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DMN: Kokinis never had a chance

In Cleveland, ‘The Secret’ still survives. But for how long? Michael Lombardi

Print This November 03, 2009, 11:38 AM EST

QUOTE: “People...especially people in positions of power...have invested a tremendous amount of effort and time to get to where they are. They really don't want to hear that we're on the wrong path, that we've got to shift gears and start thinking differently.” -- David Suzuki

I feel badly for George Kokinis, who is out as general manager of the Browns. Moving to Cleveland proved to be a great financial move for him, but a poor professional one in aligning himself with “The Secret.”

Head coach Eric “The Secret” Mangini has been running this team from the minute he secluded himself in his office after his initial press conference, refusing to talk to anyone or even say a passing hello in the halls. George never had a chance to be successful — and maybe he wasn’t the most qualified person for the position -- but he never had a chance in Cleveland with “The Secret.” He was never able to gain the respect of the employees in the company because it’s difficult to lead people when there’s a refusal to communicate.

Since Mangini values secrets more than anything else, there were times that Kokinis was left in the dark. He was not involved in the Braylon Edwards trade, for instance, because at that point the Kokinis era was already over. Since the beginning of the season, it has been the worst kept secret (kind of ironic, right?) that Kokinis was going to be gone. He wasn’t happy in Cleveland from the beginning, working for his good friend “The Secret,” and the Browns were not happy with his work. This hiring was flawed from the start.

If you’re a Browns fan, this move has to make you feel that owner Randy Lerner is aware he might have made a mistake. But with Lerner, you never know what he might be thinking or, more important, who may have his ear. And having his ear, and who is whispering information into that ear, is the most critical element right now for every Browns fan.

My fundamental question is: How did Mangini convince Lerner, based on his tapestry of work while at the New York Jets, that he was the right man for the job? Was it that cameo on “The Sopranos” that made him so alluring? Look, I’m all for the Sopranos, but I’d rather have Uncle Junior coaching the team than Mangini.

“The Secret,” for all his lack of communication skills, apparently can sell himself. He sold the Jets and his good friend, general manager Mike Tannenbaum, on the fact he was a bright young coordinator and a budding star when the reality was, at the time, Mangini was removed from his defensive coordinator responsibilities while he was in New England.

The Patriots under Mangini in 2005 gave up too many big plays down the field and were so poorly synchronized that head coach Bill Belichick was forced to take over the defense in mid-stream. Every time Mangini was given more responsibility in New England, he was not successful. Conversely, every time Josh McDaniels’ role was increased, he kept getting more and more successful. However, in spite of Mangini’s bad year, he was rewarded with a head coaching job based on Tannenbaum’s recommendation. Now, is that being lucky? (And the Browns never considered McDaniels for the job, so clearly, the advice and counsel around Lerner is not of the highest professional football quality.)

Lerner has had six months to watch the decisions and recommendations of “The Secret,” and here’s what he’s seen:

1. A collection of former Jets players who are marginal starters for the team and probably will not be a part of the eventual rebuilding.

2. A poor evaluation of his own quarterback situation, to the point where the team held the fifth pick in the draft and gave the Jets a quarterback who might have saved their franchise. When you pick high, you have a chance to repair your team at the most critical positions.

3. A recommendation by Mangini that Kokinis be his general manager and that Erin O’Brien be employed somewhere in the organization — after everyone at the Jets warned the Browns not to allow Mangini to make that move. O’Brien is the Manginis’ former babysitter and a friend of his wife Julie. Both Kokinis and O’Brien are now gone.

4. A coach who has demonstrated no ability to communicate with the fans to let them know there’s actually a plan in place to repair this sacred franchise. He’s the team spokesman, but the problem is that he doesn’t speak.

5. An offense so abysmal that it shows no hope of ever scoring.

Is this enough to make you want to be patient? I wrote this Monday and believe that Lerner must make a move, but he must make sure he knows whom to listen to as well. He needs to evaluate the evaluator, because although he may be getting a ton of advice, he needs to make sure he’s getting the right advice.

Follow me on Twitter: michaelombardi

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