by Michael Lombardi
December 22, 02009
QUOTE: “Keep on beginning and failing. Each time you fail, start all over again, and you will grow stronger until you have accomplished a purpose -- not the one you began with perhaps, but one you'll be glad to remember.” -- Anne Sullivan, American teacher (1866-1936)
A new beginning once again for the Cleveland Browns, as Mike Holmgren is officially in charge as team president. Last week in a radio interview in Seattle, here’s what he had to say about whether he would keep current head coach Eric Mangini:
“It would really be unfair for me to talk too much about that other than the fact that I like Eric Mangini. I think he's a good coach. He's a bright guy. He works very, very hard at his job and we have to see.”
Holmgren is struggling with the fact that he may be giving his coach only one year. He’s very sympathetic to coaches, feeling they need time to make their mark — good or bad. But now, Holmgren must take off his coaching cap and put on his executive cap and make decisions based on the reality of the situation. He must put his stamp on the organization and lay down his philosophy of team building. Each move he makes must be with the idea of building his own infrastructure. He was brought in to clean up a mess, to build the team for the future, to win a Super Bowl. He loved the Browns situation because there were no layers between him and the owner, so he has the authority to lead the team in his vision.
Having been in the 49ers program in the 1980s and the Bill Belichick program in the 1990s, I know firsthand that these two operations are not similar. From how they procure talent to the product on the field, they are very different from one another. Consequently, knowing how much of a control freak Mangini is, I think it will be hard for him to adapt to working for someone. How is he going to feel about players or coaches heading into the Big Show’s office? How is he going to feel when he’s not running the draft room or the free-agent meetings, as he did even when George Kokinis was the general manager? How is he going to feel about having to adapt to a new grading system for college and pro players after he put in his own system? How is he going to feel about being rejected when he wants to trade for another former Jet? How is he going to feel about not fielding phone calls from other teams about trade possibilities? How is he going to feel about not only working for Holmgren, but possibly working for a new general manager? Working around Mangini will be detrimental to the rebuilding process.
The key figure in building the new Cleveland Browns will be Holmgren’s close friend and agent, Bob LaMonte, who has a stable of available coaches and executives he can place in Cleveland to help support Holmgren. LaMonte hit the trifecta with Holmgren taking this job. Now he’ll make a huge fee for doing Holmgren’s contract and will continue to make fees for each new employee hired since most will come from his stable. This will be a very Merry Christmas for LaMonte.
For example, LaMonte represents Charlie Weis, the former Notre Dame coach who once coached Brady Quinn. So I can easily see Weis being involved with the coaching staff. But will Mangini want this? And will Weis want to work for Mangini, knowing it might be just a one-year job? But from my sources in the league, I hear that Weis will be given a chance to work in Cleveland. Whether he takes the job is another story.
The new general manager will also come from LaMonte’s stable because Holmgren is not going to bring in someone he hasn’t been with in the past. His bad experiences in Seattle working with someone he didn’t know will make this new general manager hire someone who’s very close to Holmgren or comes with LaMonte’s blessing. Holmgren will want this person to be someone who can run the operation as they have in the past; he’ll want someone who’s familiar with his approach to running free agency and the draft.
With all these changes coming to Cleveland, the question that must be answered first is: How does Mangini handle the changes and how does he adapt? For Holmgren to make his mark, he needs to start anew, think like an executive and clear the decks so he can lay his foundation. If he keeps Mangini and makes the move next year, he’s lost a season of repair.
From my experiences in the NFL, the best move Holmgren can make is to start fresh. A new beginning is what’s needed for the Browns.
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