Mangini excited about Browns' new direction
BEREA, Ohio — Browns coach Eric Mangini slipped into a chair behind the dais adorned with an orange helmet in Cleveland's media room and noted the drastic changes.
He lost his wooden podium, the one he stood behind during a tough season. He found some friends.
Flanked by new team president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert, and seated near business executive Bryan Wiedmeier, Mangini, who last week learned he would be back for a second season with the Browns, smiled and joked about his company.
"It's pretty great to be up here with three other people answering questions," said Mangini. "I can get used to this."
Later, a relaxed Mangini made it clear that he wasn't kidding.
"It wasn't a joke," he said in a back room following the news conference to introduce Heckert and Wiedmeier. "It's nice to have other voices in the organization and to be able to share different perspectives. Everybody has different roles, and for them to be able to get clarity, I think that's a good thing.
"This is a real fantastic situation for me personally and for us organizationally."
Last year, Mangini had little help.
He now has a team.
In bringing in the respected Heckert, Philadelphia's GM since 2006, Holmgren has given Mangini a qualified executive to add players and continue to build the Browns, who finished the season on a four-game winning streak.
While assessing Mangini's performance last season, Holmgren concluded that Mangini had been "thrust" into a situation where he had too many responsibilities. Holmgren would know. He served four years as both Seattle's GM and coach and found parallels in what he experienced to what Mangini went through.
Holmgren believes a coach should coach, so he reconfigured Cleveland's front office to ease Mangini's load.
"Are you are a better coach when you just coach and don't worry about all that stuff?" Holmgren said. "You certainly have more time. And your focus should be better on coaching. But it's not like all of a sudden we're here and Tom's here and all Eric has to do is doodle Xs and Os.
"He's going to be very involved in the player decisions. Now, does he have to worry quite as much• No. I'm going to take some of the worry and some of the anxiousness away from him."
By dividing up the power, Holmgren believes the Browns will function more effectively. And while the control is split, Holmgren's goal is to have consensus on all major decisions.
"It will continue to be my hope that the decisions this organization makes going forward will be handled by these fellas right here," he said. "I trust them. I believe in them. They're good football people. If we pick a player in the draft, whatever we do, it's a decision that has been thought through, come to a conclusion by a lot of discussion, maybe some argument. But at the end of the day, it's a Cleveland Browns decision."
Holmgren was hired by owner Randy Lerner to fix the Browns. Since 1999, Cleveland has had just two winning seasons, hired four full-time coaches, five general managers and led the NFL in turmoil and press conferences to introduce the next regime.
Holmgren believes stability has arrived.
"It was my charge by our owner to find the best people I can find for these positions, and then define their roles and let's go," he said as Lerner kept a low profile in the back of the room. "I just believe they know they're going to get this job done. I don't think this is business as usual. We will not continue to have these kind of press conferences. We're all in it for the long haul."
Mangini's fate was unknown a week ago. When Holmgren assumed control of the Browns on Jan. 5, one of his first orders of business was to decide on the coach. He sent Mangini home to ponder some philosophical questions, and then met with him for several hours the next day.
In addition to talks both described as "honest," Holmgren consulted with a good friend, former NFL coach Bill Parcells, before choosing to keep Mangini.
"And since I made the decision, it gets better everyday," Holmgren said. "It's good and he's happy about it clearly. He's a good football coach and I want to help him. I'm not coaching any more."
Holmgren came away from the meetings with a better understanding of Mangini, who has been portrayed as sullen, arrogant and tyrannical. Holmgren said there's another side of Mangini.
"Every once in a while he smiles a little bit, and every once in a while I'll crack a joke and he'll laugh and I'll say, 'That's good stuff, you should do that more often,"' Holmgren said. "This is a hard business. As a coach, we work like crazy people. You've got to have some fun at this."
Holmgren, who spent 17 years on the sideline, understands the pressures of coaching. In his new role, he wants to be a sounding board for Mangini, someone the coach can turn to for advice or just to vent his frustrations. Someone Mangini didn't have before.
"He can bounce things off me now if he chooses," Holmgren said. "I always had somebody. When it gets hard and it gets dark, you like to be able to leave your office and go someplace else and say, 'Help me' or 'What am I doing?' When you get to be a head coach, you're such a big shot in this league that there's not that many guys that you would do that with. You're fortunate if you have one in the building.
"I hope I can be that guy for him."