FanPost

In Response to the Judge-Mangini Interview (caution: long)

User Roger Dorn posted an interview between Mangini and interviewer Clark Judge a few days ago that was met with a generally positive review here at DBN. I had a different viewpoint, and started getting into my explanations in the comments. It quickly became long-winded (as I tend to be), so I said I'd review the article for anyone interested. I began doing so, and got about halfway through the article before I ran out of steam. The article itself was already almost 6000 words without my commentary, and the below half is now 5000 words with my comments added. And those were only the negative comments, as the point wasn't to show what I thought was good about the article.

So if you care to read the comments below, here they are. If you make it through, bless you - you're a hardcore fan (or really bored). Tell me why I'm an idiot - I'd like to hear opposing viewpoints. If anyone asks I'll review the remainder, but I said most of what I think below. If you get past the initially visceral reactions, I feel there is some depth to my objections.

 

BEREA, Ohio -- There is no head coach this season more vilified, more condemned and more ridiculed than Cleveland's Eric Mangini -- with Rolling Stone, of all people, calling his first-year tenure "a sort of Hurricane Andrew of football mismanagement."

That sounds pretty awful, only I'm not sure what it means. So I flew to Cleveland to find out. Not only did I meet with Mangini, I spent an afternoon with him. And what I discovered is that virtually everything I read, heard and believed about the guy does not correspond with the man I met.

He was cooperative. He was engaging. He was candid.

You clearly have no idea what the term candid means. More on the offense later, but candid would be if I ask what’s wrong with the offense and Mangini replied something like: "DA makes poor reads on defenses. Our young center is missing on too many snaps. Receivers are running the wrong routes. My coaching staff and I haven’t done a good enough job preparing our players not to make these fundamental mistakes." That’s not to say that’s what the issues are, but simply to highlight what a candid reply might look like. It’s also not to say that a candid answer is appropriate from a coach. There is a level of decorum that needs to be upheld. I’m just saying Clark Judge completely misuses the term here.

 He was thoughtful, secure and downright interesting. In short, he was not the Bill Belichick clone he has been made out to be, though I wondered when seeing a Darth Vader mask resting on a shelf behind the door to his second-floor office.

It turns out it belongs to Mangini's kids, who are hooked on Star Wars and dressed up as characters from the movie for Halloween. I know because I asked, but to learn about Mangini's children all you have to do is look around the room. There are photographs of his family everywhere.

See? Stop yelling at him! He has kids! It doesn’t matter if the Browns win ever again the man has a picture of his wife and children in the office! No one else does that!

The Evil Empire this is not, but you would never know it reading reviews of Mangini's first season. Granted, he has only one win. But so does Jim Schwartz in Detroit. And Raheem Morris in Tampa Bay. And Steve Spagnuolo in St. Louis. And Todd Haley in Kansas City. Yet it is Mangini who is sliced, diced and spliced by an audience that demands answers from a coach it does not trust and does not like.

So Mangini is lambasted while the staffs in Tampa, St. Louis, KC, and Detroit are lauded? No… no those other coaches are questioned just as much for their on the field results as Mangini. The difference is, which of these teams traded away two pro-bowl receiving threats only to watch the offense sputter, or selected a GM only to watch him be run out of town five months later (possibly with cause), or fielded multiple grievances from players against the coach? Just the Browns.

I demanded answers, too, only I got them -- lots of them. And here they are.

So Clark makes a point to declare that he DEMANDED ANSWERS and he feels like he’s cracked the previously impenetrable armor of Mangini Clark Judge has valid and substantive answers to all the questions he’s asked. You are welcome, the world.

Q: What future is there for Brady Quinn and does he have a future in Cleveland?

Mangini: What I told Brady when he first got the job and, later, when I told him I was going to start D.A. [Derek Anderson], is that the important thing in my mind was all the progress he made since he had gotten here, all the work he had put in and all the things that he had done he couldn't stop because that was important for him to continue to develop. And even though I was changing [to Anderson] at that point things change quickly all the time.

I saw that with Tom Brady. Tom wasn't Tom when he first got in, but he worked like crazy, and it was every day with him. And he got better and better. What I said to Brady [Quinn] was, "Don't stop the approach; the approach isn't flawed at all. You didn't have the results you wanted initially, but that doesn't mean that can't change; that doesn't mean the opportunity couldn't present itself sooner rather than later." He's got a great work ethic, and I think he's making great progress."

