Mangini returns for 2nd year

Published 1:31 am Friday, January 8, 2010

CLEVELAND — Eric Mangini pulled off his biggest win yet.

Mangini will return for a second season as Cleveland’s coach, a surprising personal victory following a four-game winning streak by the Browns that may have saved his job. New team president Mike Holmgren decided Thursday to retain Mangini, whose job seemed to be slipping away after the Browns started 1-11.

Mangini’s staff has been asked to return as well.

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Holmgren spent the past two days in meetings with Mangini, who was fired after last season by the New York Jets and had a turbulent first year in Cleveland.

“I was able to gain some tremendous insight into his thought process and philosophies, and came away from our meetings very impressed,” Holmgren said in a statement. “In my opinion, Eric has gained the respect and admiration of players, coaches and others in the organization, and with him continuing to lead the team I feel that we are headed in the right direction.

“Working together, our goal is to build on the strong tradition of this franchise and help get the Browns back to the playoffs.”

Mangini felt confident all along that he would be back despite signs that the team was planning to go in another direction. Browns owner Randy Lerner did not attend any of the club’s final three games, and there were reports that Holmgren was already lining up possible replacements.

Instead, Holmgren elected continuity over a swift coaching purge and decided one year was not a fair barometer to judge Mangini, Cleveland’s fourth coach since 1999.

“I want to thank Mike for the opportunity to not only meet with him and share my thoughts and vision on what it takes to lead a team, but also to continue what we started here,” Mangini said. “I believe we made some real, tangible progress throughout the course of the season, culminating with wins in our final four games. I feel as though the culture and mindset that we established this year have laid the foundation for success in 2010 and beyond, and I’m looking forward to working with Mike and a general manager in making this happen.”

During his introductory news conference Tuesday, Holmgren said that “absolutely” Mangini had a legitimate chance of keeping his job. Cleveland’s new boss kept his word and evidently liked what he heard from Mangini, whose first season with the Browns was anything but smooth.

Players questioned his methods. Fans wanted him fired. The national media scorned him.

Mangini survived.

Although he and Mangini have different offensive and defensive philosophies, Holmgren apparently found enough common ground to want to work with his inherited coach. Holmgren’s decision to keep Mangini, who has three years left on his contract, comes with risk.

If the Browns don’t start well next season, the focus will shift to whether Holmgren will return to the sideline. Earlier this week, the 61-year-old Holmgren, who won an NFL title with Green Bay and took Seattle to its only Super Bowl appearance, said he has no plans to coach in Cleveland.

“I did it,” Holmgren said. “It was so much fun. I enjoyed it. I miss it, and I know I’m going to miss it. My challenge is to take my new role, help whoever the coach is be as successful as he can be and understand that. I’m in a different place now.”

Mangini was granted a second season one day shy of his first anniversary with the Browns, who hired him on Jan. 8 last year. He avoided joining an infamous club with Ray Rhodes, who was fired by two teams after two full consecutive seasons.

Now that Cleveland’s coaching situation is resolved, Holmgren can move down his to-do list.

He will interview Seattle pro personnel director Will Lewis on Friday for the club’s GM position. Lewis has a strong background with Holmgren, working with him in Green Bay and Seattle. After his playing career ended, Lewis was a scout with the Packers before following Holmgren to Seattle, where he joined the team’s pro personnel department.

Holmgren’s interview with Lewis, who is black, fulfills the Browns’ obligation to comply with the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching jobs and other key positions.

On Wednesday, Holmgren interviewed Philadelphia GM Tom Heckert. Per league rules, the Browns would have to wait until the Eagles season ends before they could hire Heckert.

Holmgren may also try to patch up a messy spat with Pro Bowl return specialist Josh Cribbs, who is upset with the club for not giving him a new contract. Cribbs and his agents blasted the team for their latest offer of $1.4 million per year. Cribbs has three years left on his current deal, but believes he has outperfomed it and should be rewarded for a strong season.

Cribbs cleaned out his locker at the team’s facility on Thursday. He told The Associated Press he feels its “unlikely” that he’ll play again for the Browns.

“I did all the playing I’m going to play on this contract,” he said. “I ain’t doing nothing, I’m not showing my face until it’s right.”