Saturday, June 06, 2009

Lingering Items--Born In the USA Edition

As still another off-season Camp Mangini winds it way down, there is a real sense of déjà vu all over again about this Cleveland Browns team.

Let’s see, the Browns haven’t yet landed on a starter at quarterback. That’s got a familiar ring to it. A new offense is being installed. Been there, seen that. A few veterans aren’t happy with their contacts. Yawn. Wake me when something actually happens that’s different.

Actually, despite the painfully familiar tone to the Browns at the moment, there really are fundamental changes taking place underneath. Mangini, for all the paranoia and insecurity he brings to his position, has quickly established himself as the face and voice of the Browns as he tries to deliver to the fans the relative glory days of the late 1980s. True, that may not be saying much given the rather low profile owner Randy Lerner has always taken, but in ways that former coach Romeo Crennel never did, Mangini has positioned himself as the voice of authority on a team that’s needed some solid parenting and not the extended visit it’s had for the last several years from the good time favorite uncle.

It may seem rather high schoolish to have professional ballplayers run laps when they forget the snap count or execute the wrong play. But one of the bigger problems on this team under Crennel was its rather casual approach to the fundamentals. Having eschewed any interest in them it wasn’t much of a surprise that they struggled executing more complex concepts.

A far more interesting development has been Mangini’s unwillingness to name a starting quarterback some 10 weeks before the first preseason game is played. Never having coached either Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson, it’s a pretty understandable posture. Mangini seems to have taken a measured approach to this, indicating over time the starter will essentially reveal himself. It will be based on amorphous concepts like huddle presence as well as the tangible results from the practice and preseason fields.

Nothing earth shattering in any of that, but the thing to keep in mind is that not all competitions are created equally. It’s simply far-fetched to believe that Mangini won’t have or doesn’t have a favorite, even if undeclared, going forward. While Mangini will no doubt keep both Quinn and Anderson dancing in the dark, mainly because Mangini likes others to share his own healthy sense of paranoia, the so-called competition isn’t likely to be evaluated simply on a bald comparison of the two’s results.

Whoever is Mangini’s undeclared favorite will be evaluated in the context of it being his job to lose. The underdog then gets evaluated in terms of whether or not he did enough to unseat the favorite. The distinction between that and an open competition may be subtle but it is significant. More to the point though, it isn’t a bad thing, particularly in the context of these two quarterbacks.

Fans clearly have their favorite so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the coach probably has one as well. Things may be rough, but they’ll just get rougher if a starter doesn’t emerge or if one performs better but the other is chosen starter.

If neither player is able to grab the reigns, then this team has a leadership problem and it will matter little who ultimately gets the start. That would be big trouble and it’s worth noting that the coaching staff seemed to think this could happen by at least floating rumors out there about acquiring another quarterback in the run up to the draft. Maybe that was just a way of making freight trains run through the middle of his quarterbacks heads, but, on the other hand you can’t start a fire without a few sparks.

If one plays better but the other is named starter, then there will be a credibility problem. Think back to the last two pre-seasons. No matter which quarterback you prefer, there’s no question that Quinn looked better in those games. But Rob Chudzinksi had a favorite, and that was the bigger arm of Anderson, and as a result Quinn sat.

That process worked well for one season and was a disaster the next. But beyond all that, it put the players into either a Quinn or an Anderson camp, just one of the dozens of unhealthy developments that emerged under the prior regime.

Mangini has done a decent job of asserting his authority. But that’s the easy part. The hard part will come in exercising it appropriately.


Never underestimate the value of public relations professionals within an organization. I can’t help but think, for example, that many of the Browns’ initial missteps in their rollout of the two-headed Mangini/Kokinis hydra could have been avoided had they not just gotten rid of their p.r. staff. Lesson learned, perhaps.

For pure spin, you’d have trouble finding anything more enticing then the announcement a few days ago that the Browns and the Indians were teaming up on a unique partnership to peddle unsold loges at each stadium.

