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Published: Friday, 1/9/2009

Browns' new coach makes good impression

BY TONY GROSSI
(CLEVELAND) PLAIN DEALER
Eric Mangini becomes the Browns head coach at age 37. His mentor, Bill Belichick, took over the Browns at age 38. Eric Mangini becomes the Browns head coach at age 37. His mentor, Bill Belichick, took over the Browns at age 38.
TONY DEJAK / AP Enlarge

BEREA, Ohio - Early in his introductory news conference as the new Browns coach, Eric Mangini disarmed critics who contend he is a humorless replica of Bill Belichick, his taciturn mentor.

Asked how he sold Browns owner Randy Lerner on hiring him so quickly, nine days after only one formal interview, Mangini deadpanned, "I think it starts with my press conferences. The excitement I bring. I can feel it in the room. The

applause is overwhelming."

The self-deprecation played well. From that point on, Man-

gini relaxed and talked more easily about the excitement of returning to the city where his career started and about his hopes to feed its starved fans a winner.

The long shadow of Belichick blanketed the Mangini appointment as 12th full-time Browns coach. Belichick was the last Browns coach of the old era. He created Mangini, molding him from training camp ball boy to defensive protege.

Mangini is the fourth Browns coach of the new era. He separated from Belichick to become New York Jets coach three years ago, invoking his boss' wrath, and now tries to achieve something here that even Belichick couldn't do - win on a consistent basis.

Belichick was 38 when he took the Browns job; Mangini is 37. One difference in their career paths is that Mangini has those three years of head coaching experience from which to learn.

He was 23-26 with the Jets, counting a playoff loss, and had two winning seasons. In Belichick's first three years with

the Browns in the 1990s, he was 20-28 with no winning seasons.

"I learned so many things over the course of those three years that there's no handbook for," Mangini said of his Jets' experience. "Walking into the first day at the Jets, it wasn't like there's a Dummies Guide to head coaching. It's just, there you go.

"A lot of people say there's a lot of things that come up every single day that you don't have scheduled. There might be seven, there might be 10. There's a lot. You learn from those experiences and you grow from them. And I don't just mean the way that I've grown [physically]."

Lerner had no other coach in mind to replace Romeo Crennel other than Bill Cowher, who didn't want to return.

His affinity for Mangini was based largely on his belief that coaches are better the second time around - something the Browns have experienced just once before. Nine of the last 11 Super Bowls have been won by men in their second NFL coaching job. Belichick did it three times with his second team, New England.

Lerner also fell for Mangini's avowed selflessness, which he expressed in the interview and repeated in the news conference when the subject of naming a general manager was raised.

The top choice remains Baltimore pro personnel director George Kokinis, a friend of Mangini's since their days here under Belichick's wing. One-time front-runner Scott Pioli of New England apparently is out and Philadelphia GM Tom Heckert took himself out of consideration yesterday.

Mangini would have to cede contractual football authority to Kokinis for the Ravens to let him go.

"It's not going to be a question of what's defined in the contract," Mangini said. "It's not going to be a question of individual fiefdoms or any of that stuff. To me, that's irrelevant. None of that matters. What matters is the GM and I work together every single day and create decisions that are based on consensus. All the other stuff, how things are designated, doesn't matter."

Mangini had that relationship in New York with GM Mike

Tannenbaum, yet another friend from the Belichick days in Cleveland. But it didn't prevent owner Woody Johnson from firing him the day after the Jets were eliminated from the playoffs.

"I've been on the other side of that table," Mangini said. "I've told people that we feel like it's time to go in a different direction. I understand that conversation. Done that. I've made those calls. I respect the fact they made the decision they made. I really appreciate the opportunity."

Although nothing is official, Mangini intends to name Jets quarterbacks coach Brian Daboll his offensive coordinator and Oakland defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to head his defense.

It didn't sound as if Mangini would retain many, if any, of the Crennel assistants.

"I'm sure there's some excellent coaches," he said. "They just might not be the right fit right now."

As for Crennel, Mangini expressed the hope the deposed head coach might stay in an unspecified role, but nothing is certain. Mangini was emphatic that he would not switch to a conventional 4-3 defensive alignment because he likes the versatility inherit in the 3-4 defense. His defense won't be much different in style from the one Crennel fielded for four seasons.

But players will find the new sheriff a less sympathetic one than Crennel. Discipline was a calling card of Mangini's in New York.

"One of the things I explain right off in the first meeting with players is that rules are in place to give us the best possible working environment," he said. "It's a very diverse population. A lot of people have to work together and an environment has to be created where you can be successful. That's why we have rules. That being said, if the rules are broken, there's consequences and those are strictly enforced."



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