Scott Raab is a native Clevelander and longtime writer for Esquire Magazine who’s writing a book on LeBron and the life of the Cleveland sports fan set to publish by Harper Collins in early 2012. Raab also maintains an active twitter account and has been tweeting about Eric Mangini with increasing frequency in recent weeks. His opinion of the Browns coach is less than complementary, so we asked him to explain outside the confines of Twitter. We’re honored that he’s agreed to do so here:
First of all, thanks to Pete for giving me a chance to post here. Frowns is my go-to site for Browns analysis — nobody learns anything by being unwilling to ponder other points of view — and I welcome the opportunity to shed Twitter’s 140-character shackle.
Some context: I moved away in 1984. I have my Chief Wahoo tattoo, my ’64 NFL Championship Game ticket stub, and my passion for the town and its teams, but I can’t claim an emotional investment equal to the die-hard fans who call Northeast Ohio home. All the same, I don’t need both hands to count the things in this world that I care about like I care about the Browns, Cavs, and Tribe. At 58, I don’t know if I’ll live to see another Cleveland champion crowned. That’s not a good feeling. It feels lousy. So while I truly enjoy a cogent and lively debate, winning arguments about Cleveland teams means squat to me. All that matters is those teams winning games. I could never root for any Cleveland team to lose — never have, never will.
A few points that frame my point of view about whether Eric Mangini should keep his job:
1. I lived in Philadelphia from 1991-1996, and I’ve lived in North Jersey since moving there from Philly. I’ve followed the Eagles and Jets closely, and I paid close attention to Mangini’s time as the Jets’ head coach. I saw him go from boy wonder to bum in three seasons. His supporters here tend to blame Brett Favre for the Jets collapse down the stretch in 2008, but that team boasted seven Pro-Bowlers, and lost four of its last five games to miss the playoffs. Mangini was fired the day after the season ended. To this day, I have yet to hear a Jets fan voice any regret for his departure.
Eight days later, Randy Lerner hired Mangini and gave him total control of the team, right down to hiring his own GM. Despite my tweeting, I have no respect for an ad hominem argument; while Lerner may be “an impossibly disinterested transient anglophile baby-billionaire” (no different from calling Mangini an insecure, obsessive martinet incapable of leadership), my only criterion is Lerner’s ability to identify and hire talent capable of turning the Browns into a team that can win a Super Bowl. He had shown no such ability — quite the opposite — until he hired Mike Holmgren.
2. Like Pete, I firmly believe that stability is an essential ingredient for organizational success. I loathe the Steelers, but my admiration for them is boundless. They hire, draft, and develop talent as well as any team in pro sports. Their record speaks for itself, and their excellence has been built on a consistent, systematic approach to the business of winning football games, precisely the opposite of what the Browns have demonstrated since 1999.
This makes Pete’s attempts to pick apart Holmgren’s career absolutely fascinating. It’s an aspect of Cleveland fanhood that has been part of my experience for decades now: The culture of losing has been so deeply entrenched and internalized that failure somehow can be explained away — that a shabby won-loss record can virtually be dismissed as a meaningful standard of failure — while winning games doesn’t actually count as evidence of excellence. Absurd.
Holmgren’s record speaks for itself. I’m sorry — genuinely sorry — that Cleveland fans have had to watch each of their teams outcoached and outmanaged over and over and over for so many years. I’m not blind to the fact coaching success requires a critical mass of playing talent. But I do believe that a more experienced, successful coach than Mike Brown would have made a difference to the Cavs. I do believe that Eric Wedge’s teams underperformed. And I don’t believe that handing any team over to a leader with a long record of success at the highest level is tantamount to tearing a team down and starting over from scratch.
3. We can argue forever about whether the Browns have made “enough” progress under Mangini to justify keeping him on the job. We can’t argue about their won-loss record. If the Browns win Sunday, Mangini’s coaching record will be 11-21, a winning percentage worse than Romeo Crennel’s.
Pete makes a persuasive case that Mangini’s record as Browns head coach essentially doesn’t matter because the Browns lack enough talent to win consistently, because the Browns have been more or less competitive all season long, and because it’s all Tony Grossi’s fault. Game after game — and loss after loss — he has not wavered. Far from it.
But I’m not persuaded — not even close. I see a Browns team that fails to adjust offensive and defensive strategies within games, that can’t manage the clock or its time-outs with minimal competence, and that has lost close games to teams with less talent. To blame all of that on the players is essentially to say that a coaching staff makes no difference. (And blaming it on Tony Grossi is delusional.) When I look at Eric Mangini, I see a head coach whose won-loss record — in Cleveland and in New Jersey — speaks for itself, and whose tenure as Browns head coach will rightfully reach its end on Sunday afternoon.