Cribbs and crew are getting a heavy dose of Mangini's rule-driven approach.
Aaron Josefczyk/Icon SMI
September 13 MINNESOTA 20 at Denver 27 at Baltimore
October 4 CINCINNATI 11 at Buffalo 18 at Pittsburgh 25 GREEN BAY
November 1 at Chicago 8 Bye 16 BALTIMORE (M) 22 at Detroit 29 at Cincinnati
December 6 SAN DIEGO 10 PITTSBURGH (T) 20 at Kansas City 27 OAKLAND
January 3 JACKSONVILLE
Jerome Harrison, Running back: Watching the 5' 9", 205-pound Harrison take a handoff is a bitlike watching Laird Hamilton catch a monster wave. Just after the snap it's allfrothing chaos, and you momentarily lose sight of him. Then suddenly heemerges -- you're not sure from where exactly -- smooth and under control and movingawfully quick. "He's supremely talented," left tackle Joe Thomas says ofHarrison. "It's a shame he hasn't gotten on the field more to this point,because when he does get touches, it's magical."
Last season, his third with the Browns after they drafted him in the fifthround out of Washington State (where he was second in the nation in rushing as asenior, with 1,900 yards), Harrison averaged a robust 7.2 yards per carryand 9.7 yards per reception, but he was handed the ball only 34 times and hadjust 12 catches. Now, though, he's got a new coach in Eric Mangini, who duringhis time with the Jets made productive use of a similar player, the 5' 8",195-pound Leon Washington, and who will likely call upon Harrison frequently asa change of pace from bruising starter Jamal Lewis.
"He has a great chance to achieve what he wants to achieve, and what we wanthim to achieve," says Mangini in his typically inscrutable style. Translation:It's Harrison's time.
This article appears in the September 7, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated.
It'll take a Mangenius to fix all the mistakes by the lake -- and the floundering franchise hopes it has one in its new coach.
Around and around they ran at the practice facility in Berea, Ohio -- players doing one Eric Mangini-mandated lap of the field for each mistake they committed. Drop a pass? Take a lap. Commit a penalty? Take a lap. Miss a block? Get running.
Quarterbacks and linemen, stars and undrafted rookies -- they all ran counterclockwise, as if to turn back the clock to a time when the Browns seemed to be full of promise. Such as this time last year, when they basked in the glow of a surprising 10-6 finish in 2007 and looked forward to five prime-time games in '08. But the season started badly, with three defeats, and ended much, much worse. Cleveland lost its final six games, failing to score an offensive touchdown in any of the six, an NFL record for futility. The nadir came in the finale, a 31-0 thrashing at Pittsburgh that marked the Browns' 11th straight loss to their supposed archrival. Cleveland fired general manager Phil Savage that night and coach Romeo Crennel the next day. "The easy answer is to say we had a lot of injuries," says Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas. "But when things are going bad like that, it's top to bottom."
Enter Mangini, whom the Jets fired in December after three seasons and a 23-25 record, and whom the Browns a week later gave the task of remaking a team that had become rudderless and sloppy. The 38-year-old Mangini's attempt to instill discipline and toughness wasn't manifest only in the punitive laps. He has banned talking on cellphones and playing music in the locker room. He holds players accountable for parking their cars in their assigned spots. He requires that they memorize motivational phrases that he has mounted around the facility. (By the locker room's entrance: the will to win is nothing without the will to prepare.) His practices often exceed their scheduled two hours and sometimes include more hitting, players say, than a week's worth of Crennel's sessions.
"There was all this talk about Mangini coming in and tearing up a happy home, but I'll tell you what: It's been nothing but good for all of us," says fourth-year linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who led the NFL in tackles with 154 in '08. "What we were doing wasn't enough. We're buying in."
Says Pro Bowl return man Josh Cribbs, "He let us know that things were going to change by moving Kellen" -- Mangini traded tight end Kellen Winslow to the Buccaneers in February -- "and with the rules. We needed discipline, and he brought it to us."
Sitting in his office in early August, Mangini -- who keeps information such as his depth chart and the status of players' injuries not just close to the vest but deep within its lining -- explained his philosophy. "The one thing I learned in New York is the importance of explaining why I'm doing things," he said, sounding close to admitting that he'd been too despotic in his first head-coaching gig after nearly a decade at Bill Belichick's knee. "The rules are there for one reason. We've got white, black, old, young, East Coast, West Coast, all different types in one locker room. But on Sunday we have to be Browns. The rules are designed to let this diverse community operate effectively."
A day later receiver Syndric Steptoe suffered a season-ending torn labrum during what was scheduled to be a walk-through but became a full-speed practice in a heavy rain. Steptoe's agent publicly blamed the injury on the coach, which could be a sign of things to come. If the Browns -- who'll be quarterbacked by either the unproven Brady Quinn or the regressing Derek Anderson, and whose schedule includes four games against the stacked Steelers and Ravens -- don't improve significantly upon last year's disaster, Mangini could quickly turn from discipline-instilling savior into overbearing scapegoat.
-- Ben Reiter
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.