Experience could serve Mangini wellZac Jackson, Staff Writer
Eric Mangini has been here before.
His story here - as in Berea, starting as a ball boy 14 years ago - has been well documented.
But he's been "here," in the head coach's office, before. And that might be one of the biggest reasons the Browns moved so quickly to make Mangini their new head coach.
Mangini becomes the 12th full-time coach in Browns history and the first the team has hired since 1970 with prior NFL head-coaching experience. His last three seasons leading the Jets - two of them winning seasons - were his first three as a head coach.
He was 35 and the league's youngest head coach when he started in 2006, and he was asked during his introductory press conference Thursday how far he's come as a coach since then.
His answer: "I'd say light years is a fair assessment."
If that experience can help the Browns and Mangini - a wiser, battle-tested Mangini - on their path towards establishing a consistent winner, the Browns have made the right hire.
Mangini emphasized Thursday that he was proud of the work he'd done at the Jets and the program he was building. And he insinuated that lessons he learned along the way would help him - and the Browns - going forward.
"When you take that first job," Mangini said, "you're trying to figure out what next step is, whether it be the draft, free agency, hiring coaches, hiring a support staff, assessing the players you have, assessing the organization.
"You've never done a practice script, you've never put together an offseason calendar, you've never talked about an offseason weight program. You've never hired a nutritionist or a sports psychologist. There's a million firsts in that process."
In his first year in New York, the Jets won 10 games and went to the playoffs. Replicating that here would have Browns fans doing kartwheels down I-77.
That's not to say 2009 will be a failure if the Browns don't reach double-digit wins or the postseason. It will be a success if Mangini's Browns are disciplined, play smart and aggressive football and make improvements, both subtle and the kind the show up on the stat sheet, from last season. First things first.
"Being able to go through those the first year, access it, you get the formula you think is going to be successful," Mangini said. "That formula is always open to improve, but it's not same level of firsts.
"Right now what we've got to do is finish the search for the GM, hire the staff, assess the players that are here and then build a plan to continue to improve the players that are here and to develop the best possible ways to bring in other players that can continue to help us succeed."
Mangini becomes the fourth head coach since the Browns returned to the NFL and probably the first of those four to inherit any substantial veteran talent. He's already said he'll stay in the 3-4 defense, but just how many players return from last year's team and what their roles will be remains to be seen; free agency in the ever-changing NFL is just seven weeks away.
Very soon, Mangini will start putting his stamp on the Browns - his Browns - and beginning that process of trying to build a consistent winner. He needs to build a staff, prepare for free agency and the draft and start preparing to try to beat the Ravens and the Steelers.
He knows Cleveland, and he knows it's never too early for that.
"There's a lot of things I believe in terms of types of players we're going to bring in," Mangini said. "It's something I did on the first or second day I was with the Jets and it's something that will be going on (upstairs) here very shortly. There are very specific characteristics that I look for.
"I look for guys that are smart, I look for guys that are tough, I look for guys that are hard-working and I look for guys who are competitive. And I don't mean just a little competitive. I mean they want to win whether they're playing checkers, whether they're in a sack race, they're competitive.
"I want guys that are selfless. And I want guys that football's truly important to, that have a passion for the game. Those things are going to go in the draft room, they're going to go in the pro personnel room and when we talk about a player, the first thing I'm going to say is 'What's he like? Does he meet the four characteristics?' That to me, that's always the starting point."
Mangini and the Browns have started. It seems the ingredients are there for the kind of finish Browns fans have been waiting for.