Monday, January 18, 2010

The case against Mangini - and Browns fans

By Rick Morris

As a lifelong Cleveland sports fan, I have suffered through the largest drought in the history of major professional sports. Our last major championship was the NFL title of 1964, which happened well before I was a gleam in my parents' eyes (and years before they even married). If I hadn't become a Red Wings fan back in '87, I'd really be out of my mind by now!

[Before this discussion goes any further, save me your protestations, Cubs fans -- and I use them simply as the best representation of this dynamic. You had six Bulls' titles back in the '90s, some of them at the expense of my Cavs, I might add! Any other city with a single cursed franchise has titles in other major sports, so I don't want to hear any invalid comparisons.]

While it may seem incredible to some on the outside, I can legitimately say that there is one internal dynamic that makes the losing even worse: the insanity that it breeds in the fanbase that leads to events that merely prolong the losing.

We've seen that with the Browns ever since they returned in '99. A vocal minority of fans, many dealing from a racist point of view (with comments to talk shows constantly referring to "that white boy" and bemoaning the fact that the Browns did not draft Donovan McNabb or Ricky Williams -- conveniently leaving aside El Busto Grande Akili Smith, the top rival in most people's minds for the #1 draft spot that year), poisoned the water against Tim Couch almost immediately. That poor guy, who had thrived in a rhythm offense in college (and showed what he could do when given the chance to replicate that, as he did in an unbelievable Sunday night performance against the hated Squeelers back in '03), got put into a seven-step dropback O with no offensive line and no receivers who scared defenses. How dare he not succeed! Before you knew it, the clowns down at the stadium were cheering when he was carted off the field and making fun of him for being emotional about it when cameras were thrust into his face WHILE HE WAS STILL CONCUSSED, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! Butch Davis, one of the worst head coaches in NFL history, was able to gain two additional undeserved years at the helm by gutlessly throwing Couch under the bus and catering to blue-collar myopia with the singularly awful Kelly Holcomb.

[SIDE NOTE: I get accused of elitism when I downgrade the blue-collar mentality of the Cleveland fans. So be it, I guess, but critics are missing the point. When fans overhype every mediocre white guy who comes down the pike as "a winner who represents our blue-collar values," then my criticism is entirely deserved. When I stop hearing the likes of Tim Couch and Brady Quinn derisively referred to as "pretty boys" and they start being evaluated on their actual merits or demerits, then I will change my tune about these mindless jealous haters and not a moment before.]

All this background sets the stage for the latest tragic chapter in Browns history, the tenure of Eric Mangini.

Just over a year ago, the Cleveland fans acted as counterproductive and ungrateful as they ever have when they collectively called for the head of General Manager Phil Savage and got Randy Lerner to acquiesce in singularly cowardly fashion. Saddled with a coach who ran a country club (more about that in a minute) and one who was insubordinate in his habitual burial of team draft picks, Savage wasn't allowed the chance to hire his own head coach (as he really had not been back in '05 with one of Lerner's patented shotgun-marriages), but was shown the door because enough ignorant fans demanded it.

Savage's ultimate sin (other than having a team that could not live up to unrealistic expectations)? Telling off a stupid fan who sent him an email. Never mind that the fan was such an ignoramus that he completely confused the duties of a head coach and a general manager. Never mind that Savage was in the right with this jerk (even if he played into the hands of his enemies by firing off the missive). Let's get rid of the man who was laying the foundation for team success with several core players (i.e. Joe Thomas, Josh Cribbs, Eric Steinbach, Shaun Rogers, Jerome Harrison, Eric Wright, Dave Zastudil) because he gave some grief back to an idiot fan!

[It's worth mentioning at this point that the execrable fan site (not given the courtesy of a link because they do not in any way deserve it) jumped on the anti-Savage bandwagon at this point and soon began waving pom-poms for Mangini. Given the fact that Browns coverage on that site consists of nothing more than trolling and provoking real Browns fans who see through Mangini's gaga, I have long since come to the conclusion that the operator of the site is in fact a Steelers or Ravens fan who seeks to undermine our team by regurgitating the least educated pro-Mangini talking points imaginable. I give him credit for successfully imitating these sham Browns fans who are too simpleminded to know that they are part of the problem by supporting this clown as coach and also for artfully representing his real allies in the Steeler or Raven fanbases -- as everyone in Pittsburgh and Baltimore wants us to be saddled with this Oompa-Loompa for as long as possible. And while I'm passing out backhanded compliments, I congratulate him also for the awesome humor on the site, when all links supporting the official point of view point back to -- you guessed it! -- past columns on the very same site. Well played and most hilarious!]

