Waaay back at the start of the year, when the Browns gave the Minnesota Vikings a run for their money in the first game of the season, I predicted they had a shot at five wins. That was only half a joke. Five wins is lousy no matter how you slice it. However, considering the Browns track record in the past ten seasons and the rudderless mess that head coach Eric Mangini inherited after four years of Romeo Crennel's ineptitude, five wins seemed almost optimistic. It's hard to win games with bad players, but good coaching has a way of squeezing out a victory here and there.
I was ridiculed as delusional, and rightly so. There was no water from rocks. There were only rocks. Really crappy rocks. By the time the Browns were 1-11, it seemed that Mangini's doom was sealed. With a team record for futility well within reach, no way would he be invited back for a second season. Then something funny happened. Suddenly, things clicked. The Browns won out, finishing 5-11. Mind you, my predictions are almost always wrong, and when it comes to intuiting Cleveland teams, it bears keeping in mind that crazy shit is the norm, and even the most educated guess is no more than a shot in the dark. I was right this time, though, and Mangini deserves some praise for making me not look like a total idiot.
Is he the right coach for this team? I don't know and I'm not sure newly hired team president Mike Homgren does either. Much was written about how despised Mangini is by his players, but, teams that tune out their coach tend not to finish seasons with four consecutive wins, and they certainly don't congratulate him with a Gatorade shower in the season finale. Holmgren will decide Mangini's fate as soon as tomorrow. He will certainly consider these facts before meeting with the coach:
-A four game winning streak is the most for any Browns team since 1994.
-The Browns, after years of sloppy, undisciplined play, led the league in fewest penalties.
-The endless off-field distractions (Kellen Winslow's bitching, Braylon Edwards histrionics, Donte Stallworth killing a guy with his car) finally vanished when Edwards was banished to the Jets.
-The Browns won five games with no backfield, no linebackers, no receivers, no quarterback, a broken down running back and what may qualify as the least talented roster in the league.
-Two close losses against the Bengals and Lions could have gone either way. The Browns were an eyelash from seven wins.
-Mangini started winning by adapting to the team's strengths. That meant ditching the passing game and running the hell out of the ball.
-He beat the Steelers, for crying out loud!
-Holmgren and the Browns really have nothing to lose by retaining Mangini for one more year. If the coach fails, well, he was someone else's hire, after all.
Though too little and far too late, Mangini did turn the season around to some degree. An unwatchable team had become tolerably watchable. I, for one, would like to see what he can do with more talent. I'm not sure how avidly Mike Holmgren reads McBone, but let this be our plea to him to put some players on the field and give coach the second season he has earned.