Hey, remember, I was a defensive backs coach with New England. I know what it took to forge Tom Brady into a hall-of-famer because I passed him in the hallways from time to time. We were tight. Why do I mention this? Is it to imply that Brady Quinn could be the next Tom Brady? Well I certainly won’t say that openly, but I’ll mention it to get you thinking about it.

Q: So he might have a future here?

Mangini: Yeah, the things that he's done here I've really liked. And I don't see why he can't keep improving.

Why ask this question? What the hell is Mangini supposed to say? "Quinn is really disappointing and I’m trying to trade him but no one seems to be eager to buy a quarterback whose only track record is a small amount of failure?" There are some questions that when you ask them you know the answer. This was one of them. Any coach will talk up his players and leave room for hope unless his release papers have already been filed. I’d rather he asked something that had a chance of being answered, like, "what specifically was you’re reasoning for not bringing in Quinn at halftime in the last game?"

Q: There was a suggestion that he was nailed to the bench because of his contract and an escalator clause that rewards him the more he plays. Any truth to that?

See above. After a few of these questions where there is only one way to answer and it has no bearing on the truth, you get to feeling that maybe Clark asks it just because it’s on people’s minds.

Mangini: No, absolutely not. With all the different contracts ... I don't know what the incentives are. But that wouldn't make my decision [even if I did]. In New York, being involved with draft picks, and here being involved with draft picks, my philosophy is if you're right you're right. But if you're not right you can't compound a decision by playing a guy who doesn't give the team the best chance to win because the players see that, and everybody knows.

It's not right. It should be a meritocracy. I tell that to the rookies who come in here with the drafted, undrafted or trial guys: "It doesn't matter how you got here; it matters what you do now. My job is to play the best players that give us the best chance to win, regardless of what your contract is, regardless of where you were drafted. Because that doesn't matter. Those were decisions that were made before. The decisions that count are the ones you're trying to make to help you that week."

Q: Last week Washington owner Daniel Snyder said he was "disappointed" and "embarrassed" by his team's performance. Do you share similar sentiments about this team?

Mangini: I'm not happy with the production that we've had, and I don't think anybody is. But I am happy with the way these guys have worked. Going through the experience in New England where the team was 8-8 [in 1999] and ended up 5-11 [in 2000, Belichick's first season there]; then where the start of the next year we were 1-2 and things didn't look good ... Anyway, we worked the same way, and people make good decisions. Then we beat San Diego [in 2001], and it was like the whole tide turned. And that wasn't a function of that game. It was a function of all the work that went in leading up to that game. People understood how to play as a team; what it meant to study, to work, to be selfless, to be part of something bigger and not to worry about who got credit. And when it hit, it hit big and it's continued to hit over time.

I like to think I was part of an organization that was built to last, but it doesn't happen overnight. And it doesn't take one decision or one person. It takes a ton of them. Our whole philosophy is based on things that I learned here [in Cleveland] as a ballboy and a young guy, and in New England as a young position coach. Here, we [the Browns] had gone to the playoffs and paid Andre Rison a $5 million signing bonus, which at that time was astronomical. I picked up Andre at the airport, and he made Bill sit and the owner sit and the media sit for an hour while in a limousine that I was in. And that was the start of it.

The first game he had two penalties and wasn't very productive. But when you give a guy like that all that money you're assigning what you believe in organizationally: That it's OK because we will pay you. Basically, what you're saying is that those traits ... that's what we endorse organizationally. And when we struck adversity that year things fell apart.

But when we went to New England we committed to guys with character, and it was totally different.

BS. The Patriots committed to guys with a desire to play football without be ostentatious, but character had nothing to do with it. Rodney Harrison was voted dirtiest player in the NFL twice, and was suspended for HGH usage in 2007. That’s not character, that’s cheating. It’s the opposite. This is where Mangini gets into luring fans over emotionally. Everyone wants to root for a hard worker and a good guy, but the collection of talent in New England was not about being a good guy, but a team player. In fact, with Belichick as the mastermind, I’m willing to bet that he instructed staff and players alike to use, at minimum, questionable means to gain advantages. Sacrificing your integrity for winning is the opposite of character.

It was like truth in sports. I believe in smart, tough, hard-working, competitive guys -- guys who are selfless and guys whom football is important to. Those are our core characteristics. You can ask any player on the team what it is. It's in the draft room. It's in the free-agency room. And it frustrates the personnel guys because they say, hey, we have this great guy who can run this 40, and we'll say, "What's he like? What's he like in the locker room? What's he like in the classroom? What's he like in practice?" Because I really believe one guy affects five. You get a bunch of good people organizationally, committed to the same vision and working the same way ... and it doesn't waver ... great things happen.

Q: But great things haven't happened to this team. Did the Browns have to take two steps back to take one step forward?

Mangini: I think any time you go through a transition it's really hard. Everyone has to get used to your approach. You have to get used to the players you have. You can talk about communication, but that's developed. There is a trust that's developed. When I got let go in New York I wanted to address the team, and I told them, "Look, guys, there are times where you thought I was the biggest [jerk] in the world, and you probably thought I was crazy. But my job ... and what I committed to doing ... is making you the best players and us the best team. And that's not always easy. You're not always going to agree with the decisions I make. But they're all made for one reason: To help us win and to make sure you achieve your potential and we achieve our potential. There is another coach coming in, and I've been on the other side of the table, where I heard that things didn't work out and we're going in a different direction. I was told that today, and that's part of the business. But whoever comes in here you're a good group of players who worked hard. So embrace that guy. Don't let all that hard work go to waste because you're trying to figure out who the new guy is."

Now Mangini is deliberately telling a story about how great of a guy he is, without making it look like self congratulations. It’s a nice piece of self PR, and it makes you want to overlook his to-date failures. Well done, Eric. The problem is I don’t care if you’re a good guy. Start winning. I watch the Browns in hopes they succeed, not in hopes that they play their little hearts out and then hand out hugs after the game.

Q: The problem with a long-term plan is that you're on the clock, and time is a luxury you may not have. Having an owner who understands that is crucial.

This isn’t a question; it’s a lead in to talk about how great Lerner is despite having just fired a guy he hired no more than five months earlier. If Lerner had a boss, there would be a hell of a lot of explaining to do on that one. Instead, let’s listen to how great he is!

Mangini: It is crucial, and you have to share the same vision because there are hard decisions that are made and there are criticisms that are made. And you have to believe in what you're doing and weather the storm. If you're always going to respond to public opinion and not do what you believe what you should do organizationally because of a negative article or how it's perceived, then you don't believe in anything and everything is diluted.

Here’s Mangini ignoring the obvious: what’s more germane the context of the Browns state, a random negative article or the Kokinis firing? Watch how ridiculous Mangini’s sycophantic elusion sounds if the more appropriate reference is used:

"If you're always going to respond to public opinion and not do what you believe what you should do organizationally because of having to fire a man with cause after entrusting the second highest office in your organization worth hundreds of millions of dollars to him after only five months, then you don't believe in anything and everything is diluted."

When I got to Cleveland I started my first meeting with the same message I left the last team with. I said, "This is who I am. I have three kids. This is my wife. I like Tupac better than I like Biggie. I like these TV shows. And this is my approach as a coach, and this is what I believe in. And you can come into my office at any point, and that's not a corporate slogan or a line I'm telling you to get it off my check list. It's true."

I'll tell you what Rodney Harrison told me. He said, "Tell players the truth. They may not like it, but they will respect you for it." You come up here, and I'll tell you the truth. And at least you have a chance to do something about it. You may not want to hear it, but you can do something about it. It's your choice. And I believe in that.

It happened with Laveranues Coles. He hated me -- I promise you, as much as any player has hated anybody. And I didn't understand him, either. So I called him up on a Saturday night and I said, "L.C., I want to meet with you tomorrow afternoon at 1 o'clock." He shows up at 1 with a suit. And we sit across a conference table, and I said, "Look, I'm going to tell you all the things I like about you, and all the things I don't like about you. And you're going to tell me all the things you don't like about me. And maybe there's something you do like about me. But we're not leaving this table until we understand each other." And we sat for three hours and talked about everything. After that, we had a great relationship. He became one of my guys, and he still text-messages me.

I did the same thing with Eric Barton. When Braylon [Edwards] left, I said, "Look, this is a great start for you. Don't let anything get in the way of what you really want. It's a totally new start. You may get to a point sometimes where you need to hear the truth or need perspective. Call me up. When I met you the first time and told you I want you to be the best player and person you can be that doesn't change because I'm not your coach anymore. You call me, and we can talk. I wish you the best. So go do the things you want to do there. It didn't work out here, but that doesn't mean it can't work out there."

Q: Since you brought it up, why was it in the Browns' best interest to get him out of here? Was there a moment where you said enough is enough?

Mangini: I think Braylon was at the point where he needed a fresh start, and organizationally we needed to change directions, too. And that was going to be the best thing for both sides.

I don’t really have a problem with the Braylon trade so I won’t respond other than to say there’s nothing really said here. Nothing new, at least. This is common throughout the interview so I won’t point it out every time.

Q: What or where has been the biggest source of disappointment?

Mangini: The hardest thing for me is that a lot of times when there is criticism -- and I respect everyone's right to say a decision is poor -- but when it becomes personal criticism by people I've never met before, that is different. You like to have the opportunity to explain what you believe in and why you make decisions. That doesn't mean you expect the person to agree with what you say or that you expect a different kind of grade scale. But the personal attacks ... that's a little more disappointing, especially from someone I haven't met or dealt with because it just doesn't seem as objective and balanced.

This is a key point. Clark asks the question, presumably about the Browns, and Mangini’s response is to say he’s disappointed in the personal criticisms. Well we all feel very sorry for you, Eric, but we want to know what about the football team has been most disappointing. The one you coach, in hopes of winning, so that we can see winning. Thanks for not responding, though. Clark Judge should have followed up emphasizing a separation of personal and professional criticism, but here’s what he asks instead:

Q: Has that criticism or this streak of futility affected the way you go about your job?

Notice his question does not re-state the above question. That means that either Clark is letting the answer slide (spineless interviewing) or he feels that was an appropriate response (either confused or perhaps intentionally allowing Mangini to divert audience attention away from the football disaster that is the 2009 Browns and onto Mangini’s personal feelings and work ethic).

Mangini: No, because I really do believe in the things we're doing. I do believe in good people. And after experiencing what I experienced in New England and in New York with Bill Parcells and their commitment to a certain type of player, I know it works. I've been there. I've seen it. And I know it's hard. And I know you're going to take hits and that it's a process. I really have a conviction about that, so that when those things do happen I'm comfortable with it because I've been through it.

I look back at some of the articles from 2000 in New England, and they were pretty brutal. There are a lot of things said then (he pauses) ... well, history has sort of been rewritten in the recent past. But that's the way it is when you're losing. Not much looks very good.

See above for the Pats comparison, but let’s look at this from a slightly different aspect: logic. There are two arguments here. First:

1. I am building a team of good guys

2. Everyone likes good guys.

3. Therefore everyone must like what I’m doing

This is the argument Mangini presents, although a good deal more subtly. The obvious flaw is that that "good guys" are not necessarily good football players. Step one should actually read "I am building a team of players driven to play football and willing to do so through my specific philosophy". Well, the potential problems with that statement are numerous:

1. We don’t know if all players, including key, talented players, are willing to accept that philosophy. We may be limiting our access to talent (the Indians may also be guilty of this)

2. We don’t know if that philosophy is a good one. Mangini’s track record is unproven, and the results are mixed.

3. There isn’t an emotionally driven urge (at least not nearly so universal and strong) to overlook failure if we’re discussing "team oriented players" as opposed to "good guys". In fact the proper wording of step one completely negates the next two steps, which open up Mangini for criticism.

We should not allow ourselves to be sucked in to this argument. We should continue to monitor the football results, regardless of the process or the sainthood of those involved.

The second argument is here:

1. I was involved with the Patriots during the building of their dynasty

2. Therefore I know how to build a dynasty

3. Since everyone would like me to build a dynasty they should accept my judgement and stop criticizing me

Well, again there are flaws with this logic. First, we don’t know if he learned enough about the building of the Pats dynasty to replicate it. He was a defensive backs coach. Our offense is struggling mightily. How does your experience as a defensive backs coach imply the ability to create an outstanding offense? It doesn’t. Also, our recent experience with Romeo Crennel completely denies this argument. He was at least as much, likely more heavily, involved in the building of that dynasty than Mangini. He failed. Point disproven.

Q: Have you pulled any of those articles out recently?

Mangini: Yeah, recently, actually. Very recently. (He goes to his desk and pulls out a binder of articles from that season, with sentences highlighted). Look at this one. (He starts reading) "Not much worth saving here ... Next test, please ... A mess ... Autopsy on the season, a pretty good choice of words."

I remember the Cleveland game where we came here, and that was brutal. They were an expansion team, and we came here and lost. (He starts reading again) "Officially plunged to the nadir. ... Bill Belichick is in charge of bringing respectability back to football in New England, but right now fans would settle for a little dignity, which is in short supply on bloody Sunday."

Thinking back to it, I remember when I drove up with Bill to New England. I was in my hotel that first night. I was listening to a talk show, and the three guys on the show were just killing the decision [to hire Belichick]. And I was thinking, "We haven't even been here five hours, and we're getting killed." I think back to that now, and say, "OK, we've been through this experience before. But I know what we're doing." And so does Brad Seely, and Brian Daboll and Rob Ryan. You just have to keep digging.

