Monday, January 25, 2010

Finally, Closure

The Cleveland Browns may have finished playing earlier this month, but the season officially ended on Sunday in the form of the Indianapolis Colts’ 30-17 victory over the New York Jets.

As long as the Jets remained in the playoffs, Browns fans were never going to get peace of mind, given the seemingly endless series of stories about, take your pick, Eric Mangini and how he feels about it all and Braylon Edwards and how he feels about it all.

Just this past weekend, for example, the stories about Mangini ranged from those in the New York papers basically thanking him for failing and paving the way for Rex Ryan to that in the Plain Dealer in which Mangini expressed his pride in having a hand in the Jets current success. Two sides of the same coin I guess or, as a professor of mine used to say, “it all depends on whose ox is being gored.”

Then of course were the stories about Braylon Edwards. Mostly I think Edwards is the embodiment of the modern-day “me first” athlete. Selfish to a fault and even more clueless, Edwards almost stubbornly refuses to miss an opportunity to give someone a chance to dislike him.

But on the other hand, sometimes I get the sense that he’s actually bi-polar and just forgets to take his meds.

Here’s a taste. After Sunday’s loss, Edwards, discussing his touchdown catch, said “I got the team excited.” That’s the Edwards we’ve all come to know and love. Giving praise where praise is due, to himself. Quarterback Mark Sanchez had nothing to do with getting the team excited on a ball that was thrown exactly where it needed to be. It was all Edwards all the time.

But then Edwards went on at length, actually, about how being part of the Jets has made him come to appreciate what it means to be a team player, his previous quote notwithstanding apparently. He claims he now understands, for example, what it takes to get to a championship game. “I just really learned about team, what it means to play on a team, what it means to be a team player….”

Call me a cynic if you must, but that sounds like Edwards already working on his next contract. The real Edwards is the one who felt it was he who got the team excited. And for the record, Edwards had exactly one more catch in that entire game. That got us all excited.

But this isn’t so much about continuing to flog the dog that is Edwards. With the Jets’ loss, he’s now someone else’s problem officially. Even if Edwards had remained with the Browns all season there was virtually no chance that the Browns would re-sign him. He is, after all, a Michigan guy and you know how Browns fans feel about that, just ask Edwards’ dad.

So close the book now on Edwards. He’s just another chapter in a book that will always be bigger than he is. Edwards’ chapter now is no less nor more important than those devoted to, say Mike Junkin or Reuben Droughns. If Edwards actually does mature and become the force that his athletic skills seem to promise, then good for him. Just know that it would never have happened here and it will probably only happen as it’s been--sporadically. Good luck, goodbye.

For Mangini, the Jets’ loss now lets him and Jets and Browns fans close the book on his New York experience. In some ways, this year’s Jets were as much Mangini’s team as Ryan’s. A number of key contributors on that team were brought in by Mangini, directly, in the case of someone like Nick Mangold, and indirectly, in the case of someone like Sanchez. Conversely, a number of other players were extracted from that team and brought over to the Browns with Mangini. Coming and going, Mangini had a heavy hand in what the Jets did and did not do this past season.

But from this point forward, the impact Mangini has on the Jets will be muted. Ryan is clearly established as the head coach and the success of this past season will allow him to make an even greater impact on what the team looks like next year. Browns fans, too, will stop looking back. Mangini is here now for at least another season and his Jets experience is becoming merely a speck in the collective rear view mirrors of all concerned.

It was interesting to see many draw the analogy that Mangini has basically become Pete Best to Ryan’s Ringo Starr. It’s somewhat appropriate if you take the view that Mangini, like Best, wasn’t given any particular reason why he was fired. Where it falls apart is that Best never really did anything else after that whereas Mangini is now ….waaaaaiiiitt a minute. If the analogy holds true, then that doesn’t bode well for Browns fans. Name me one song that Best recorded after he left the Beatles.

Given how the Jets finished the season, the analogy that comes to my mind is that of John Cooper and Jim Tressel. When Cooper was fired, the Buckeyes were in disarray. They had loads of talent thanks to Cooper’s skills as a recruiter but organizationally they were a mess.

After Tressel took over, the first thing he did was instill discipline and pride back into the program. Though he went 7-5 his first season, he did have that improbable victory against Michigan that seemed to reinvigorate the program. The next year it went undefeated with most of Cooper’s talent and became national champions..

Admittedly that analogy isn’t perfect either, but stay with me for a moment. The Browns of 2008 under Crennel had some talent (they won 10 games in 2007 with much the same players) but organizationally they were an undisciplined mess. Inmates like Edwards and Kellen Winslow were running roughshod on the guards while the rest were content to freelance without being watched 24/7.

Along comes Mangini and while not exactly Tressel in more ways than I have time to document, he at least did restore discipline to the team. Moreover, the Browns late season surge was jump started by the improbable victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, their equivalent to the Wolverines, and it seems to have set them in the right direction for the next season. It certainly turned the fan base.

Does that mean the Browns have a Super Bowl in their near future? Doubtful. If you watched the 4 remaining playoff teams you got a good sense of how far behind the Browns really are. But organizationally this team is light years ahead of where it was when it started the season and eventually a certain level of success will follow like night follows day.

The best teams in the league got that way because they adhere to certain fundamental principles that seemed to escape Browns owner Randy Lerner until recently. Now that the Browns have finally put into place credible day-to-day leadership coupled with a methodical approach toward acquiring players, the talent level on this team will improve. Perhaps quickly.

And just as important to all of that is the ability to get closure on the remaining hangover from this past season. With that now behind the team, fans can finally look ahead. It’s not clear what’s ahead, but at least it’s ahead.


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