Clearing up Rumors about George Kokinis and Erin O’Brien

by Cleveland Frowns on July 26, 2012

Yesterday, on ESPN 850 AM’s The Really Big Show, Tony Rizzo and Aaron Goldhammer further beat down the well worn path of the guy who was hired by their radio station to cover the Cleveland Browns immediately after the Plain Dealer deemed him morally unfit to do the same job. Specifically, Rizzo and Goldhammer once again trolled their listeners by reminding them that they know what really happened to cause former Browns GM George Kokinis’s sudden and mysterious mid-season departure from the Browns in 2009, but they’re still not telling.

Since this bit still works well enough to cause a traffic bump at this website from searches about Kokinis, I’ll explain again:

Immediately upon Kokinis’s termination in October of 2009, off-the-record reports started coming out of Berea that Kokinis had a substance abuse problem, including a report to me from someone who, like Rizzo and Goldhammer, is paid and credentialed to cover the team. As noted here before, it’s something that’s easy to allege, hard to prove, and with the grey area between use and abuse being what it is, it can also be something that’s hard to fire someone for without fear of a lawsuit.

What’s not hard is taking a quick look at the trajectory that Kokinis’s career path has taken since he lost his job with the Browns, as well as other plainly apparent circumstances making it more likely that the reports about a substance abuse issue are true. So consider that before he was hired by the Browns in 2009, Kokinis was routinely on the short list of candidates for other GM positions that came open around the same time. In 2008, former Browns GM Ernie Accorsi, then working as a special consultant for the Atlanta Falcons, recommended Kokinis as one of three finalists for the Atlanta’s GM position that ended up going to Tom Dimitroff (also one of Accorsi’s final three picks for the job). Also in 2008, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that Kokinis was one of four finalists being considered by owner Lamar Hunt for the Kansas City Chiefs job.

Now in 2012, almost three years after he was dismissed by the Browns, Kokinis’s name never comes up as a candidate for open GM positions, and really hasn’t since 2009. Additionally, Kokinis received a demotion from the Baltimore Ravens, for whom he returned to work as a “Senior Personnel Assistant” in 2010, when he’d been Director of Pro Personnel for the same organization before leaving for the Browns in ’09.

Kokinis’s official position on his termination has always been that it resulted from a dispute with ownership and then head coach Eric Mangini over powers and responsibilities that arose from the Browns having been required to make certain representations about the same in order for Kokinis to be released from his contract with the Ravens (which provided that Kokinis could leave the Ravens only for a promotion). While this could have been the sort of thing to exacerbate a substance abuse problem (as much as any of a number of things might have done the same), if the power struggle was the most important factor at play here, it seems unlikely that Kokinis’s career would have stalled as it has since 2009.

Also consider that Mangini’s personal bond with Kokinis goes back to Hartford, Connecticut where they both grew up, and through the NFL, where they came up together as assistants with the Browns in the nineties. We know that Hartford and personal bonds are important to Mangini, which explains he’d help keep the truth so closely guarded despite a strong personal interest in having it aired out here.

Finally, since this came up yesterday, too, as it always does when Kokinis comes up: Kokinis’s firing had nothing to do with the simultaneous dismissal of Mangini’s then personal assistant Erin O’Brien other than the timing. I have it directly from folks who were working in the building at the time that O’Brien was fired for talking about an alleged romantic relationship between owner Randy Lerner and another Browns employee. Back in ’09, the PD quoted unnamed sources as saying that O’Brien “had burned so many bridges that Mangini could not save her job.” Too many bridges in this case was mainly one, and the explosion of the Dawg Pound Mike/Kokinis disasters offered good cover for getting rid of O’Brien, too.

Which is all for today here. Back tomorrow or first thing next week with a special announcement and who knows what else.

  • GrandRapidsRustlers

    This ties into Brian Windhorst knowing exactly what happened in Game 5 and refusing to tell us.

    Apple Martinis.

    It all makes sense now.

    • nj0

      cause of and solution to all of life’s problems

    • ClevelandFrowns

      It’s a well worn path.

  • MSkog

    Thanks for summing up a confusing story that I’ve always seen hinted at but never really tackled directly. I always wondered what the real story was and why it was never reported on by the media, even after Kokinis was gone.

  • humboldt

    Randy Lerner has a funny way of demonstrating his interest in the 99%. This is excellent, thorough reporting Pete. Appreciated.

  • nj0

    98% of all sports writers are either cowards or hacks. I’d put probably like 80% in both categories. When you’re beholden to the leagues, teams, and people you report on, it takes some real strength of character to chase the uncomfortable, damning stories.

  • wiseoldredbeard

    We need some new facts or to let this one go (preferably the latter). So what, the guy probably has an addiction problem and may have gotten fired for it three years ago. Reporting about it way after the fact based upon second hand information (and including a seemingly juicy nugget about the owner’s secret sexual relationships) is better suited for TMZ than this classy periodical.

