowl with a variation on the system against a team that HE built using the same system. Now Holmgren is trying to give that system to the Cleveland Browns. He would like nothing more than to retire after helping the Browns reach the same level of dominance as the 49ers of the ’80s and ’90s or the Pack is still enjoying. Some complain about this?

    A Second Thought.

    Firing Mangini was hard. Sports is that way sometimes. Folks point to the discipline of his team. He was a Veteran Head Coach who(as Harv21 pointed out) surrounded himself with grizzled veterans. It is easy to teach veteran troops discipline, much easier than teaching a bunch of raw recruits the basics of drill. Ask any sgt. if that ain’t the case. Ask them how hard it would be to form a cohesive fighting unit from a bunch of green recruits without the benefit of a full bootcamp and advanced infantry school. Once they quit questioning your parentage and resumed using language appropriate for WFNY, they’d tell you it can’t be done.

    That is exactly what Pat Shurmur is facing. He has been tasked with building an elite commando platoon with officers, seargents and troops he only met 5 weeks before the invasion began. The platoon still has been together for less than 3 months, and some folks are questioning why it isn’t performing like the SAS or Seal Team 6. HELLO?

    Most experts pegged us as an 8-8 team this year, and we’re right on track. Even with our O-Line turning from the solid bedrock of our team into a seive, losing not one but two punters before the second game, Peyton’s struggles against the Curse(he WILL triumph), our Offense having trouble with the timing and precision required of a WCLO; in spite of all that we are only 3 plays from actually exceeding most expectations. Take out one mental lapse against Cincy and two in Oakland and we are 4-1. Our Defense is playing tough. Our Offense is showing flashes of brilliance amidst the growing pains. Look at how we absolutely own the 2nd Quarters of each game and our final drive against the Phins; a spark is there. Shurmur is still sorting out what he actually has on the team. Robiskie has been demoted and Little promoted. Contrary to his infamous tweet, Cribbs is becoming our go-to 3rd down wideout(personally, I think that was inspired more by Josh’s frustration over the Special Teams’ poor play than his use as WR). Patterson muffed his chance to move up, maybe Skrine gets his big chance by the end of the season. Let’s give Coach Pat enough time to actually get to know his team before labeling him a bust.