The Eric Mangini years are over, and now Mike Holmgren has to find a new leader to coach the Browns. Tony Grossi of the Cleveland Plain Dealer has an article identifying some of the possible candidates and their competing qualifications. They fall into familiar categories — the failed former head coaches, the respected up and coming assistant coaches, and the hot college coaches. The categories are familiar to Browns fans because the Browns have, since their return to the NFL, picked at least one coach from each category. Mangini was a failed former head coach, Romeo Crennel was the respected up and coming assistant, and Butch Davis was the hot college coach.
Obviously, the Browns know from firsthand experience that none of the categories is a sure path to success. Picking an NFL head coach and hoping that he “fits” with your organization is a crap shoot, but there are some qualities that seem to be required. The person has to be hard worker who will sacrifice a lot of free time for success on the football field. He has to be able to recruit and manage capable assistant coaches and weld them into a cohesive staff. He has to have some idea of what kind of team he wants to put on the field. Is it a spread offense or one that focuses on a grind-it-out ground game? Will the defense play 4-3 or 3-4? The coach has to be able to identify and coach up talent and fit that talent together. And does the individual have sufficient football smarts that, when he looks at film of the opposing team, he can spot weaknesses to exploit?
This time around on the coaching carousel, at least, the Browns have someone, in Holmgren, who clearly knows what it takes to be a successful NFL head coach because he was one himself. He may be right or wrong about whether an individual has those qualities and characteristics, but at least he knows what they are. That’s a good start.
The issue is whether Holmgren will try to find a candidate whose scheme and approach fits with the abilities of those members of the Browns who are likely to survive to next season. Clearly, the Browns have some talent — they wouldn’t have spanked New England and New Orleans and played the Jets to a standstill without some NFL-caliber players — but equally clearly they have a ways to go to become one of the better teams in the league. For example, the Browns have a good offensive line, a good tight end, and a good big back. Those pieces may be useful to a head coach who wants to build off the running game, but they might not fit so neatly with some who plays the spread.
It would be nice to see the Browns pick up a coach whose scheme would readily accommodate the Browns’ existing NFL-level talent, so that the emphasis is on finding missing pieces through the draft or free agency rather than wholesale changes. I’d like to see the Browns focus on making the playoffs next year. I don’t want them to bring in a coach whose approach is so inconsistent with the existing talent that the team has to rebuild — again.