On our FDH LOUNGE Internet TV show (Wednesdays, 7-10 PM EST on, we had occasion to speak with a number of New York-based football journalists. To a man, they indicated that Mangini's complete lack of people skills were a severe detriment to his ability to carry out his job. Mangini wasted no time in backing up these observations by publicly snubbing Rogers, his star defensive tackle, and ordering the removal of a mural in the team headquarters celebrating the team's unmatched accomplishments. To a tyrant like Mangini, you see, nothing good ever happened before he came along! Of course, these valid observations made by people who actually DEALT WITH MANGINI ON A DAY-IN, DAY-OUT BASIS are dismissed by fans in Cleveland as evidence of a grand and heinous New York-based plot to see Mangini fail. Sadly, I am not making this up.

But simpleton fans were lapping it up like a cat with a bowl of milk. "He's laying down the law with these spoiled players!" Before, I touched on the poisonous anti-white racism of so many Browns "fans" against Couch. In fairness, it must be noted here that there is also widespread underlying anti-black racism among the fanbase. When you hear somebody say that "It's time somebody stood up to these ..." you will always make them uncomfortable by saying, "These WHAT? Say the word if you're going to say it, be intellectually honest." Sadly, Eric Mangini is a hero to many because he is seen as a racial avenger. There, I said it.

While the times did call for a tough coach to replace the feckless Romeo Crennel, even the biggest dictator today must have some people skills in order to survive. Belichick 2.0 wins in New England because he acquired at least that tiny modicum of an ability to relate to people. Tom Coughlin won a Super Bowl once he tempered his rough ways with a small amount of give-and-take. Fans can long for the days of Woody and Lombardi all they like, but they're not coming back and it is nothing but counterproductive to whine about how "it should still be like that."

Mangini went on to make numerous horrible mistakes along the way, from his draft reaches (starting with both valuable second-round picks) to waiting too long to dump Braylon Edwards once he had decided to go that route to making the wrong personnel choices only to be bailed out by injuries and necessity (i.e. Harrison's long-overdue opportunity to take snaps away from the corpse of Jamal Lewis). Of those flubs, the one at QB was perhaps the worst; Derek Anderson is a known commodity who will never be more than the (marginal-at-best) entity he is right now, whereas Brady Quinn still hasn't had a lot of opportunities for a third-year player. The emphasis should have been on answering the question definitively "What do we have in Brady Quinn?" rather than playing stupid games regarding contract bonuses based on playing time and surrendering to the aforementioned blue-collar obsessives who hate Quinn. As a result of this dithering, inexcusably, the jury is still out on Quinn.

Only in this climate would it have been possible for me to have been even the tiniest bit ambivalent about our team's win over the hated Steelers. Like everyone, I was tired of the years of relentless pummeling we suffered at their hands and their legions of frontrunner fans, of whom there are a sad countless many along America's North Coast. But I did have this horrid thought in the back of my mind that such a win could help save Mangini's job by rallying the morons who legitimately believe that "it's OK if we only win two games a year as long as they're against the Steelers." As I should have known by now, my worst fears came true when the team squeaked past the hapless Pittsburgh team in the midst of their worst losing streak in years, then capped off the "legendary late-season run" by getting past the miserable Chiefs and Raiders and an average Jacksonville team chilled to the bone in the Northern snow.

As they have so often, the stupid and counterproductive fans (who I have no choice but to believe represent a strong majority of sentiment, given the power they regularly have collectively shown over the past decade) made it clear to new team President Mike Holmgren that he would have a war on his hands if he ushered Dweeby Napoleon to the door. So while the entrance of Holmgren and new General Manager Tom Heckert (one of the very finest front office minds in the business) would otherwise be greeted rightfully with pure enthusiasm, it should be diminished by the unfinished business of house-cleaning that Holmgren unwisely deferred.

As a Browns fan, I am left to hope for the best under the circumstances and to ignore that nagging feeling that all is not well. But where has that ever landed me before?

No comments: