Browns have a new Man(gini)
On one of the recovery days he built into his team’s training
camp schedule, Eric Mangini leans back in a plush chair inside his
apartment-sized office overlooking the Browns’ lush practice
fields, spits tobacco juice into an empty cup and lets out a hearty
It’s been a wonderful second summer back in Ohio for Cleveland’s
Last year, the laughter was limited.
He’s a changed Mangini. Some say a better Mangini.
The family’s great. He’s dropped a few pounds. His team is
downstairs working hard, lifting weights as they prepare for their
Sept. 4 opener at Tampa Bay riding an improbable four-game winning
streak that ended last season and saved Mangini’s job.
Life is good for the man tagged both genius and idiot during his
Relaxed and tanned in a golf shirt, shorts and sandals, Mangini
is confident and upbeat during a one-hour-plus visit on a late
August afternoon with a whisper of autumn’s chill in the air. As a
grounds crew relines the hash marks outside, the 39-year-old
Mangini candidly discussed everything from LeBron’s departure to
the benefits of biofeedback to his off-season TV viewing
No, he hasn’t been watching HBO’s popular football reality
series, ”Hard Knocks,” an R-rated insider’s look at the New York
Jets, his former team. For Mangini, seeing the Jets trudge through
the paces of camp only triggers thoughts of a year he’d like to
”I lived Hard Knocks last season,” he says, cracking himself
up. ”Except that the soundtrack was all boos. It can’t get any
harder than that.”
Hard doesn’t come close to describing Mangini’s first season in
It was, by all accounts, a nightmare. Players and fans revolted
against him. The media punished him. His hand-picked general
manager quit. The Browns stunk.
He served as Cleveland’s coach, president, GM and franchise
frontman for much of it, and came within an eyelash of being fired
from his second team in two seasons. But just when all seemed lost,
Mangini was spared by new team president Mike Holmgren, who perhaps
understood Mangini’s predicament better than anyone.
”I’ve been there,” said Holmgren, hired in December to make
over an inept franchise that hasn’t sniffed glory in decades. ”I
know what it’s like to be a coach, and I know how tough it to turn
things around quickly. I felt Eric needed and deserved more
Mangini got it, and given the surprising reprieve, he’s making
the most of a second chance – one that’s coming with a Super
Bowl-championship coach peering over his shoulder while driving a
golf cart during practice that has a COACH HOLMGREN sticker on the
Holmgren, though, swears he’s not preparing to push Mangini
aside and return to the sideline.
Not unless he has to.
”I am aware of his position and what that means,” Holmgren
said. ”I had that position a long time. Eric’s got a tough job.
This is his team. I’m just here to help him.”
Mangini is safe. As long as the Browns get better – a lot
”Want something to drink?” he asks.
Mangini ducks into the kitchen area inside his tastefully
decorated office and returns with a bottle of water like the $3 one
he charged Braylon Edwards $1,701 for last season, when the brash
wide receiver refused to pay his hotel incidental during a road
Mangini hardly allowed anyone inside his inner sanctum last
season to explain what he was trying to accomplish on and off the
field. He was guarded, even secretive.
Well, he’s loosened up. He can still be a hard you-know-what if
called for, but at the urging of Holmgren, his wife, Julie, and
others who know Mangini as caring, loyal and quick-witted, he’s
learned that he doesn’t have to put on the head coaching face
He needed to be himself. Last year, Mangini tried to too hard to
emulate Bill Belichick or Bill Parcells – his coaching mentors.
When he spoke to the Browns in meetings, their voices filled his
head. What came out, came across as insincere, and he paid for
”The thing I find with my kids is I’ll talk to them in my
father’s voice sometimes,” said Mangini, whose dad suffered a
fatal heart attack when he was 16. ”I can hear his voice as I say
something or as something is said to me. I have to say, ‘OK, now I
need to put this in my voice.’
”The same thing happens in football. When you are raised by two
very strong figures like Bill and Bill, you tend to hear their
voice a lot. I’m learning more need to put lessons in my voice and
I need to deliver it in my style.”
That’s what he’s doing now, and it seems to be working.
”I think the players get me a heck of a lot more than they did
last year,” he said. ”I think I’ve worked a lot harder to show
who I am. It’s easy to get so caught up in what you’re doing that
you forget about just being a part of the group and letting them
see the things you believe in and the person you are outside of
being the head coach.”
His desk is clutter free. There are scouting reports and
evaluations stacked neatly across from a flat-screen TV paused on a
play from the Browns’ home game against St. Louis a few nights
earlier. To his left, a copy of ”Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to
Inner Excellence,” rests on its open pages.
The wooden bookshelves contain family photos, and there’s a
Darth Vader mask – a Halloween costume – strangely occupying one of
the cubby holes. Hmm, the dark side.
Mangini’s reputation preceded him to Cleveland. Once his
honeymoon ended after only one playoff appearance in New York, he
was cast as a villain. Control freak. Arrogant. Ruthless. And those
were some of the nicer things said about Mangini.
Still, Browns owner Randy Lerner hired him hoping Mangini would
be humbled by his failure with the Jets. But Mangini only seemed
more empowered to do things his way, and with no football executive
to manage him, it didn’t take long for things to unravel.
He was condemned for forcing rookies to take a 10-hour bus trip
– to his football camp in Connecticut. Players complained about the
length of practices and filed union grievances. He fined players
for parking in the wrong stall. He was trying to instill
But it came across as petty, and he was lambasted by the
national media. One magazine described him as Augustus Gloop, the
fictional fat boy from ”Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
When the Browns started 1-11, his fate seemed sealed. Holmgren,
it was assumed, would begin his tenure with a new coach. But a
funny thing happened on the way to Mangini’s firing. Cleveland won
and won and won and won again.
”I still don’t know how they did it,” said Holmgren, marveling
that the Browns completed just 31 passes combined in the four
Mangini views the late surge as proof that his system was taking
”When guys finally got it, we played a certain way, which is
the way I envisioned us playing each week,” he said. ”We won and
we were rewarded for that effort. I think part of that was the
growth of the relationship I had with the players and they had with
me and the staff. It wasn’t just player-coach, it was person to
person. Everybody understood we were all working toward the same
He has lightened up. Mangini’s daily news briefings last season
were often painful. He didn’t duck questions, he just rarely
answered them. This year, he’s offering more insight into the
team’s direction. He gave players time off during camp. He’s
”Oh, no,” Pro Bowl return specialist Josh Cribbs said,
grinning. ”Same guy, same coach. He’s more experienced with the
guys. He has a year under his belt. You know that we just got to do
what he says, and that’s it. You can’t argue about it. He’s the
coach and what he says goes.”
Holmgren has no regrets about keeping Mangini, and believes
their relationship is growing deeper each day. Their bond hasn’t
been tested but will be if the Browns, who have a difficult
schedule with six games in the nasty AFC North, start slowly.
Mangini loves the help he’s getting from his boss.
”Feedback allows you to adjust your path,” he said. ”If
you’re just going to do what you without caring what anybody says
or caring what anybody thinks or the values they can add, you lose
the chance to get better.”