BEREA (AP) — Just hours after Cleveland’s fired general manager walked down the front steps in disgrace carrying his belongings in travel bags, two disgruntled fans climbed the same steps inside the team’s headquarters for a meeting with the team’s camera-shy owner.
One of them wore a plastic dog bone hat. He used to go to games dressed as a french fry.
Welcome to the bizarre world of the Browns. Once a flagship NFL franchise, now seen as a farce. The Oakland Raiders of the Midwest.
Halfway through coach Eric Mangini’s first season, the Browns (1-7) are tumbling at an alarming rate. They reached their open week in such disrepair — their offense is ranked 31st, their defense 32nd — it may take years from them to get fixed.
Inept. Overmatched. Laughable. Embarrassing.
All of those words have been used to describe this team, starting quarterback Derek Anderson, Mangini and owner Randy Lerner.
On the field, the Browns are terrible. Off it, they are in turmoil.
Last week, Lerner fired GM George Kokinis, a dismissal that followed the resignation of Erin O’Brien, Mangini’s personal assistant in New York who worked as a team operations director in Cleveland.
Also, former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar has been brought in as a consultant and the team is searching for an experienced executive, “an overarching person” as someone in the organization put it, to run its football department and oversee a new GM.
The Browns seemingly need an intervention. They need help, and the season is only half over.
“We’re just going with the flow,” Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas said.
Fired after last season by the New York Jets, Mangini came to Cleveland with a plan to restore the Browns, bring them back to respectability, make them winners again.
He brought in 10 former Jets, overhauled the roster with 25 new players — so far. He traded offensive stars and headaches Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards, benched quarterback Brady Quinn for Anderson just 10 quarters into the season, and may make a switch again.
Nothing has worked.
“It takes time,” Mangini said.
He may be running out of it.
Although Lerner offered his support to Mangini, saying he could not envision any scenario in which he would make a coaching change in 2010, if the next eight games go as poorly as the first eight, he may have little choice but to replace his coach.
Mangini may have reasons to be nervous.
Lerner’s firing of Kokinis seemed to strip the coach of power. Kokinis was Mangini’s hand-picked choice, hired away from Baltimore and reuniting two friends who worked together in the 1990s in Cleveland as underlings to then-coach Bill Belichick.
But from the start, the Kokinis-Mangini management marriage seemed destined for a divorce. The two were rarely seen together and when Kokinis addressed the media before April’s draft, Mangini sat a few feet away on the dais shooting his GM a watch-what-you-say glare.
Kokinis’ stunning and strange ouster came less than 24 hours after Lerner said he wanted to bring in a “strong, credible leader” to oversee the club’s football operations. That would mean filling an executive void the Browns have not addressed since their expansion return in 1999.
Lerner, who has yet to address the media on the firing, had hoped Kokinis would evolve into that person. But did Mangini give his friend the freedom to grow?
Kokinis was all but invisible during his nine months on the job. When the club traded Edwards to the Jets last month, it was Mangini who explained the rational to the media. Kokinis was never heard from, a strong sign he had already lost whatever authority and stature he had been given.
Now, Lerner is looking for his third GM in less than a year — Phil Savage was fired in December — and Mangini believes he will have input into the next hiring.
“Randy and I talk a lot,” Mangini said, “so I’m sure we’ll be very engaged in that [decision].”