Saturday, June 13, 2009

Lingering Items-Fascination Edition

The fascinating thing about Cleveland Browns head coach Eric Mangini’s approach to almost everything is how much it stands in stark contrast to that of his predecessor, Romeo Crennel. It’s fascinating because both coaches, presumably, have the same coaching lineage.

If the two were brothers, undoubtedly Crennel would be Fredo Corleone and Mangini would be Michael. Cold, calculating, standoffish and paranoid almost to a fault, Mangini is almost all business. Crennel, on the other hand, came across as a patsy put in charge while others more devious (can you say “Phil Savage?”) played the part of Moe Greene. If it was a good-time-let-the-inmates-run-the-asylum approach you coveted, Crennel was your man.

Right now, Mangini seems to be settling all family business once and for all. He quickly put both Shaun Rogers and Josh Cribbs in line. Phil Dawson will be next. He’s sent a message to all the veterans that their personal comfort is not a concern by making them practice in the rain during mini-camp. In ways large and small and in ways that Crennel never did, Mangini has established that he’s in charge.

But in thinking about the larger issue as to how someone like Bill Belichick could raise two such disparate sons, I can’t help but conclude that maybe that’s part of Belichick’s underlying genius. Not only do the two represent polar opposites in approach and demeanor but they also are markers for what can make an organization successful.

Any time like-minded group think becomes prevalent an organization puts itself into the wrong kind of red zone. The New England Patriots could never have succeeded if the only voice they ever heard was Belichick’s. Crennel’s demeanor acted as a bit of a balm to the red-ass that Belichick would deliver on a regular basis. And Belichick was smart enough to know that he couldn’t play both roles but that he needed both roles.

When Crennel took over the Browns and throughout his tenure, there was no one delivering the tough love. All the players saw was the father figure who occasionally wagged a disapproving finger. It was as though the players knew that dad would never stay mad at them for too long and they were right. Savage was the designated organizational prick but he was largely a loner and gone too often to be effective. There was no Yin to counter Crennel’s Yang.

With the Mangini regime just getting started, there’s no way yet to know if his staff will be all tough lovers like him or whether one or more of his key coaches will take on a Crennel-like persona as a counterbalance. That, as much as anything else, will determine whether Mangini can be successful and turn his most recent job into an actual career.


Speaking of fascinating, the “news” that the Cleveland Cavaliers front office was on the verge of firing head coach Mike Brown is either the textbook example of all that is bad about the internet or an actual trial balloon floated by the organization to gauge public reaction to something LeBron James might be contemplating.

If it’s the latter, the public seems to have spoken pretty loudly, pretty quickly. At the moment, while fans have their quibbles with Brown, there is absolutely no uprising to get him replaced. I understand the mentality that tends to devalue regular season accomplishments in light of playoff failures. But I’m more in the camp that thinks that getting there is the far harder part, even in a league where seemingly every team makes the playoffs.

Though the NBA puts more teams in the playoffs than either baseball or football, it doesn’t put any more teams in the playoffs with an actual chance at the title than does either of those other sports. The list of teams with an actual chance at the title this year was pretty short, with the Lakers and the Cavs at the top of those lists and the Celtics and Magic maybe one step behind. And guess what? It’s playing out that way.

The NBA playoffs, like those in other sports, expose a team’s weaknesses in a far shorter time frame than the regular season ever could. Certainly Brown made some suspect coaching decisions in the conference finals, but the reason the Cavs lost has more to do with talent than anything else. It’s not that the Cavs weren’t talented. It’s just that they weren’t talented enough. That’s on Danny Ferry more than anyone else.

The larger point, though, is the one made by Bud Shaw in Friday’s Plain Dealer. Brown is around for as long as LeBron James wants him around. It’s probably an exaggeration to say that James is functioning as the de facto general manager/president/head coach, but only slightly. With 2010 being James’ getaway year, the Cavs can’t afford to make any moves that James might not approve. He doesn’t get a vote, certainly, yet he wields the most potent veto imaginable.

James has never given a hint, at least publicly, that he is anything but simpatico with his head coach. Chances are that no matter who was the head coach the last four years, James’ game was going to improve. But under Brown, James has learned defense in ways he might never have and has become a complete player. James was always a better player than Carmelo Anthony, but there was a time when they were close. Anthony is doing fine, but James has lapped him and everyone else is now running neck and neck with the only other car still left in the field, Kobe Bryant. That’s on Brown as much as James.

In the end, the Brown rumors read far more like the sleazy side of the internet where the stock in trade is not just unsubstantiated rumor but outright fiction. The last thing the Cavs need at the moment is the kind of turmoil that comes with a head coaching change. Unless, of course, The Franchise thinks that’s the first thing it needs, in which case it will be time for Brown to find a realtor.


If your fascination runs more in the nature of baseball, you can’t get more fascinating than the American League Central. After taking two of three from the Kansas City Royals, the Indians found themselves 8 games under .500 and only 7 games out of first place. That kind of confluence is hard to find.

What’s even more fascinating is that despite a team that, in mid-June, already has more resemblance to the Columbus Clippers than the team that broke camp in Arizona, being 7 games behind doesn’t seem insurmountable. It’s not that I think they’ll surmount it. It’s just that this division is starting to resemble the AFC West last season. Now, if the Indians can actually play the part of the San Diego Chargers and Detroit crumbles like the Denver Broncos did, then there will be meaningful fall ball in this town.

What helps even more is that the Indians get to keep playing teams within their division. In just the last 10 games, the Indians have picked up two games on the White Sox and three on the Royals, both of whom are also well in the thick of things.

What all this demonstrates more than anything is that every team in the AL Central is deeply flawed. The Royals can pitch but not hit. The White Sox can pitch OK but they can’t score runs. The Twins and the Tigers are simply inconsistent. It’s in this context that it’s wondering what general manager Mark Shapiro plans to do about it.

The Indians have plenty of players in waiting on the disabled list. But it’s not as if they were doing all that much when those players were healthy. A return by Jake Westbrook would be a big bonus, but coming off of arm surgery he’ll at best be a spot contributor for the rest of the season.

Despite all that’s happened both inside and around this team, the keys to its success remain the same—the bullpen. It has settled as of late but that’s only as of late. Whether that’s the blip or what they did earlier in the year is their actual level will take several more weeks to figure out. In the meantime, it would be really nice if they can find starters that can go deeper into a game than 5 innings. Apparently David Huff got that message.


Apropos to nothing about Cleveland sports, but the big news in golf this week is the simultaneous returns of Phil Mickelson and John Daly. Good luck to Phil and his family. As for Daly, he’s one too many beers away from another suspension. In the meantime, he’s the subject of this week’s question to ponder, which is: Given his wardrobe choices of late, is it possible that he lost all his mirrors in his various divorces?

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