And what about Kokinis? Screw him, he didn’t buy into it? Why should we believe that this process you keep referring to is the way to success? One more point on the comparisons between the 2000 Patriots and the 2009 Browns. The 2000 Pats had a total DVOA of -5.9%, that’s somewhat below average. The 2009 Browns have a total DVOA of -41%. That is extremely bad. It’s terrible. In fact, in the past five seasons only four teams did worse (though three teams are on course to be worse than that this year). The 2009 Browns situation is far more dire than that of the 2000 Pats, so you’re analogy is flawed Eric.

Q: At the risk of going where you don't want to go, do you and Bill have a relationship today?

Mangini: We haven't talked in a long time, but I appreciate the things he taught me and the opportunities he gave me. [My oldest son] Luke's middle name is William because he was born right when I got the job in New York. When we were leaving [New England] Bill had done so much that [our son] became Luke William after Bill. Jake (Mangini's middle son) has Harrison as a middle name, after Rodney Harrison because Rodney at the AFC Championship Game said, "I'd like to thank the Lord, Jesus Christ, and Eric Mangini." My wife saw that, and I said we should name our son Rodney. She said she really liked the name Harrison, so he became Jake Harrison. So we stayed with football middle names, and with Zack (his youngest) when I was recruiting Brett [Favre], I said, "Look we're about to have a baby, and every baby we've had the middle name is after someone who's been important in this football career and our lives. I'm going to commit right now to giving him the middle name of Brett because I know you're going to be important in my career," which he was. And the strangest thing is that Zack was born on Brett's birthday. We did that months and months ahead of time, and he was early. So we have Jake Harrison, Luke William and Zack Brett.

Who cares?

Q: I've seen some teams that have trouble scoring, but nothing like this ... and I mean dating back to last year. What's going on?

Mangini: It's been frustrating, and what's frustrating is the amount of self-inflicted wounds. Now where we've been great is penalties. We're number one in the NFL in penalties, but we hired Dick McKenzie, who once was the head of officials. He does our challenges at the games, but he coaches our officials every day. So we have a coach for our officials who officiate practice, and they've been great.

We track every penalty every day, and we went from 32nd in the NFL last year to first this year. And that's a sign of discipline. That's a sign of growth.

When I look at some of the scoring plays we have ... like last week [against Chicago], there's a second down, and we fumble the snap. We actually have the play blocked up pretty well, and on third down D.A. goes to the fade instead of to the snag because the first time we ran the play the snag wasn't open. So instead of going through his progression he goes away from it, and now the snag is open and the fade is covered. Those types of things are examples of where it's like, "Look, just stay with what we talked about. We can't have these fumbles. We can't have these turnovers."

Last week we hit Mohamed [Massaquoi] on the 12- or 14-yard line, and he fumbles. We hit Steve Heiden on third-and-5, he gets the first down and he fumbles. It kills you.

In this snippet Mangini does two things: one he states there are positive signs and two he implies that were it not for a few mistakes by players the offense would not be an issue. First, the positive sign, that the penalties are way down, is good, yes. The problem is that your offense is the possibly the worst in the league despite the fact that its made so few penalties. How can that be? What are the real issues here?

The second piece is what really upsets me. You’re the Browns coach, asked about the massive struggles of the offense, and you call out specific mistakes by specific players. No mention of yourself, no mention or your staff. No mention of the offsensive players as a group. Steve Heiden did this. Derek Anderson did that. What a tremendous copout. So he assigns blame to these specific players on these specific plays without mentioning anything else: what’s the implication? That without those types of mistakes we’d be a good offense. That’s ridiculous. No one watching this team feels like if we could only cut down on the turnovers, we’d be even an average offense. Further, the correlation between turnovers per drive and points per drive is actually extremely weak (R^2 value of only 0.226). It can be somewhat counterintuitive until you remember the risk/reward factor. New Orleans runs a very open, aggressive offense. It ranks 27th in turnovers per drive, and yet leads the league in points per drive. We’re running one of the most conservative offenses in the league and yet we still rank 31st or 32nd in every offensive measure, including turnovers. The only one we don’t, actually, is starting field position, where we rank 9th. So we’re number one in fewest turnovers, top ten in starting field position, and still dead last in points per drive. PROVIDE SOME INSIGHT MANGINI.

Of course, what’s the follow-up? Nothing.

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