Mangini, McDaniels have much to learn

BY foxsports • June 2, 2009

This column started with the premise that Eric Mangini, the new head coach of the Cleveland Browns, was the Grinch Who Stole Christmas when recently he asked his 19 rookies to serve as volunteer coaches at his high school football camp and then put them on a bus for the 10-hour ride from Ohio to Hartford, his hometown.

It never dawned on those players and their agents, who were anonymously complaining, that the thousands it would have cost Mangini to pay for airplane tickets would have been money better spent on the kids. Isn't that what volunteer work is all about? A little sacrifice?

With millions of Americans unemployed, some of these young men felt obligated to get onto the bus, fearful that Mangini might be less compassionate when cut time came around if they didn't volunteer. I guess that makes a little sense. But we all know that Mangini is like most coaches: they will employ the best player regardless of character. Mangini, already fired once for losing, knows he has to win to remain employed.

Still, this Mangini decision was viewed in some NFL circles as a coach over-reaching in the authority department. Some may file it under questionable common sense. Knowing Mangini, he probably never considered there would be any negative consequences when he asked his rookies to spend a couple days volunteering. Which brings me to today's NFL primer — "How to Mold the Next Great NFL Head Coach."

The landscape in this business is forever changing. Believe it or not, there are 11 new head coaches this season when compared to the start of the 2008 season. Granted, Tom Cable in Oakland and Mike Singletary in San Francisco were elevated to full-time capacity after replacing Lane Kiffin and Mike Nolan during last season, respectively. And everyone knew that then-assistants Jim Mora would be the boss in Seattle and Jim Caldwell in Indianapolis. Still, that leaves six new faces and one retread (Mangini) with the seven other teams. And, honestly, there are big question marks about all 11 coaches, although Mora did win briefly in Atlanta with Michael Vick.

There is no question that the league and its owners are going younger and cheaper in the coaching department. That makes sense if they hit on the next Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh's 37-year-old wunderkind and Super Bowl winner. But even Tomlin endured a serious learning curve in Year One (10-6, first-round playoff loss) and made clear adjustments in Year Two (12-4, Super Bowl champion).

Here's some kind advice for all the young coaches trying to be the NFL's next "genius" ...

It sure helps with a strong, worldly-in-football owner.

  • There are many in Michigan who don't believe the Fords know much about building cars, let alone running a football team. Does Jim Schwartz really have front-office strength behind him in GM Martin Mayhew?

  • Does Jed York and his father believe in Singletary as much as they do the Santa Clara politicians willing to help with a new stadium?

  • What happened to Broncos owner Pat Bowlen? How does he lose a quarterback and not hire a defensive coach to replace Mike Shanahan?

  • Can Jets owner Woody Johnson have the patience to stick with Rob Ryan even if Mark Sanchez struggles for a year or two?

    Here's some thoughtful advice. Don't try to be the next Belichick.

    Mangini, a former assistant with New England, has gone down this road with mixed results — one playoff appearance with the Jets in three seasons. Ironically, he's now in Cleveland where Belichick didn't receive high marks from the media or fans. Remember, in his first head-coaching gig (1991-95 with Browns, 36-44 overall record) he benched starting QB Bernie Kosar, suffered losing seasons in four of his five years, and went up in flames when then-owner Art Modell bolted to Baltimore. It took Belichick a few years, plus a supportive owner in Bob Kraft, to become the game's greatest coach, comparable to Bill Walsh.

    Ex-Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels went down that Belichick path with quarterback Jay Cutler this offseason, and look where that got the Broncos. Yes, a head coach has to be the boss, but within reason. No young head coach should go to war with his franchise quarterback. They are going to lose every time.

    Listen to your general manager.

    It bugged the heck out of Mike Holmgren that Ron Wolf got as much credit as he did when they turned around the Green Bay Packers in the 1990s. But Holmgren never would have won without Wolf, who had the guts to trade for Brett Favre and also the dollars and sense to pay Reggie White whatever he wanted.

    Look around these new NFL outposts, and with the exception of Indianapolis where Bill Polian and Jimmy Irsay have seen everything, the rest are searching for an identity. I have confidence in the general managers in Kansas City, Seattle and St. Louis, but some of the others aren't loaded with stable winners and common-sense ownership. You can bet that Mangini didn't call owner Randy Lerner about his bus trip; he simply did it.

    A decade or so ago, Raiders owner Al Davis was the perfect sounding board for any young head coach. Look how Jon Gruden grew with the Raiders. Davis' relationship with Kiffin failed and now he's rolling the dice with Cable, a coach who was unknown to him a year or so ago. We all heard Davis at the press conference seeking information on Cable before announcing him as interim coach.

    Tampa Bay has moneyed ownership that stays hidden, and they have turned the Bucs over to two young guys in GM Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris. But it's important for Morris to cool his youthful intensity, which was partly responsible for several recent skirmishes on the practice field during minicamp. Who needs players fighting in May?

    Not everyone thinks like Bill Parcells.

    Just look at what Parcells has done with the Dolphins, especially with Coach Tony Sparano. I'm pretty confident that nobody other than Parcells would have hired Sparano to be a head coach. It was the right call and now Parcells' son-in-law, Scott Pioli, is attempting to pull the same magic with Todd Haley, another Parcells find, in Kansas City. Haley once got in Terrell Owens' face in Dallas, but does that make him Sparano? Still, it is an interesting marriage in Kansas City, one supported fully by owner Clark Hunt, whose strengths are similar to his late father Lamar.

    The overarching lesson for all young head coaches out there: You don't know everything, yet.

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