After only a few days of training camp, it has become strikingly apparent that new czar Eric Mangini is rapidily ushering in a new era of Browns football. The tenants of Mangini's initial camps have been highlighted by his demanding that players become accountable, mentally tough and combative, strictly in the physical sense. The sea change of culture sweeping into Berea is a complete departure from the Romeo Crennel era teams, which featured a more laid-back, player friendly, summer vacation type of atmosphere.
As often is the case in the NFL, when a team suffers a meltdown, or multiple ones, such as the Browns in 2000, 2004 and 2008, the entire organization undergoes a painful self-examination. The results of these reflections usually leads the team to attempt a quick fix of their organizational wounds by simply doing the opposite of what has previously transpired. Call it the George Costanza Approach to Franchise Management, but this approach often only allows the team to mask the internal problems that continually plague it.
In Cleveland's case, the atmosphere created by the personality of "Uncle Romeo" was manifested in the Browns often inconsistent play of the past few years, stained by an abundance of mental errors and late game breakdowns. Enter Eric Mangini, a disciplinarian cut from the Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick cloth. While Crennel's Browns teams were a reflection of the easy going manner of the veteran coordinator, Mangini is instilling a very distinct brand of old school football, one in which the coach is the absolute ruler and demands his players give everything on the field.
Call it the Good Guy/Bad Guy Theory of NFL Management.
While the early returns on Mangini have been viewed as positive, they are shared with the understanding that the new coach is simply the exact opposite of the old coach. The same argument could have been made in 2005, when the overwhelmed and close-minded Butch Davis fled town, leaving the franchise in a state of ruin. The Butch Davis collapse necessitated the hiring of the more experienced and less tempermental Crennel.
Perhaps the Browns are stuck in an eternal cycle of replacing one nice guy coach with a disciplinarian.
The similarities in terms of total franchise control between Butch Davis and Eric Mangini are eerily similar, as each coach replaced an ineffective leader and instilled a higher degree of physicality within the team. Also, both Davis and Mangini have essentially taken on the role of organizational leader, which is largely the result of an understaffed front office floundering under the hands-off leadership of owner Randy Lerner.
To get another viewpoint regarding the Butch Davis era, which is becoming much more relevant thanks to the presence of another one-man organization in the form of Eric Mangini, I spoke with former Brown Chris Crocker.
Crocker is the one of last Butch Davis era draft picks still producing in the league. After leaving the Browns in 2005, Crocker spent two seasons in Atlanta, had a quick stop in Miami and then settled in Cincinnati last season, where he helped to shore up an improving, young defense in 2008.
Speaking with Crocker after the Bengals evening practice, I quickly got the feeling that he was not prepared to take a trip down memory lane. But then again, after chasing the likes of Chad Ochocinco and Chris Henry all over the field, his time with Butch Davis was probably not the first thing on Crocker's mind.
After stating that he was "thankful" for his time in Cleveland with Davis, Crocker admitted that the experience was "a struggle."
"Wow….Butch. A lot of losses, man. A lot of close losses. Those losses wear on you."
Although Eric Mangini has the benefit of George Kokonis serving as his General Manager, what Mangini is attempting with the current day Browns is very similar to the Butch Davis era. In terms of a coach wearing many different hats, Crocker admits that Davis was overwhelmed at times.
"Butch had a lot of jobs. A lot of jobs…especially for a coach on his first try. I think all those different roles may have been a distraction."
The similarities between Davis and Mangini grow even closer regarding the way each coach runs practice. While Camp Mangini has so far been marked by epic offensive line trench battles and has seen its share of brutal hits, Crocker reveals that the Butch Davis era practices were equally as intense, which may have ultimately hurt the team.
"Butch's practices were intense. Very intense. He didn't cut corners, covered all the nooks and crannies. He got us ready each week. We practiced hard - the league max is 2 hours and 45 minutes and we did that everyday. That wore on the team. But, if you look at those games, all those close losses - we were wore down in the fourth quarter."
Another striking similarity between the two coaches that is easily apparent is both leader's disdain for revealing information to outside sources, or even accepting input from within. While the Cleveland media is tiptoeing around the new boss of Berea, the level of player chatter has also been reported to be considerably less compared to previous seasons. With the obvious exception of Shaun Smith, most Browns players have been focused on their work, rather than engaging in the usual chatter of camp.
As for Davis, Crocker admits what we've all come to know about Davis' management style.
"Players had input there. But it never seemed to register. Just in one ear and out the other."
Crocker went on to highlight the end days of the Davis regime in Cleveland, trying his best to remain as diplomatic as possible.
"Butch was good for me. He was good for my career. And that last season, he did try to keep the team together. But, we were just wore out."
As for the collapse of Davis regime, which saw the Browns coach abandon the team in November of 2004, Crocker is not as forgiving.
"I don't want to bad mouth anybody. Butch was good for me. But he quit on us. I know that the guys in the locker room didn't play well…and all responsibility fell on Butch, but that didn't sit well with guys. You know, be a man. Finish the season. All year, for longer, we bought into him, then he quit."
There are some lessons to be learned from Crocker's words. While Mangini may have the assistance of a general manager and possesses more head coaching experience than any previous Browns leader, the burden of the franchise's direction rests squarely on his shoulders. Although Mangini's first camp has been highlighted by intense, physical play, which is a most welcome sight in Berea, let's hope the new leader has an appreciation for history and doesn't repeat the mistakes of the past.
Cleveland Reboot is a blog which can be found at www.clevelandreboot.com. All blog entries reprinted with permission.