First Casualty

Published 1:39 am Tuesday, November 3, 2009

BEREA — The Cleveland Browns invisible general manager has disappeared.

George Kokinis, the hand-picked GM of first-year coach Eric Mangini who was rarely seen or heard in Cleveland, left the team Monday under unexplained circumstances after less than one year on the job.

After reports surfaced that Kokinis was fired, the team issued an awkwardly worded statement saying Kokinis “is no longer actively involved with the organization.” The Browns also denied reports that Kokinis was escorted from team headquarters.

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Kokinis’ apparent ouster came one day after Browns owner Randy Lerner said he wanted to hire a “strong, credible, serious” football adviser to help run his struggling 1-7 team. Kokinis was hired on Jan. 23, two weeks after the Browns named Mangini as their fourth coach since 1999.

But the Mangini-Kokinis team has been broken up, forcing Lerner to look quickly for help. One possibility could be Ernie Accorsi, who was Cleveland’s GM from 1985-92, when the Browns went to three AFC title games with Bernie Kosar at quarterback.

Kosar was recently brought in by Lerner to serve in an unspecified consulting role. Accorsi could take over the vacant GM position and serve as a mentor until Kosar is ready. Accorsi was the New York Giants’ GM for nine years before retiring after the 2006 season. His biggest move was a trade with San Diego for quarterback Eli Manning.

Mangini said he would welcome anyone who could help the Browns get better.

“If you can add quality people that can help you get better, then you do that,” he said. “You’re always searching for those opportunities.”

The Browns said they would withhold further comment of Kokinis’ situation “in the interest of protecting the parties involved.”

Citing unnamed team and league sources, reported that Kokinis refused to resign when pressed by Lerner, who then persisted in seeking a dismissal “for cause.” The report said the team’s security and legal department were reviewing phone records to build its case against Kokinis.

Before coming to Cleveland, Kokinis spent 13 years with Baltimore, the past six seasons as the Ravens’ director of pro personnel. He had little or no authority with the Browns as Mangini, who was fired by the New York Jets after last season, has enjoyed full control over football operations.

Kokinis’ strange departure is the latest twist for the Browns, the closest thing the NFL has to a daily soap opera.

Already in Mangini’s first year in Cleveland, the Browns have dealt with a lengthy list of on- and off-the-field circumstances.

Mangini was criticized for making his rookies take a 10-hour bus ride to his football camp in Connecticut and later for fining one of his players $1,701 for not paying for a $3 bottle of water during a hotel stay. There’s been the ongoing quarterback saga involving Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn, the trade of wide receiver Braylon Edwards two days after he allegedly punched a friend of NBA star LeBron James, a flu outbreak that hit 12 players, cornerback Eric Wright’s car accident and other situations.

And of course, there has been the losing, something the Mangini-Kokinis team was supposed to fix.

Kokinis essentially was hand-picked by Mangini to be his GM. The two worked together under former Browns coach Bill Belichick in the 1990s.

Kokinis attended Cleveland’s 30-6 loss in Chicago on Sunday. He sat in the press box and had little interaction with anyone, which has been his customary mode of operation since the day he joined the Browns. Kokinis had not formally spoken to Cleveland media members since draft day in April.

He was usually on the field during training camp practices, but Kokinis never held court with reporters like his predecessor, Phil Savage, routinely did for four years. When the Browns traded Edwards to the Jets last month, it was Mangini and not Kokinis who explained Cleveland’s decision to deal one of its only stars.

And now Kokinis has left, gone without a word.