When it comes to organizational dysfunction, the Cleveland Browns are now right there with the Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins. This week's events in Cleveland have thrust the team into a vortex of bizarre moves.
Maybe I shouldn't be surprised by a rookie general manager being ousted at the midpoint of his first season in a league where preseason coordinator changes became all the rage for struggling franchises.
However, this doesn't make much sense. George Kokinis is by all accounts an affable, decent, hard-working and dedicated guy in the personnel game, well-respected by his peers. For him to be let go now, so soon after being hired, speaks much more to the larger issues facing this perpetually rebuilding franchise than it does the man itself.
Some might make the case that Kokinis was miscast in this role, atop the personnel hierarchy (at least in title), but it's no secret in league circles that coach Eric Mangini is running the show in Cleveland. Mangini was hired first, operates in a Parcells-ian/Belichick-ian fashion, and was instrumental in Kokinis being hired away from Baltimore in the first place. His fingerprints are on everything there -- from trades (the constant influx of his former Jets players) to the failure to reward Josh Cribbs with a new deal, the robust player fines, preseason bus trips, and everything else.
Perhaps someone had to pay for this mess, but making the case it was of Kokinis' fault is a perilous argument. The man was just a few months into his transition with a roster in dire need of a long-term overhaul. Everyone in that building knew it before training camp had even started. He inherited two poor quarterbacks and little established talent. The fact the Browns are 1-7 isn't shocking. Making this move now won't improve their standing in the second half, either. (The Browns are not commenting on the matter beyond the statement issued Monday night about Kokinis no longer performing his duties, though they are pursuing a firing "with cause," according to league sources).
Mangini's résumé as a coach is there on display. The way things ended in New York is well documented, as is the fact that no other team was in hot pursuit at the time Browns owner Randy Lerner abruptly moved to hire him. The fact that more unrest has followed Mangini is not a revelation.
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|Bill Cowher's roots with the Browns make him a popular choice among fans to one day become the team's coach.|
The reality with Kokinis is that after just eight games as a general manager in a regime where the coach wields supreme authority, no one knows much about his ability to do this particular job. He didn't have much of a sample size to show anything as a first-time general manager.
Kokinis may not carry the sense of gravitas or ego that some believe is requisite of being a general manager, and maybe he won't be given the chance to have that role again, as the point man dealing with agents. Contract negotiations are not his forte, but the Browns knew all this when they went after him, at Mangini's urging, and he never got much time to grow on the job.
But with Baltimore, a far more successful and stable operation, his work was highly regarded in the pro personnel department and he was considered an asset. He can evaluate talent. He's not one to seek the limelight or make headlines, preferring to quietly do his job, and it's hard to imagine he could not have helped the decision-making process in some capacity with the Browns. If the relationship between Mangini and Kokinis had deteriorated to the point some in the league believe it did, that's certainly troubling, but again speaks to larger issues facing the structure of the front office.
Firing a coach midseason leaves a bigger void than a personnel shakeup, but more change is likely ahead. As I stated weeks ago, if the scenario in Cleveland got as dire as it was looking (lopsided losses, no playmakers, horrible quarterback play, a coach not popular with his fan base and the specter of blackouts looming), the Mangini regime might last but a single season. Some in the media refuted it, but with each week it rings louder.
As Lerner looks for consultants to help guide the franchise in the interim, it's hard to imagine any established general manager coming to Cleveland without wanting say in whoever serves as coach. It's equally as difficult to imagine that general manager wanting to keep the current coaching staff intact given all of the events of the past six months.
Yes, it's looking like another "do-over" is on the horizon in Cleveland. Ernie Accorsi has already told the Cleveland Plain Dealer he is not interested in the general manager gig (he has consulted for Lerner in the past), and it would be shocking if Lerner does not reach out to Bill Cowher in some capacity, as he tried to lure the former Steelers coach last offseason, according to sources.
But the top coaches realize just how deep in the muck the Browns are, and how difficult of a job it is. Cowher is not the type of guy to be interested in a Bill Parcells-style front office role right now; if he comes back, it's to coach. There could be up to 10 coaching openings after this season, and the Browns would have to perform quite the sales pitch to land an elite candidate.
The Browns, Raiders and Redskins might all be on the hunt for coaches and execs again come January. Some things never change. And if I'm one of the 29 other teams, I'm trying to see if there is a role for Kokinis with my club, breaking down film on potential free agents, mining the waiver wire for possible gems, putting together emergency lists and helping oversee my scouting department.
A good football man can be hard to find, and sometimes all too easily discarded.