    The practice video from yesterday is encouraging. Looks like Weeden can throw lazerbeams, Benjamin looks really fast, and Gordon is huge. Let’s hope he can stay away from the bong…

    • NeedsFoodBadly

      You seriously undercut your first point by getting on Gordon about his drug use history.

      • wiseoldredbeard

        Totally different. Gordon was just signed by the Browns for $5.3M ($3.8M guarenteed) after failing three drug tests, two of which came after he was already on the hot seat for drug use. I seriously hope that he can keep it clean, so that it doesn’t hurt him or the team, and the fact that he’s had a problem in the past is a very real, current issue for the Browns. In contrast, Kokinos got fired three years ago, and although there are rumors his lack of performance was caused by drinking, there is no evidence that anyone in the league was aware of it before the Browns hired him (see discussion in Frowns article of job opportunity rumors prior to signing with Browns).

        While it may have been a story at the time he was fired (and I agree likely should have been investigated better by the media), at this point rumors about his former or current struggle doesn’t seem relevant fodder for this site (or an ESPN radio show), except as a lesson about the horrors of addiction.

        • Beeej

          The problem with testing positive for marijuana is that it stays in your system for up to a month. THC metabolizes in your fat cells which is why it isn’t “physically” addictive. Hard drugs such as heron, coke, or meth go through your bloodstream and are out w/in a day or two. The faster the substance leaves the body, the more addictive it is i.e. nicotine. While I’m not saying this is the case, but Gordon could have taken a hit off of a blunt at a party 3 weeks prior to testing and he would still test positive. On the other hand, someone like Michael Irving could be blowing lines off of a hooker’s elbow 3 days a week, and unless he got tested the morning after, it would likely not show up in his system.

          • CleveLandThatILove

            THC metabolites can be detected in urine for something like 2 weeks, even longer for heavy users. It’s gone from the blood into the fat cells within hours, like you said, so they don’t bother with blood levels.

        • nj0

          I don’t know if I want to get into this, but how do you know he has a problem with marijuana?

          He’s very successful at his job. He’s excelled in his field. To get where he has, he clear has a great work ethic. Heck, he’s already made more money than I ever will.

          Seems like he only has a problem because others have enacted draconian and arbitrary rules against something they personally find unacceptable.

          • wiseoldredbeard

            I actually don’t think that weed has any impact on his ability to perform as an athlete or as a human in society. The rules against weed for athletes are stupid, and I don’t think testing positive a few times means he is an addict or that his life is going down the tubes. That said, problem is that he knew he was gonna get tested, and knew that if he did he might lose his chance to play in college and maybe the NFL (which almost happened), and he still tested positive. That makes me nervous for him and the Browns that he may test positive in the NFL, which also has draconian rules, and could lead to a suspension. I hope he doesn’t for me and him.

          • wiseoldredbeard

            For the record, my hunch is that he has a huge year.

    • nj0

      While I agree with you to an extent, I think this article is more of a way to deflate 850 and others in the local media who continue to troll fans by teasing them with the unspeakable truth about what really happened.

      By saying “look, here’s the rumors they’re talking around”, it basically kills most of the interest in the thing.

      The article also calls into question why the paid reporters in this town refused to hunt down the story when it first occurred, yet now periodically expolit fan interest in it by inferring to the rumors they were too lazy to look into in the first place.

      Finally, if reporting second hand information to callously generate page views was the goal, I think this site would have been better served reporting on this a long time ago when it was much more relevant.

      • wiseoldredbeard

        Agree that Frowns is doing the right thing by calling out 850 and others for trolling — it is stupid and irresponsible of them and they should be called out for it. But, my point is that unless there are actual new facts that come to light, the story should be allowed to die.

        • ClevelandFrowns

          See comment above, and I’ll add that a look at Kokinis’s career trajectory since 2009 does add some light to the story.

          • wiseoldredbeard

            Point taken, and I guess the fact that he hasn’t been hired since 2009 implies that he may still be having problems (that is, assuming that he did in the first place). Either way, it’s your blog, so who am I to complain about the material. This just seems like old news to me (including that 850 is trolling), and given that we don’t really know what happened, it struck a chord with me.

    • ClevelandFrowns

      The discussion is already happening anyway, at a much bigger platform. It’s only right to add proper perspective to the discussion by explaining known facts that I’m in a position to share (where others apparently aren’t, for whatever reasons). Truth is better than mystery and intrigue, and however much anyone doesn’t want to hear it, the whole story is of significant relevance to recent leadership changes and the reasons behind them.

  • Bryan

    I don’t really remember the details of Kokhini’s hiring, but my memory is that Mangini was a strong proponent of the hire. If that is true, and if Mangini has known the dude forever and he really is a drunk, wouldn’t this look bad for Mangini – i.e. he pushed for the hiring of a close friend who was a drunk and then had to fire him?

    I love Mangini, I am just trying to follow your logic about how keeping this rumor private somehow hurts Mangini’s image. I would think it protects his image.