According to various reports, the two teams are offering “fans” the chance to purchase a “Touchdown Package” for $15,000. For that they get the chance to watch the Tribe play St. Louis and Detroit and the Browns play Pittsburgh, both from the relative luxury of a suite. There’s also a more moderate package for $10,000 that includes tickets to watch the Indians play St. Louis and Cincinnati and the Browns play the Packers. It’s their lucky day, for sure, all right.

Having spent some time in the suites at both stadiums, I can definitively tell you that neither lacks for luxury or comfort. While some suite locations are better than others, that’s mostly quibbling. I’m trying to play salesman here, but the loges are a nice way to watch a game. The biggest selling point, perhaps, is that they have dedicated bathrooms. Maybe that was a bigger selling point in the days of Municipal Stadium, but it’s still a pretty good selling point nonetheless.

The question is whether or not you have a spare 10 or 15 grand floating around to take advantage of that privilege. Of course you don’t, even if you’re all day working on the highway laying down some blacktop. But don’t worry; you’re not the fans either team has in mind.

The back story in all of this is that a bad local economy has caused many businesses to feel like they’ve been working at a car wash where all it ever does is rain. It’s forced them to rethink how they spend their entertainment dollars, assuming they have any to spare. With both teams struggling on the field, a business trying to balance budgets against that backdrop makes the decision not to splurge on a loge a little easier. Many businesses right now don’t feel their missing out on entertainment opportunities by not purchasing a full season loge. In truth, if you really want to take a customer to a game, there’s plenty of tickets available right up to game time.

While the two teams are certainly to be applauded for being innovative, undoubtedly they both see this as a stop gap measure. For each team to be financially successful, they need full commitments on their loges before the seasons start. Right now it seems like there ain’t nobody that wants to come down there no more. The ability of the Indians to sell the 43 loges that are unsold this season may not have a direct line relationship to their ability to re-sign Cliff Lee, but it isn’t exactly an indirect line either. Both teams need this kind of revenue to remain competitive.

If there is any good news in this it’s that most other teams are struggling on the same streets with their lights growing dim and their access to ancillary revenue growing slim. It’s hard to get solid figures on where the Indians, for example, stand relative to their peers on this issue, but undoubtedly every team is sitting in that same lonely motel room with only a radio playing as they contemplate their dwindling luxury revenue at the moment. If this maneuver ends up giving both teams a competitive advantage, you can bet other teams in other cities will follow suit.


It was interesting that David Stern said earlier this week that he still needed to talk to LeBron James before deciding whether or not to fine him for not shaking hands with the Orlando Magic players after game 6 and for not attending the post-game press conference; interesting because a day later Stern announced he was fining James $25,000 for those transgression.

On the day that fine was announced, James was also named the 19th most powerful celebrity in the recent annual rankings by Forbes magazine. James is on the list not only for his money but his influence. He’s got the money. He can rock all night. In fact, the $25,000 fine represents about .000625% of James’ reported $40,000,000/year income. For perspective, it’s the equivalent of a $46 fine to someone making $75,000/year. In other words, it’s not even a parking ticket. More like a night at the Regal Cinema.

The fact that Stern fined James so quickly after saying he would take his time sure sounds like the amount and announcement was coordinated with James. Stern probably made the point to James that he had to be consistent in approach and James probably said “whatever.”

The question about James’ conduct after the game six loss has received roughly the same media play as President Obama’s speech in Egypt but has been far more passionately presented. Frankly, it’s only an issue because it’s James. Nobody much cares if Wally Szcerbiak does the same thing.

James is the face of the NBA, a position he’s courted through word and deed. It does come with responsibility and my sense is that he recognizes that as well. But after everything James did to will the team to victory, he undoubtedly felt like a dog that had been beaten too much and decided to just walk away.

In the grand scale of misdeeds, this isn’t worth the mention, so I’ll do what pretty much everyone else talking about it should have done and stop.


Twenty-five years ago this week, one of life’s seminal albums by life’s seminal artist was released, Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen This album more than any other solidified Springsteen as a cultural icon and treasure that he will forever remain and coincidentally launched the career of Courtney Cox. It leads to this week’s question to ponder: It’s 10 more years burning down the road, is Mangini still leading the Browns?

No comments: