After a frustrating 0-3 start, many Browns fans were calling for head coach Eric Mangini’s head.
Fans and media members lit up the radio and television airwaves and criticized play-calling, coaching decisions and the type of player Mangini reportedly likes: the hard-working, smart player who may not have ideal talent, but has an undying heart.
Guys who are all heart such as Jason Trusnik, Eric Barton and the ill-fated David Veikune draft pick come to mind.
However, I have to ask the question: Is this truly the type of player Mangini wants on a Super Bowl contending roster? Or is this the type of player he wants in order to see through a desperately needed culture change in Berea?
If you listen to certain members of the local media, they’ll have you believing that Mangini’s roster is complete with the players he wants.
I disagree. I believe the Browns had to establish a mentality before they could add talent, and we just now are beginning to see the fruits of the talent acquisition.
We can argue about the quality of Mangini’s 2009 draft picks until we’re blue in the face, but the truth of the matter is that Eric Mangini the Head Football Coach should not have to pay for the sins of Eric Mangini the General Manager, forced into the role because former GM George Kokinis was allegedly incapable of doing his job properly. (We can argue whether or not Mangini wanted Kokinis to be his puppet in the first place, but since Mike Holmgren hinted that Mangini was forced into the GM role involuntarily, I’m inclined to believe Holmgren).
While everything about the 2009 Browns season was painful until the month of December, logic says it was likely to be a very painful season regardless of who was the head coach and GM.
The 2008 Browns needed an enema in the worst way come 2009. The 2009 season revolved around “stripping the team down to its very core” year and establishing a mentality of toughness. Of course, despite Alex Mack being an exceptional 1st round pick, the rest of the draft is sketchy at best, and not much pure talent was acquired.
But, it was only step one of what Mangini calls “The Process” which he stated is a 5-year plan in an ESPN The Magazine article before the season.
So what is the 2010 season about? It’s Step 2 of “The Process.”
It’s not about contending for a Super Bowl, it’s about building the team back up using the concrete foundation of toughness established in 2009 (the concrete which hardened in December).
If 2009 was about pouring concrete, 2010 is about laying bricks. While the record hasn’t shown it, the results on the field speak for itself.
Through four games, the Browns have physically punished every team they’ve played. If it weren’t for critical, maddening mistakes where the team shot themselves in the foot, one can make a truly logical case that the Browns could be 3-1, maybe 4-0.
I know…coulda, woulda, shouldas don’t count…but I truly see where the Browns have the correct mentality as a football team. They have physically beat up every team they’ve played, even though a surplus of standout talent isn’t on the roster yet.
But nevertheless, Mangini’s guys have established the mentality, and now it’s time for the General Manager to carry out the talent acquisition, to keep laying bricks and eventually add the roof and interior.
Enter General Manager Tom Heckert, the right man for the job. Look at the Browns’ excellent 2010 Draft Class: Joe Haden and TJ Ward have shown tremendous instinct, Montario Hardesty was in line to be a stud running back before injury (watch the film of Preseason Game 4: despite only a handful of carries, he showed vision and a burst through the hole that stud running backs possess), and Shawn Lauvao may still enter the starting lineup when he returns from injury.
The best part? They still fit Mangini’s criteria for smart, hard-working players with high motors. Could it be that a foundation of veterans who fit the criteria needed to be in place before said talent was acquired in order to build on an established culture? I think so.
Otherwise you have guys like Braylon Edwards joining a team becoming a poisonous to a locker room due to thinking they’re the stars before they’ve earned anything. (Purposely left out: Colt McCoy, who I’m not expecting much from, but if he becomes “the guy we’ve been waiting for” at quarterback, it makes this draft class even more special.)
The 2010 Draft Class could literally be the class that changed it all. These are the bricks being laid to the foundation.
In addition to the draft class, Heckert acquired Sheldon Brown, Scott Fujita, Chris Gocong, Tony Pashos and Peyton Hillis, Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace, among others via free agency or trade.
Some of these players are stop-gaps until more talent is acquired through future drafts, free agency acquisitions and trades, others are true building blocks (mainly Hillis), but all have made a world of difference in fundamentals on this roster.
We are still slow at linebacker, but we’re not missing tackles like in years past. Our secondary has its faults, but they’re allowing us to get off the field in 3rd and long situations more often than in years past. This is the anchor to the concrete foundation established last year to ensure that it’s rock solid in adverse conditions to build the rest of the house on.
But perhaps the most impressive part of Heckert’s resume is the talent acquired by his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles. Heckert was the General Manager of the Eagles from 2006-2009, where the Eagles were playoff contenders every season except 2007 in a tough NFC East Division.
Many have criticized Eagles Coach Andy Reid’s use of personnel with the Eagles, with the failure to establish a true power running game and instead focusing on the pass. Under Mangini, you know the Browns will continue to establish a truly physical running game; a proven formula.
In 2010, the Eagles are rebuilding, but unlike the Browns, who had to burn down the house a rebuild from scratch, the rebuilding is more of a remodeling; far less painful thanks to Heckert’s talent acquisitions in his tenure as GM.
Rather than completely tearing down and starting from scratch, the Eagles still have a young nucleus to build with from Heckert’s drafts such as Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, Kevin Kolb, DeSean Jackson, Brent Celek, Stewart Bradley and a trade for Pro Bowl Left Tackle Jason Peters. The Eagles will be able to re-load and contend sooner than later if Heckert’s replacement is as good as he is…a luxury that Browns fans will hopefully be able to look forward to in the future after a (hopefully) successful stint of contention.
So you can scream for the Browns to fire Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll and Mangini soon after…it won’t do us any good. The Browns’ coaching has been solid through the first quarter of the season, the talent simply is not there yet. Coaches don’t fumble and throw careless interceptions in situations where ball security is at a premium. However, the mentality of a physical ballclub that will punch you in the mouth repeatedly, win or lose, is very prominent on this team.
What the Browns really need is more talent…more talent and a quarterback. The talent will come in due time thanks to Tom Heckert, and the quarterback will come in due time thanks to President Mike Holmgren’s wizardry with picking quarterbacks.
The formula is simple: Hardnosed Mentality (Mangini) + Talent (Heckert) + Quarterback (Holmgren) = certain future success. These are the three pillars of success in the NFL, and the Browns have them covered. Browns fans know what needs to be fixed, and so does the coaching staff and front office.
However, like a hangover, the only thing that can truly fix it is time. So, I ask you, Browns Fan: can we PLEASE be patient and let “The Process” play itself out? If we do, the reward could be a dream come true for all of us.
For more sports takes, humor, re-tweets from parody Twitter accounts, social media insight, car insight, Cleveland things and the occasional social media meltdown, follow me on Twitter at @MikeAmmo.
This article originally appeared on LandyLoyalty.com