    • nj0

      I was with you until you assumed Mangini knew about a hypothetical drinking problem. He very well could not have been aware.

      • Bryan

        Even if he didn’t know, it generally would not be a good thing for Mangini if that fact came to light. Suppose you recommend a good friend for a very important job at work. Then it turns out he is a drunk and gets fired within a month. Even if you didn’t know he was a drunk going in, it certainly wouldn’t reflect positively on you.

        Again, I am a Mangini guy. I am just trying to understand how Mangini would benefit if this became public.

        • ClevelandFrowns

          For starters I think you’re grossly underestimating how easy it can be for a person to hide even a severe substance abuse problem from those close to him. Also, how quickly and severely such a problem can manifest or snowball.

          I don’t know why it’s hard to see that it’s a much better explanation for everyone else involved than certain popular alternatives, including the idea that Mangini “doesn’t work well with others,” and the one that the front office didn’t have a clear understanding of the power/responsibility structure would be when they signed Kokinis up for the job.

          • CleveLandThatILove

            Also possible that he was sober and productive for a long time, and for whatever reason fell off the wagon in 2009. Mangini strikes me as the type that would take the heat for a colleague/friend with a personal struggle.

        • Bryan

          Got it. So you are saying that currently people blame Mangini for Kokinis leaving under the rubric “Mangini is a difficult personality who is a pain to work for/with.” Updating that narrative to “Kokinis left because he was a drunk” would be marginally better for Mangini. That is somewhat reasonable. I’ll buy it.

          • ClevelandFrowns

            Something like that.

        • nj0

          Were they good friends though? I always assumed it was more – “I worked with this guy in the past and he was awesome. Since then, he has prospered. Lets get him in for an interview.”

          I get what you’re saying and not disagreeing that some might view Mangini more negatively, but I think those people aren’t very familiar with how functional a person with an abuse problem can be.

          It is odd though that NFL franchises will spend countless hours and dollar bills researching the past of a possible 7th round pick while coaches and front office people are usually hired on simple referal and the old boys network.

    • manc

      They may have known each other for a long time, but they worked in different organizations for a long time. Very plausible that Mangini didn’t know about Kokinis’ problems. Hell, I live in a small town, see the same people on a regular basis, and I learn new stuff about folks virtually every day.

      Totally unrelated to this discussion, but Mangini’s great on ESPN.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    wow.
    15 minutes of pat shurmur talking to the plain dealer reporters over on cle-dot-com this afternoon.
    or needles in your eyes.
    painful either way.

    who likes a good story about a bridge?

    • BIKI024

      in Shurmur we trust!

      • Petefranklin

        for LaMonte we DRINK!

  • rodofdisaster

    Why on EARTH would a Cleveland radio station have any interest in this story several years after the fact? It’s incredibly weak programming/production if this is what you’re falling back on for listeners.

    • BIKI024

      exactly, WKNR is low grade dog food

      • ClevelandFrowns

        In fairness to Rizz and Hammer, I’m pretty sure it was just a quick riff, and the story itself is a significant part of Browns history. What should bother anyone with a brain is the way they treat it; the mocking fanning of intrigue combined with the complete lack of intent to make any effort to figure out how they might report what they know.

    • The Cuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugs

      What else could they talk about? Rather than put together facts, make logical links, etc., it’s much easier to make a segment filled with “reporting” that doesn’t take any work.

      I could see it written in the WKNR Programming Manual like this:

      Topic #7 – Kokinis Dismissal
      R: “I know something you don’t know.”
      H: “Rizzi, can we say what it is yet?”
      R: “It’s crazy.”
      H: “Enough time has passed, right?”
      R: “I mean, this stuff is just insane how it all went down.”
      H: “So we can’t talk about it then.”
      R: (Sigh) “I don’t know. I mean, when someone goes and… (pause)
      H: “Our listeners deserve to know! Rizz-izzle, we could be ground breaking!”
      R: “It’s just soooo deep and classified.”
      H: “The Really Big Show is significant to Cleveland sports! We do have such power over the Cleveland sports airwaves!”
      R: “I mean, well, let me just say this…”
      H: “We are so big, we bump Rome over to our alternate station for an hour!”
      R: (Long pause)
      H: “AN HOUR!!! No one bumps Rome like the Really Big Show!”
      R: “I can’t.”
      H: “But Rizzoto…”
      R: “No. I can’t. It comprises too much. Maybe another day, we can REALLY get into it and bring some people in who could REALLY talk about it.”
      H: “We still bump Rome… Joe Bees… I had two beers in Tremont last night…”

      (Feel free to ad lib additional filler type comments in between that would elongate the conversation. If, in the event a caller should actually call, put him on to shamelessly beg for the information. Rizzo should waver, Hammer should “insist” on releasing the story.)

      See Previous Topic: Topic #6 – The Dolans are cheap
      See Next Topic: Topic #8 – Blind devotion to Ohio State

      • CleveLandThatILove

        I think the programming manual is a crumpled Panini’s napkin with banana pepper residue.

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