What a difference a year makes.
When Eric Mangini was named the head coach of the Cleveland Browns in 2009, there were many skeptics. Former players spoke out against him, he irritated rookies by making them take a "mandatory" trip that was supposed to be voluntary, he fined players left and right for minuscule violations, and he was not a very open guy to the media. When the team started at 1-11 last season, all hope seemed to be lost for Mangini, as he was not expected to last another season.
But then, suddenly, something happened. Several veteran players who were against Mangini were out of the picture with injuries, and a few new players who were brought in by Mangini and company had the chance to contribute. The Browns shocked the Pittsburgh Steelers at home to move to 2-11, and a week later, Jerome Harrison ran for nearly 300 yards as the team defeated the Kansas City Chiefs.
After that game, Randy Lerner hired Mike Holmgren as team president. Not many people expected Holmgren to keep Mangini the following season, but the "Walrus" wanted to evaluate Mangini as the season came to a close to see how the team would finish. Continuing to surprise the league, the Browns won their last two games as well, finishing the season at 5-11. That wasn't anything to brag about, but it showed that the players Mangini had really rallied behind him. It felt like the players had finally "bought into Mangini's philosophy," and when they did, the results were favorable. That was enough for Mangini and his staff to return for another year, but the bar had to be raised. The fact was that this team needed to show significant improvement in 2010 for Mangini to return for another year.
Unfortunately, the entire 2010 season, at least early on, saw the Browns as a "very competitive team that just barely lost." The Browns started the season at 1-5, but despite that record, they were playing like a better football team than they had the year before. Then, for a three-week span, it seemed like Mangini was about to cement the beginning of his "legacy" with the Browns. The Browns stunned the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints on the road, and then pulled off an even bigger upset at home the following week when they, dare I say it, outclassed the New England Patriots. At 3-5, the Browns were then scheduled to play the Jets, with pundits actually starting to favor the Browns in a game of such magnitude. The Browns lost, but they took the Jets all the way to the final seconds of overtime.
Flashforward three weeks. Mangini's Browns had played three so-so weeks, but their record stood at 5-7. It seemed obvious that the Browns would finish better than they did in 2009, and they could have a big impact on the playoff picture with three division games left on their schedule.
In the same stretch that the Browns went 4-0 during the 2009 season though, the Browns went 0-4 in 2010, finishing the year with the same record they had before -- 5-11. For all of the improvement the Browns showed mid-way through the season, coupled with games earlier in the season that they could have won, Holmgren had to feel that Mangini had done all he could with this team.
For all of the character and competitiveness Mangini instilled in the Browns, he could not get his team to pull out victories. In a season when teams like the Chiefs, Raiders, Buccaneers, and even the Lions seemed to turn around their seasons down the stretch, the Browns were still...the Browns.
It's tough to see Mangini go, but it is no one's fault but his own that he has been shown the door. I was a huge Mangini supporter when the Browns were 5-7, but it was clear against the Bills and the Bengals that this team played down to its competition. Mangini lacked the aggressiveness against teams he thought the Browns should beat on paper. He needed to have the New England attitude -- that is, the attitude of a team that will go in and blow out the opposition 34-0 if they feel they are better. Instead, he kicked field goals, did not have his offensive coordinator take shots down the field, and refused to have his team make adjustments (i.e. a hurry up offense) to catch "inferior" opponents off guard.
The final straw came against Pittsburgh. While I won't say the Browns ever "gave up" on Mangini, you will not last as a head coach of the Browns if you get blown out by the rivaled Steelers. Romeo Crennel went out with a 34-0 loss to the Steelers two years ago, and shamefully, Mangini goes out the same way two years later. Yes, the Browns did seem more competitive this year. What we want is for them to contend for the playoffs though, something Mangini just could not do.