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.